• 11.21.11

MailChimp’s Style Guide Is Corporate Communication Done Right turns what could be a Kafka-esque document into something humane and engaging.

MailChimp’s Style Guide Is Corporate Communication Done Right

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, 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 publicly visible on the iInternet–it’s probably a gangbusters recruiting tool, too.


About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.