Graphic Design for people who don’t know anything about graphic design
Right off the bat, I want to make very clear, this is in relation to designing your Kickstarter page only. Unless you're a professional do not do your own graphic design on your game itself, the money you ‘save’ will be spent several times over with needing to re-do files over and over, and even when you manage it, they’ll likely not look up to standard. Your Kickstarter page is a different beast though, you can get away with designing it yourself, it has a real limit on what you can do and on what is a good idea to do. You can get to a reasonable level from being self-taught on this side of things, I’ve certainly picked things up as I’ve gone along and have got to a sufficient level to get projects funded on Kickstarter. At the very least, if you’re operating alone and looking to save money, you’ll want to know the basics of making banners and graphics to present your page at its best.
First of all, get yourself some image manipulation software, gImp is free to download and will cover you perfectly well for the basics. It doesn’t really matter which one you use so long as it has the ability to work in layers with variable opacity, transparency, configurable grids and at the very least drop shadows. If you’re not sure if the program you’re using has those features try the following:
Load up an image, then load as a layer a second image and lower the opacity of the new image until you can see the first image through it.
Open a transparent layer, write something on it in a light colour, then apply a drop shadow to help pick it out.
Those skills should cover you for the basics of what you need. It will also probably be handy to have a program that can convert PDFs into image files, there are a few around, adobe is the most well known but its also pretty expensive if you’re not a full-fledged graphic artist. Graphic artists and manufacturers tend to work in PDF, which is fine, but you can’t load a PDF file up to Kickstarter, so just having something that can pull images out of PDFs will be a big help.
The last thing to be aware of is file extensions. You’ll want everything to be in jpg form before you load it up to kickstarter, because they are the smallest file sizes and will make your page quicker to load. Until you’ve got the image you want to export and use on your page though, avoid saving it as a jpg or you’ll suddenly realise you’ve lost all resolution somewhere. Also, jpgs don’t support transparency, you’ll need at least png files for that, which is something that can save a lot of frustration.
The number one skill you’ll want to learn is making a banner. Kickstarter extends to all of one, fairly ugly and totally standard font in one of two sizes, bold and italic. Oh, and bullet points. And it doesn’t let you justify text. This means that if you want to make something stand out in a manner that looks in anyway nice and professional, you’ll need to learn to make banners. You can get your graphic designer to do this for you, but unless you are very (very, very) organised you’ll end up bugging them constantly for a new banner for this or that, and its not very cost effective.
The first thing to understand is that Kickstarter has one mode for your graphics, scaled up until it’s the width of the screen, and slapped up there. You don’t get to move images around, or make them bigger or smaller or really anything. That means that if you need to do any manipulation in the image itself, if you want it centred or justified you need to tack white blocks onto the left or right, or both sides of it, so it will appear that you’ve moved it to that position on the page. This is an absolute pain in the hole, but the sooner you get used to it the better.
The next thing to understand is that banners look better if they’re not a neat rectangular block on the screen, which is an issue because that’s all you can load up. So, you’ll want to use a neat white rectangular block and drop things into it that are not themselves neat rectangular boxes. The temptation is to fill the image with colour, try to resist that if you can. So, make a long, thin, white rectangle in your image software, pick a font that works with your game and write something, centred in the rectangle, in that font. Save it as a jpg and load it up onto your Kickstarter page. If its too big or too small do not make the image bigger or smaller in your image software, make it less tall, (or longer and thinner depending on your position) if its too big, or taller if its too small, you need to change the proportions because Kickstarter will stretch or squeeze whatever you load up anyway. Then make your font bigger or smaller within your new rectangle, keeping it centred. Once you’re happy with the font size and position save the image as a layered original with the font on a separate layer to the background. Its probably a good idea to make a smaller sub-banner version.
Once you’re happy it’s a good idea to find something to frame the words, how excessive that is depends on your game but if in doubt you’re less likely to mess up with something that’s not too over the top. If you’ve done most of your game artwork at this point you might have a framing asset of some type, but make sure its something you can take off cleanly in a manner that isn’t a flat rectangle (it probably isn’t a flat rectangle within the asset, because it was hopefully made by someone who knew what they were doing). Its also a good idea if it something that you can widen or narrow without needing to zoom it. If you can’t get a proper frame, a few images or characters from your artwork might work if you have them on transparent backgrounds.
Aside from that, things are about taste and having a good eye. Look at the artwork and such that your illustrators and graphic designers have turned in, and look at campaign pages from bigger creators who do have a graphic designer working full time. If you don’t really know what you’re doing then minimalism and clean images are very much your friend. If you’re not sure, try to find a simple way that you can alter the font you used to tie it into your game’s logo, possibly with extra swashes. Also, learn to play around with the kerning on your program’s script, don’t mess around with it too much, but tweaking it just a little can really help with justifying your home-made titles.
Images on your page
Before I talk about making the images for the rest of the page, something to consider is how many images you use on it. There is a school of thought that says the more images the better, and many projects consist of nothing but images with embedded text. Various people will think various things here but I think it is a good idea to have some basic text, especially towards the top of the page for a few reasons. Firstly, people do search text for the keywords they’re interested in, they can’t do that with embedded text. This also applies to certain programs that read pages for the blind. Secondly, not everyone has as good a connection on as high grade a device as you might wish, and some of them will give up on your page before the images load, having a few interesting phrases near the top of the page to tempt them enough to wait for the loading is no bad thing. Thirdly, pages are viewed on a dizzying range of devices, settings and situations and while text is often automatically re-sized for all screens and images can stand up in smaller sizes, embedded text can really suffer in these situations.
Creators generally have to pay money up front for their artwork, and first-time creators can really feel that cost and be under the impression that they need to get every piece of artwork, sketch, concept artwork, up onto the page. This is generally not true, a few pieces of striking character artwork can go a long way, and card images and artwork simply slapped on the page without context tends to look blocky and unappealing, especially since again, you have little control on how it will be set on screens.
People talk about a wall of text. Depressingly I’ve heard people use a ‘wall of text’ to refer to a single ten line paragraph, I have a pretty high tolerance for walls of text, but I do understand what people mean by them and I accept that bullet point lists and such are a good idea to at least get across the vital points. You don’t hear so much people talking about a wall of images, but it is a thing. One image is cool, two can be interesting, once you’ve given me a third image without any real context or saying anything other than ‘look at this’ I’m probably bored, and more than that and you’ve built a wall of images and I’ll probably wander off.
Lastly, images tend to take up a lot of space, and there is a limited distance that people will go down your page before getting tired. This is a largely anecdotal feeling, but I have a pet theory that there are a limited number of mouse wheel rolls people will accept before they expect to be relatively convinced to back or not. Although a picture paints a thousand words, they often also take up the same amount of space, and the words that they paint tend to be quite repetitive, generally something along the lines of ‘look at this cool thing’ in all caps. Personally, if I spend long enough scrolling down a page to stop and wonder how far from the end of the page I am, then I look and realise I’m only half way down, if you haven’t got me by then you’ve lost me. Conversely, if I get to the bottom of the page and haven’t made my mind up yet, I’ll re-read that page, probably spending longer on it overall.
In short, a few punchy images work better than just dumping all your artwork onto the page. Some embedded text is good, it saves you from pure white space in your images and means that you don’t have image then text, which is bad, but don’t make it all embedded text and try to repeat vital points as normal text. If you are going to hit people with a wall of images, try to make sure you’ve got everything you want them to know out first.
There are a couple of non-banner images that you’ll probably want to put up on your page, cards and components. Firstly, if you’re good at photography, this doesn’t necessarily refer to you, take some amazing photos and use them. But if you’re average or worse at setting up and taking photos, try this.
Firstly, cards, it can be tempting to take the nice card image your graphic designer sent you and just put it on the screen as an image. Don’t do this. Or rather, do it, look at it, then come back. Its huge isn’t it? Because Kickstarter stretches images it’ll end up being like holding the card about three inches from the end of your nose, which is quite weird and not pleasant, and not at all the feel that the card was designed for, the card was designed to be viewed at a given distance and a given scale. You got a clever graphic designer and a talented artist to design it at that scale, so respect them. Get your card up in your image manipulation software and stick a big white block on one side of it. Make it so that the image is roughly two thirds plain white on one side of the card, then load it up on your page, sit at a comfortable reading distance from the screen, then hold up one of the cards from your game at a distance you’d hold it while playing. If the two cards are the same size, great, if the one on screen is too big, widen the white, too small shave it off. Once you’ve got it right you’ll have a big chunk of white next to your card, this is a good thing since the Kickstarter image captions are ugly as sin. Pick a nice font that works with your game, make sure its very clear and readable because you don’t know what size it’ll end up being read at (doubly so with Kickstarter stretching and squeezing the image for you) and put your caption there. Say something cool about what the card does in the game, or some neat flavour for it. Job done.
Components, again it can be tempting to lay out your game, take a photo and slap it up there. The thing is, that requires two skills, one, taking good photos, which is harder than it sounds, two, making good frames for photos. Even if you take an amazing photo, if you just stick it on the page it won't look great because of the hard, nasty KS image edges. A much better idea is to create an image of your game that you can easily manipulate into a framed image with embedded text etc. There are two ways of doing this, the easy way and the hard way. The hard way is to take a picture with a reasonably neutral background and then cut out the elements of your game onto a transparent background. This is painstaking and will generally not end well because its tough to pick out shadows and such, and the image you end up with will still suffer from the reflections of a photograph anyway. Instead, take a picture of your game on any background you like and load it up into your image manipulation software, then load up a layer of the images you have of the various components as image files on transparent backgrounds. Then find your manipulation software’s handle transform tool. This is a tool that lets you set points on an image to stretch it around by, and use it to stretch the image files into shape over the top of the photograph. So, for example, you take a photo of your game box, load it up, then load up a layer with the artwork for your game box on it, then stretch the artwork into the same shape as it appears in the photo. Then, once you’ve done that for all the components, hide the photo layer. You’ll now have a neat, clean image of your game, with all the bits at the right perspectives and such that look natural, on a perfect transparent background that you can do pretty much whatever you want with. You can take that image as a png file (to preserve the transparency) and drop it into whatever frame you have available, or drop it onto a white background and embed text around it to keep your page flow nice and natural.
There you go, that won’t exactly take you from zero to hero, but it will take you from poor to pretty decent. Your Kickstarter page presentation is the most important part of your whole campaign, it is the thing that converts visitors into backers. Put in the effort and you will be rewarded.
If there’s any tips or tricks that anyone has noticed that can be used on Kickstarter, I’d love to hear them. I’m not a graphic designer by any stretch of the imagination and am still learning myself. Anyone found some nice ways to cut corners neatly?