Co.Design

MailChimp's Style Guide Is Corporate Communication Done Right

VoiceandTone.com turns what could be a Kafka-esque document into something humane and engaging.

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.

[Explore VoiceandTone.com]

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4 Comments

  • Samsung Mobiles

    Nice information I have found in this article and it is really useful for me. Thanks for sharing great info to us.

  • Nick

    In his recent book "Designing for Emotion" (from A Book Apart), Aaron Walter, the lead designer for Mailchimp, goes into how the design and content are integrated to ensure a consistent brand identity and tone. It's an inspiring and quick read — I highly recommend it.

  • Bill Hennessy

    John,

    You totally deserve a bonus for writing this!  I'm telling your boss.

    Mailchimp,

    Voice and Tone just went to the top of my Thanksgiving list of gratitudes!

    Thanks!

  • MilliCorp-Ryan

    We are just now creating our blogging and social media channels and voice will be important. Thanks for keeping it real and letting people/businesses know it's okay to be human and engaging.

    Cheers!