Iteration—Always Be Creating

Posted by David on September 6, 2013

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.

This is a year long story about how our homepage
was made in a week.

Our photographer—and designer and artist and hirsute gentleman—Jason joined MailChimp about a year ago. One of his first DesignLab assignments was to photograph header images for our musicblogger, and nonprofit vertical pages. The decision was made to use isolated items to represent each archetype. Paper rolls were ordered, and Jason photographed the items with a natural “lifestyle” organization, with real shadows and real colors. The pages looked great, and we proceeded to order more rolls of seamless paper and use them for portraitsmugshots, and various other weird stuff.


A year later, we’re redesigning the MailChimp website. Lots had been accomplished, and we were getting close to the end. We had done “some stuff” (sorry, can’t share everything) for the homepage, and were refining it. A few people were standing around, looking at it, when someone uttered those fateful words…

“I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.”

I can’t remember who said it, but we were all feeling it. I can’t remember who came up with the next idea, either—too many pots. But when we’d been coming up with our initial photography directions for the new site, Jason had taken a picture of a laptop on a desk, surrounded by deskthings. It was kind of cliché, but something about it felt right. Right enough to push further, at the very least. We abandoned our initial direction and charged towards new concepts.

The desk picture wasn’t in front of a seamless. We headed into our studio, pulled up a white desk, and tried the shot again. At this point, we’d had a year of practice, and things came together quickly. One shot became a few shots. At some point the MailChimp app was divorced from the device, and a piece of cardboard became a browser window. It was perfect. A hovering browser followed, and we knew—thought, hoped—that we had something special.

Jason took the concept and really pushed it as far as it could go. Our mantra was “Make it weirder.” At one point the browser was surrounded by a literal forest of shrubbery and small flowers—the next day Jason bought a grocery store’s worth of fruit for his shoot. The weird threshold was hit, and our head chefs decided to dial things back. Our creative director, Ron, and Jason set up a few scenes, shot them, and they’re what you can see on our site today.

Always Be Creating

We recently replaced our old mantra with a new one: “Always Be Creating.” Because we’d spent the past year creating tons of things, most of which no one ever saw, we had a bunch of weird pots with strange things simmering in them. When the heat turned up and we started mixing projects together, we were able to create something new very quickly.

Not everyone works the way we do, and fortunately, there’s no right or wrong way to cook up something delicious. But constant creation means our kitchen is always full when we need it to be, and we’ll never go hungry.

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