Anyone who’s ever written copy for a marketing agency (or any kind of outward-facing corporate communication) has probably had to deal with a dreaded "style guide"—a Kafka-esque document laying out all the rules for what you can and can’t say, and how you should and shouldn’t say it. The soul-deadening power of these manuals goes double—they’re a creative straitjacket, and they’re horribly, horribly boring. So it’s with something approaching awe that I came across VoiceandTone.com, the style guide for MailChimp's internal copywriters: It’s a humanely designed interactive experience that’s actually kinda fun to read. (I clicked pretty far into it, and I don’t even work there.)
MailChimp has a reputation for enabling, rather than stifling, its employees’ creativity, but even that has to happen within reasonable limits—thus the need for a style guide. But the decision to communicate those rules in an interactive, slideshow-like app (created by The Rocket Science Group) is genius. Instead of paging through a paper manual full of dry-as-dust examples of do’s and don’ts, MailChimp writers are treated to highly visual presentation augmented with pleasing-but-subtle animations, background colors that change often enough to stay interesting, and lovely typography that highlights humor and never belabors a point. The design creates an irresistible momentum—yes, you’re reading a corporate document, but you can’t help but want to keep clicking. How crazy is that?
Of course, there’s no objective reason why most internal corporate communications should be mind-numbing. A company’s own employees are, in a way, its most important customers—if they’re not motivated to perform, the company suffers. Not every firm can take the Google approach and give its workforce Disneyland-like perks. But MailChimp clearly does something just as good, and far less costly: respect its employees’ intelligence. No wonder they made VoiceandTone.com publicly visible on the iInternet—it’s probably a gangbusters recruiting tool, too.