Sep 11, 2008

New MailChimp Logo By Jon Hicks

jon-hicks-sketches1.gifThis post has absolutely nothing to do with email marketing. But if you’re interested in graphic design and branding, you might enjoy.

I’ve been wanting to redesign the MailChimp logo since—well, since I first designed it in 2001. I kinda hacked the logo together really fast in Fireworks (which is just not meant for high-res print).  I think it went something like this. Mark, my co-founder, said: "Yo Ben, MailChimp’s live now. Um, I think it could use a logo." Me: "Oh crap. Here, I’ve already got a monkey file open (don’t ask) so I’ll put a hat on him and send it over."

Anyway, our beloved mascot has gone through a bunch of iterations over the years, each one slightly less clumsy than the preceding version, but I’ve never been happy with it.

Until now. That’s because this time, we went out and hired an expert.


Jon Hicks, who is probably most famous for his work on the Firefox logo (check out this interview over at Floating Frog), and most recently the SilverBack App logo, has given us an awesome new MailChimp mascot.

We’re currently working on a fresh new MailChimp website where you’ll see lots of the new branding. But for now, I thought I’d provide a sneak-peek.

Follow the link below to see Jon’s final work, and what led us to the new design.

Like I said, I’d been wanting a new MailChimp logo since 2001. I just hated my original design so much. It was a very sloppy rush job, so the way it was constructed in Fireworks was crap. Scaling it and making high-res versions for print never worked. Any time we wanted to create a banner ad or poster (such as to sponsor an event) I had to re-work the stupid source file. It needed a complete overhaul.

But we never had time. So 7 years went by with the current logo.

Actually, he had a slight nose job around 2005. He went from a 2-dot-nostril design:


to a more modern:


I skipped a couple iterations in between there, but the differences are minor and irrelevant. I mainly changed the nose  because whenever I scaled that horrible, horrible Fireworks file, the 2-dot nostrils would often overlap each other, or spread way apart. Also, if I scaled the logo really big, the hat would come apart. You’d literally see a big giant gap between the brim and the gold badge. Like I said, Fireworks is great for web design, but not-so-great for print.

But we limped along with this design for a long time. Then, as our business grew, and our audience spread out from the "Web designers and creative professionals" niche to a more broad "mainstream" audience, we started to get complaints that our chimp was a little "unprofessional." This was around 2006.

The comments about MailChimp being "unprofessional" did not bug me one bit. However, I consider myself a scientist, so I love experiments. I’ll try anything just to see what it does for our business.

That’s when we had the idea to remove the monkey altogether, and change our website to look more "corporate and stodgy."

I replaced the MailChimp logo in our header with this:


In fact, while working on the stodgy new design, I kinda went overboard and started to have some fun with it. I even posted a cheap piece of stock art on the home page, with the headline, "Email a constant headache?" (a little humor directed at a certain competitor of ours):


I’ll never forget how difficult it was for our copywriter to grasp the concept of "okay, we’re gonna take away all the chimpy humor and go corporate." But we got it live.

Turns out after launching that new website design, our business grew faster than it ever had before. We got huge spikes in signups.

Now, a lot of other stuff happened at the same time (like hiring extremely smart and capable people), but we definitely saw an instant surge in new free trials.

I immediately got some hate mail for removing the chimp (my all time fav: When “enterprise” thinking crushes good design), but I also got some praise. Turns out lots of designers and agencies were hesitant about showing MailChimp to their larger clients. After removing the monkey mascot, we apparently looked "less risky" and the could finally switch over their larger accounts.

FWIW, I was never really 100% positive that removing the monkey is what helped. Perhaps it was removing the overall "cartoony" feel of the site that did it. Needed more testing (there’s that "scientist" side of me again).

Whatever the case, since late 2007 we’ve been adding some unbelievably powerful tools and features to the MailChimp product, like A/B splits, RSS-to-email, Google Analytics integration, ROI tracking, list segmentation, an awesome API, and on and on.  We’re having lots of fun innovating and making powerful stuff (that’s easy to use).

And when you’re doing awesome stuff you can be bold with your branding, and have some personality.

So I thought it was time to revisit the logo.

In my mind, I always thought the perfect example of "Fun, simple, and crazy-powerful" is the Nintendo Wii. It’s a clean design, it’s simple, it’s affordable, and it’s all about the fun. It’s not bloated with 50 graphics cards, and it’s not going to render GT5 Prologue in HD (race fans need to check out that link, btw), but the wii is fun as heck. And adults like it, too.

You can say the same for MailChimp. We’re not bloated with a ton of features you’ll never use. We’re easy to use, but we’ve got some serious firepower behind us (which is why companies like these use MailChimp).

The Nintendo website is a perfect representation of that concept. Clean, lots of white space, and a little slice of fun here and there:


It has cartoons, but it’s not "cartoony."

They’ve got the right idea.

Anyway, I put together this mockup, and hung it in my office:


It’s the perfect example of how I wanted MailChimp to transform from its old 2-D look to a more modern 3 dimensional character.

I also spent countless hours on one of my favorite blogs: Brand New.

I love that site. For some reason, their example of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s re-branding stuck in my mind:


Maybe it was the problem of, "How can we possibly modernize this old white dude from the south who kills chickens for a living?"

Maybe I was just hungry.

Anyway, I’ve got that picture of Mario on my wall.

And I can’t stop doodling MailChimp, in 3/4 view (instead of the flat, 2D view):


(I do all my design on sticky notes.)

So this is where it stayed for a good 6 months.  On my office wall. Everybody that came into my office would say, "So when are we getting that new MailChimp logo?" or "When are we adding some chimpiness back to the site?"

If you look at my notes, you’ll see that one of my designs was inspired by one of Jon Hicks’ original design ideas for the Firefox logo (and my personal favorite):


Then Aarron Walter, our user experience designer, suggested we just contact Jon Hicks himself.

So I emailed Jon.

Turns out Jon is really busy, so we had to wait about 6 months.

6 months pass, Jon is finally available, and I show him the Mario diagram. I also show him my sticky note doodle, and I ask him if he can "do what Nintendo did for Mario, except we want the style and detail from the Firefox logo you did, but modernize the chimp a little so it doesn’t look like we’re trying to stay within the 16-bit websafe color palette or something."

If that were a mathematical equation, it would look something like this:


Except that pi has nothing to do with anything. I just like chicken pot pie.

So Jon politely tells me, "I don’t see anything wrong with your MailChimp." Then I give him an explanation twice as long and confusing as this blog post, and then he agrees to take the project.

So Jon works for a few weeks on and off, and sends us cool doodles from his sketchpad, like:


and like:

It was really fun whenever a new email from Jon arrived in my inbox, because it meant another cool monkey doodle.

Finally, Jon sends us the new MailChimp:


We absolutely love it. And we can’t wait to get the chimp back on our website, and also worked into the MailChimp app. Soon. We’re re-designing like crazy right now.

My favorite part of the new logo is the little hair detail inside his ear:


Yeah, I know it’s odd to focus on hairy little details like this, but I’m weird that way.

Anyway, hope you like the new MailChimp logo as much as we do. We’ll be launching a new public website some time in early October-ish, pretty close to the next new MailChimp point release (v3.3).