Music’s always been an important part of what we do here at MailChimp. Musicians were some of our earliest customers, and over the years they’ve been have been joined by a few other artists you may know, as well as some record labels, venues, and festivals.
MailChimp is really good at just one thing: we combine vast amounts of data with empathetic design to make useful products. It’s kind of our only trick, but it’s a helpful one.
Our job on the marketing team is to demonstrate that one trick to new audiences around the world, either through the product itself or the brand that represents our company. The challenge is to do it in a way that’s true to our core values and that’s inclusive of the folks who’ve joined us over the past 14 years.
When MailChimp’s employee count stretched well past 100 with no signs of stopping, we realized a change was necessary. We needed to implement more structure around things like hiring, travel, and general office management. But the thought of overloading employees with written processes scared us. If expressing some sort of formal process was necessary, we wanted it to serve—not impede—innovation.
Last month, when Apple unveiled their new watch to the world, my MailChimp mobile teammates and I immediately knew we wanted to build something for it. But we wanted to make it truly useful, not just an app for the sake of having one. New tech toys are fun, but we knew what we made needed utility and purpose. At first, we struggled to find a place in our mobile ecosystem for a wearable app. We set the idea aside, but it kept looming as we worked on other projects. And then, at long last, our path made itself clear.
In a recent DesignLab post, Jane talked about our Reply All vinyl Freddie giveaways. The plan was to have a new video for each new vinyl Freddie, revealed at the beginning of each giveaway.
The first video and giveaway featured classic Freddie, which was a challenge. Weird is easy enough to do, but how do you bring new meaning to a mascot who’s been around for more than a decade?
At MailChimp, we love partnering with people who are doing creative, interesting things. You may have seen one of our video spots at a conference recently or heard one of our podcast ads. One of those ads is for Reply All, a podcast about the internet. Given its audience of creative, engaged e-citizens, we thought it would be fun to use our ad space to…wait for it…reply all to listeners with vinyl Freddies.
Growing up, I loved baseball cards. I even created my own using a 35mm camera and fragments of other cards. My dad used to frequent the trade shows, and we shared many weekends opening packs and collecting cards together. Recently at MailChimp, we were working on some assets for the recruiting team to hand out at job fairs, and we wanted to make something that would show potential recruits what kinds of jobs are available.
Back in college, I attended a total of one career fair. I wandered around a room full of company reps standing behind tables and passing out glossy marketing materials, picked up a few business cards and pamphlets, and never gave them a second glance. I remember thinking the whole thing was a wasted opportunity. I didn’t find any jobs I was interested in applying for, and I doubt the companies—who all blurred together—were able to interest many applicants.
As I was cleaning up MailChimp’s swag inventory, I noticed a spreadsheet tab called “Discontinued Items” with more than 1500 of our grey Freddie t-shirts in two sizes: unisex XXL and women’s medium. I asked around, and it became clear that a) there was no plan for the shirts, and b) no one even knew they were in storage.
MailChimp’s benefits team wanted to reward employees who reached the top participation level in our health insurance app. The app tracks fitness and health goals, and advancing through all the levels—Bronze, Silver, Gold—on the way up to Platinum isn’t easy. It takes time and dedication, and our benefits crew thought if there was a fun prize, maybe we’d be all the more motivated.
Not long after I started working at MailChimp, I was asked by our creative director to set up a photo resource site. I created a Tumblr called West Side Design Lab. It serves as our go-to place for social media imagery (MailChimp Twitter, MailChimp Facebook, MailChimp Instagram, etc). This way, anyone in the office can pull photos, and we never touch stock photography.
Earlier this year, I was working on a design for a MailChimp kids’ T-shirt. Searching for inspiration, I thought, “How would they design it?” So I decided to find out.
Fortunately for me, lots of MailChimp employees have children. I had my co-workers ask their kids to draw their very best versions of our mascot, Freddie, and to practice writing the word “MailChimp.” I asked them to use their favorite materials and to let their creativity take over.
Australian design conference, Analogue/Digital, recently asked us to create a short video they could show throughout the day during their event. As usual, we started by experimenting. First, I made a short video with someone answering a phone in French while a large, wooden MailChimp logo appeared out of thin air. It was pretty loose, and partially inspired by the delightful French new wave cinema of the 1960s. It didn’t quite hit the mark, but it got us thinking—and iterating.
One day about a year ago, my friend Jason asked me if I’d be interested in interning for MailChimp. At the time, I was working long hours, and my routine didn’t leave a lot of room for creative exploration. I must have been really itching to let my brain run loose, because without much thought, I happily agreed. A few weeks into my first semester as an intern, I got a taste of how far my imagination could take me.
Every couple weeks, we do a support recruiting meet and greet here in Atlanta. In the past, we’ve posted job descriptions and meet and greet announcements online only, but we wanted to experiment, try reaching a different group of people. We decided to try placing three ads in Atlanta’s alternative-weekly newspaper, Creative Loafing.
We often invite interesting, creative, and sometimes-weird people to speak at MailChimp Coffee Hour. These presentations are inspirational for us as spectators, but they’re also the perfect place to experiment with design ideas. We’ve made numerous posters, and even videos sometimes. March brought us a record label owner, a puppeteer, and a writer who draws. With each poster, I aim to give a little nod to each speaker’s work—an inside joke they appreciate, and we have fun making.
Every month, one of MailChimp’s designers creates new art for our billboard at the corner of Krog Street and Dekalb Avenue here in Atlanta.
The location of the billboard isn’t the greatest. It’s too high if you’re driving. It’s too low if you’re riding the train. Pedestrian traffic is minimal.
But it’s directly across the street from the Krog St. tunnel, which has long been Atlanta’s most notable street art message board. Artists, vandals, and community organizers continually paint over each other’s work, with everything from intricately designed murals to hastily scrawled ads for the neighborhood wheelbarrow festival. It’s messy. To some people, the tunnel might be a little intimidating.
As you may have noticed, MailChimp folks love coffee. Every time someone in DesignLab makes a new Chemex pour over, they head to our chat room and announce the “fresh pot.” It’s like our Bat-Signal, except that, instead of hailing Batman in a time of distress, it sends caffeine-crazed coffee drinkers scurrying to the kitchen to grab a cup before it’s gone. Its origins can be traced back to rock ‘n’ roll legend Dave Grohl’s now-classic YouTube clip.
A few years ago, my sister returned from a trip to Thailand bearing some awesome gifts: animal-shaped hats! Because my sister knew it would make me look ridiculous, she gave me a neon pink one in the shape of a pig. (Conveniently, she kept the monkey shaped hats all to herself.) I wore this crazy pig hat around the MailChimp office one cold winter morning, and people seemed to love it.
As a DesignLab intern this fall, I’ve been given one or two creative projects to complete each week. Through a process of challenges and critiques, our creative director, Ron, does a wonderful job strengthening my work during these assignments. Needless to say, I was thrilled when he asked me to design a billboard. Impressed by the other billboards brought to life by our team, I wanted to come up with something fun and different for the first billboard of my design career.
A few months ago MailChimp was redesigned—the app, the site, the logo. Nearly everything changed. It was a lot of work, with a lot of cooks and kitchens and appetizers and Yelp reviews and well, it got kinda crazy, is what I’m saying. But one of the cool things that happens when you have great cooks involved is crossover—ideas bleed over from from one project into another, and you get weird flavors in your dish you never would have put there yourself.
A simple premise: Have a co-worker dress up as Freddie and surprise his three-year-old son, who was also wearing a miniature Freddie costume (which was designed and sewn by his mother, the co-worker’s wife). Oh, to be a kid again.
A couple weeks ago we teamed up with our good friends at Fuzzco for a mystery box giveaway. We made people work for the prize with a fun game. The mysterious surprise was a vinyl Freddie toy, as some of you now know, and we’ve been enjoying the photos of him hanging out amongst arsenals of desk junk, busting out of his packaging, and so on. But how did this project come about?
Here at MailChimp, we like to keep it weird. And what’s weirder than a space-themed, hidden gift shop? I’m sure there’s weirder, but we thought it would be a cool project and a fun addition to our office that would give our visitors a chance to walk away with a grab bag of MC goodies.
The founders of Danish software studio Robocat visited our offices last week to talk to us about the creation of their wildly successful Thermodo Kickstarter campaign. They walked us through the project, from initial idea to prototypes to the craziest month of their professional lives. The guys have a great sense of humor, and I wanted to reflect that in my poster, as well as the portraits I took of them while they were visiting Atlanta.
The ATL Collective is a group of various Atlanta musicians who get together now and then to perform a classic album live, from start to finish. MailChimp sponsored two of their most recent shows—Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison. We wanted to provide something special for the Collective and the people attending, something tangible they could take with them. For Born to Run, we screen printed a program with song titles, album history, and artist bios for the musicians. For Folsom Prison, we had gig posters printed.
Who are our customers? How do they use MailChimp?
Our UX team talked to dozens of users, acquiring tons of data and identifying motivations, traits, and needs. We used this information to create a series of archetypes that serve as a guide when designing. These personas help us keep in mind who we’re designing for, and what’s important to them.
Working on a Chip Kidd Coffee Hour poster was a dream come true. He was one of the first graphic designers I discovered when I was younger, and I’ve always thought his book covers were astute and unpredictable. His love of Batman is something fierce, and I paid tribute to his fandom with a simple, hand-illustrated/written poster, which was then hand screen printed.
I recently had the pleasure of blowing the dust off an old project that hasn’t been seen by many eyes yet. Two years ago MailChimp acquired TinyLetter, a beautifully simple email newsletter app. Shortly after that came a new marketing site, rebrand, and lastly the task of creating a limited run of TinyLetter branded stationary for select users.
A few months ago, Stephen Martin (MC mobile developer/designer) and I started the slow process of rethinking the MailChimp mobile app icons. During our initial exploration Louie Mantia gave a talk at the Renaissance Conference about icon families. This talk helped define our goal: keep the individual brand personality of each app while unifying the visual language.
I love repetition. I also love illustration. I had the idea a while back of creating illustrations featuring Freddie’s head on historical figures. “MailChimp Through the Ages,” I was calling it. As I started drawing the figures, it gave way to fictional characters.