In the beginning there is a spark of inspiration, this spark can be triggered by the smallest detail, experience, smell or vision. Magna Carta is definitely a new experience for Alex Chin and Seasons Playing Cards. So we thought it would be interesting to discuss the process, the total process, from inception to delivery……what does it take to bring a project from point A to Z?
Where or when did the “Light Bulb” go off for this project?
Usually when I'm starting a project I always make sure to have a direction in mind. It's a big no-no for me to design randomly and try to make a deck out of it. Hoping to make something out of an aimless drawing isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in the long haul not having a strong direction really exposes a lot of holes in potential that could have been brought to fruition if thought of in the first place.
This time around it was focused on style. I was looking to do a traditional deck that utilized the heritage of court cards, involving real kings and queens and usually within that realm there is a specific type of style that is mandated.
When I was looking further into the possible relevant topics and themes I could dive into I stumbled upon Magna Carta's anniversary. As I did more research into it, what the Magna Carta stood for, and how it was approached, really spoke to me. It was this document that basically got annulled 2 months after it was signed and shouldn't have really meant anything. But now it is here today having influenced the Declaration of Independence and liberty today. To me it really was a shining example of timelessness, something that may not have had the traction in the beginning but over time has showed it's true value. When I learned about that I guess you could say that was my "spark" moment which helped me pull the trigger on pursuing this direction.
I think you really pegged the term right for "spark" instead of idea or "light bulb". One of the biggest misconceptions in art and design is that this eureka moment will happen and you'll write or paint a masterpiece from that initial moment. Most of us have books full of ideas. But in reality there is a core difference between an idea and a spark. The foundation of any great project is a spark that catalyzes the artist's motivation to create a momentum with the project. Without the underlying motivation you'll most likely lose steam a quarter way through the project.
Where did you start and what did it consist of? How deep into the event did you go and why?
Having a historical event made it easier in some aspects because there is a lot of initial framework that is already laid out for you. It's also a lot harder in others because of fear of inaccuracy. You're trying to pay tribute to this event and you don't want to mess things up, but at the same time as a designer you still want a bit of leeway in creativity and making sure your product is market fit.
I started by researching about the event itself to make sure I knew the basics of why it was formed and the after effects of it. The next step was to really nail down the figures I would be basing the court cards off of. It's easy to get the initial main characters down but fleshing out to all 12 spots takes a bit more research and finesse especially when organizing them into suits and families. Some important "neutral" characters like the Archbishop make it a bit more difficult and when King's have multiple wives you want to make sure you try to get the "right one" featured.
Afterwards I let myself get pretty deep into any tangents I find interesting, mostly to see if there were any gems or secrets to discover. For example when I found out that Saer de Quincy, one of the leaders of the rebellion held a unique crest on his shield during the Magna Carta signing instead of his traditional crest I thought that was a great gem and made sure to have him specifically put on the limited edition deck. I doubt that a lot of people will even question it but for myself as the designer it is a real delight to know that every line you make has purpose.
What were the factors that went into the look of Magna Carta and why?
Since style was a front and centered focus on the series this time around I think the biggest factor was blending the authenticity of then to the elegance of what Seasons brings to the table now. It would have been easy to go straight authentic but artwork during that time was pretty rough. I really love recreations but this project wasn't meant to be a token from the past, but rather a commemoration of it. That meant testing a few times to get the language of the cards just right for today.
I originally made the cards and courts without shading but ended up adding them in because it added the necessary depth to feel softer. I often mock up few variations of the same design and then sleep on it to see what looks right in the morning. It's better to do this early and often instead of realizing halfway through the deck that you've been approaching the artwork all wrong and that you'll need to go back and revise (or worse redo) all of the artwork you've just done. This time around I ended up doing a lot more variation tests since I couldn't just rely on my personal style to guide me.
Symbolism was a big director into dictating the designs. For the Royals back design I knew right away it would be of the King's crest. It took a lot more testing than I expected to finally get that lion looking right with the other 2 lions hidden in the face. For the Rebels deck it was about signifying all the different "regions" of the Barons. I originally tried to get all 25 in there but realized it was just way too much. Ended up reducing them to only a handful of clusters to make it easier for the flow of the card.
Getting the box just right probably took more testing than the back designs did. When I first started out with the project I was trying to see if I could somehow get these decks to match up with the old Seasons decks. It took me about a week of stubbornness to get that out of my system lol. By that time I began to understand how the rest of the deck was developing and the hierarchy of the deck became clear. From the broadest category to the most detailed you start with their faction (Royals or Rebels), get down to their families (suits), and finally end with the people that made this event happen. I wanted to tease that symbolism on the box, showing these factions coming together, and decided to focus on having all the family suits represented on the box to indicate the courts inside that made the Magna Carta happen. I settled on having a Royal and Rebel suit on each side to show that union. At first the suits were too large on the box but I eventually added some balancing corner elements and pulled the suits off edge to create this really neat geometric design that not only looks elegant, but performs great as an interactive series. On the front you can create a Spade or Diamond and on the back you can create a Club or Heart.
How did you want to present this event within a playing card format?
Concept work is probably my favorite part of designing a deck. It's where you get to think big and dream the world (until the printer or your budget tells you no lol). Representing an event through a playing card format really meant emphasizing the people and what the event meant through whatever means possible. For me that translated into making sure the court cards were just right and incorporating as much relevant symbolism as I could. Because the suits represented families it became clear that each one needed a fully designed symbol. This is an example of a task I didn't expect to do, but because the direction of the project dictated it, it became a way to strengthen the deck.
I think the two final things that really stuck out to me for this project was the Magna Carta document itself and the mural illustration of the signing. That image is EVERYWHERE when you search the Magna Carta. It's probably the most famous rendering of the Magna Carta out there right now. It was pretty clear that I had to pay tribute to those items somehow.
I collect a lot of decks and what usually happens with those decks are that they end up getting swiveled to the side like a bookshelf. But what happens when you have a bunch of decks die by side is that you notice patterns and a lot of those patterns were either factory information or the title of the deck again. Not that that is bad information to show but it seemed like underutilized -and in context to collecting habits - very valuable space that should be designed for.
I originally applied the actual Magna Carta document on the sides of the decks but ended up picking the mural because it was more visual. The mural was initially just going to be for the Jokers but often times they stay in the boxes. I ended up modifying the mural for positioning so that each deck would have a great image of an important person on each end, but also for accuracy. Because the event was so tense, it seemed off that everyone was in such casual dress. I made up for that with them fully suited up. There was also a big correction with the King's seal instead of him signing.
One of the bigger issues I encountered was trying to create a system that worked with any combination of decks. I didn't want someone buying a set and finding out they don't match. The system needed to work on all levels. I ended up creating a center-out structure that worked pretty great. Because of the duality of the sides even if you collect just 3 decks you can show a whole Royals side and if you ever want to display something different you just flip the set to show the Rebels side. For people not interested in limited edition decks I made sure the regular decks still made a majority of the center mural, still including Robert Fitzwalter and King John at the table. For the collectors I made sure to feature Pope Innocent III, a crucial character, who was the one who annulled the Magna Carta in the first place. This was an amazing way to pay tribute to this historic event that card collectors would actually utilize. I was incredibly proud of how it turned out. As for the document itself, I'd love to have that on the interior tuck of the decks if we reach that stretch goal.
How did you want to offer Magna Carta to community? What thoughts went into tier structure, price, add-ons and goals?
Magna Carta needed to be a multiple deck release because of the duality of the event. I think that's a big focus of my projects since it interests me so much. I also added a limited edition gilded deck because it made such absolute sense to the story this time around. King John's box stealing the Rebel's gold deck? It made me excited at how well it encompassed the story.
Knowing how many decks you want to release sort of helps dictate your strategy for launch. Single deck strategy vs. multi-deck is definitely different especially because you have to be more clear in your offerings and your marketing. For multi-deck launches you also have to consider if you're going to do an all or nothing scenario which involves higher risk, or a stretch goal scenario that is a bit more common.
For the Magna Carta and previous Seasons' campaign I went with an all or nothing scenario mostly because the series doesn't work if there is only 1 deck. The story gets lost. You need to have faith that your story and artwork is strong enough to succeed in the campaign. I kept the tier structure simple this time around with decks only. I didn't want to add to any confusion people might have had about the mural. Sometimes Kickstarters will have a ton of tiers for combo packs which are well intentioned because they're cheaper than the add-ons. But a lot of times it becomes a pain to sort through them all. I notice a lot of people focusing on the card community to support them and you should certainly make sure they're happy. But they've been in the game long enough where they already know (probably before you even launch) what they're willing to spend for the day and what specific items they want. The purpose of creating a simpler tier system is to get laymen who stumble on your project a chance to pledge.
Pricing is pretty fickle mostly because it depends on so many variables. Who are you printing with, what stocks are you using, are you foiling, embossing, using stretch goals, and what quantity. I'd like to give you exact numbers but the markets change so frequently and every year the costs of printing change as well. It's probably smart (for any Kickstarter) to check the market in the last 6 months to see what variables are closest to what you're using and use that as a baseline guide. Don't be comparing pricing structures for one factory's deck with another's because your margins won't align.
A big factor in tier pricing also relates to shipping. It was common for a long time to provide free shipping to US but now that Kickstarter upgraded their shipping program, adding shipping is a bit easier. I've seen some Kickstarters reframe this idea by keeping shipping free but adding the price of the deck up. But that ends up hurting the international customers who deal with shipping costs everyday. I personally tried to avoid shipping for US again this time around but did end up adding a couple bucks on larger tiers like 6-12 decks because shipping services and supplies do add up a lot. It sucks to have to pay shipping but at least it makes it fair to every party.
Pricing for my decks are pretty traditional for something that is foiled and embossed from USPCC. The only one I struggled with was the limited edition deck. The thing about limited edition decks are that they have less comparison points so they're either easily accepted or easily dismissed which can get scary. It's really tempting to use standard practice to check the market and see what you should be basing your pricing off of but what it really boils down to is your own personal cost and from that you should be creating your own personal price that makes sense to your own figures.
The market has been trending for a while now towards hyper-customization and if you're not keeping up you're falling behind. But that means smaller numbers at more customized rates. That also means higher production costs that translate into higher prices and higher resistance in the market. The King John Edition is a gilded deck in a custom printed box that features embossing and foiling with USPCC at a small run of 500. They were insanely expensive to produce. Some people have a stigma around tuck swaps but anybody that has tried to print a deck knows how incredibly hard it is to get numbers that low and true collectors that really do support your project will help out as well if you've treated them right. I also think it's great because less than 200 people will be able to display the full mural and I think as a collector that would make me pretty happy.
Goals are always set for the bare minimum. Your pricing structure needs to survive that. If your project catches fire, all the better, but it's important that you're not losing money if you just reach your initial goal. That means thinking about your shipping costs and Kickstarter fees as well.
Right before launch you end up triple checking your tiers and crossing your fingers for the best. In the end if you priced everything fairly and your passion was in the project, people will see and respond accordingly. That being said I still get insanely nervous before every launch. It's the moment your months of work becomes vulnerable to the public eye.
What’s involved in gathering and organizing all the backer information once the campaign has ended?
I use Backerkit. It's insanely easy. The actual sorting of information isn't that big a deal. But it's value comes in your post KS lull where you essentially have a pre-order page that people are familiar with who were late to the campaign. Some people will create these pre-order pages on their own website to bypass the fees and sort using their own programs. It's really a personal decision. I think if you're solo definitely do Backerkit. If you have a partner it might be worth bypassing Backerkit and keeping a couple grand in your pocket especially if you plan to do another KS in the future.
Do you have a “Process” once you receive the finished product to sort, prepare and ship rewards to backers?
My "Process" is pretty much watch Netflix, print out labels, and ship in a clean room until every order is finished. You never know if people have allergies and whatnot so just make sure you dedicate an area. Sorting can be a nightmare if you don't have a proper program but Backerkit aggregates all similar packages together. Again this spreadsheet isn't hard to replicate but if you don't mind the fee it's worth getting. Some people like fulfillment houses which I get, but at least in my experience shipping isn't that bad. It's just a little daunting when you first start. I ended up getting 700+ orders out in a little over a week. I had a little help from one other person for a few of those days but sacrificing a week to save a few grand isn't that bad especially if you have some shows to catch up on.
If you decide to go down the self-fulfillment route you really just need to vet your packing strategies for all sizes. The worst thing you can do is pack just to get that backer "crossed off your list" only to find out it's damaged a month later and you have to reship it. Having a bad packing method for the same shipment of 80 backers is asking for trouble so make sure your methods are pat down. If you have questions about how to ship order from a few people in different sizes and see what boxes and packaging they used to ship it. Always remember when shipping "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast". Better to get it right the first time instead of having to deal with the extra costs and labor the second time around.
When do you consider the campaign complete and over?
My stress for a campaign ends once the actual Kickstarter campaign ends. I'm still pretty high strung (regardless if the goal hits or not) through the entire thing and even then only after payments get processed. Shipping for me again isn't a big deal but I guess a normal person would call this the end. For me I think the end of a campaign is when you finally finish your photography and marketing collateral for your project now that you have the real product. That's when you get to show off to the world, "Here, look at what I made". For a designer there's no better feeling.
We can't thank Alex enough for his time and sharing his journey with us.
So many look at projects at face value, a designer produces a deck, puts it on Kickstarter, raises funds and delivers it to backers. There are so many variables involved and we’re extremely thankful that Alex was generous enough to share his experience, pitfalls and concerns. Even the most seasoned designer, with previous projects to his or her credit faces the same questions, concerns and anxieties with every new venture.
It’s never as easy as it seems.
Magna Carta is now LIVE on Kickstarter, take a look at this beautiful work from Alex Chin and share in his process of concept to reality.