Highlights: Kickstart My Art
Kickstart My Art
As more and more artists and designers try to fund their projects through Kickstarter, one SAIC faculty member envisions the future of crowdfunding campaigns.
by Diana Buendia (MA 2013)
Set to the agitated tune of Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief,” the Kickstarter campaign video of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects professor George Aye and MFA student David Hull starts with an overhead shot of their “A-Ha!” moment. It is the moment when their original design for simple, practical, felt sleeves for Apple products came to fruition. The video then takes the viewer through the aesthetic and confection of the handmade products and showcases their portability and sleek design. The clean and sharply edited visual production is one of the main reasons why their Kickstarter campaign was so successful. In one month, 97 backers pledged a total of $6,479, more than their established goal of $5,000, allowing Aye and Hull to move forward with their brand, Biblio, and the manufacturing of their products.
It is no surprise that to fund his project Aye turned to Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website that has become a valuable resource for artists and designers to finance their projects. Currently the National Endowment of the Arts has a budget of $146 million, while Kickstarter has projected that by the end of 2012 users will have raised $150 million on their platform. “Kickstarter for us was like a gift,” Aye said. “An amazing platform that allows you to get your word out directly to those who might want to believe in your project.”
But his first campaign was also a test, Aye explained, in preparation for Designing Chicago: New Tools for Public Transit, a large-scale campaign he launched in July to develop a new public transportation app for the city of Chicago. Over a month, Aye and his wife Sara Cantor Aye through their Greater Good Studio, would not only try to raise $125,000 for the development of the project, but offer interested financial backers the opportunity to join them in researching and designing the public transportation app. “We wanted to push what Kickstarter is known for to another level,” Aye explained. “In this new campaign we wanted to see what we could do with the hands and the minds of teammates, not just backers.”
Eschewing the common e-commerce model of “pledging money and waiting impatiently until the product comes in the mail,” Aye’s latest project asks for a more participatory approach For $25 or more, backers could join the team as Urban Scouts, with training videos and research and design assignments each week, making them active contributors to the development of the public transit app. A pledge of $300 or more earned backers the “Urban Icon” status, allowing them to also receive research and design assignments as well as the opportunity to participate in two hands-on workshops on user-centered design at Greater Good Studio. “Urban Icons” would also be the beta-testers of the public transit app.
With video as the language of crowdsourcing websites, for both projects Aye worked tirelessly on conveying the right message through the medium. The video for the first campaign was more of a music video concept—“no awkward staring at the camera,” he said. But for Designing Chicago the situation was different. “We had a very clear story we wanted to tell so that made it more complicated,” he explained. “We had actual lines to deliver.” They developed a short screenplay and planned the shots on an animatic on FinalCut Pro.
Once the campaigns went live, in order to meet the proposed fundraising goals, Aye reached out to his network of colleagues and friends from his trajectory in design. Aye came to the Chicago from England in 2001 to work as a consultant at design and innovation firm IDEO. In 2008 he was hired as lead designer at the Chicago Transit Authority and in 2010 he became a full time faculty member at SAIC. “The network of people Sara and I knew was critical for us to have any sense of where the projects were going,” Aye explained. “For the Biblio project, I was really glad I had a network of friends I could call upon. But in the second, much larger-scale project, it went into a completely different gear. It wasn’t so much about asking for help but it was about who were the smartest people we knew that we could gather in the fields of technology, civic engagement, education, and public transportation.”
The transit app is a public resource and a public service with the ultimate goal of making Chicagoans’ commute a more pleasant experience. The best pointers and suggestions that could help develop the real-time technology to streamline a commute could only come from the people who use public transportation daily and constantly think of how things could be better. Aye explains, “Kickstarter and this project seemed to fit together because the project is so deeply based in public good. It’s public transit, and we think that participation by the public is the only way in which it could ever really make sense.”