This week, MailChimp published its first ebook, The UX Reader. I could just tell you that it features revised and updated pieces from our UX Newsletter, that you can download it here for $5, and that all proceeds go to RailsBridge. But instead, I’m hearing the voice of Mrs. McLogan, my high school physics teacher:
“Look, I know you’ve figured out the answer, but I want you to show your work.”
Just typing those words makes me sweat—I still get nervous when I’m asked to show how to solve a problem, even if I’m confident in the solution. But I always learn new things and get valuable feedback whenever I do.
So today I want to show you the work of putting together The UX Reader and talk more about the problem it helped us solve.
In the Spring of 2013, MailChimp’s UX team started a little experiment. We wanted to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes—to feel the pressure of publication deadlines, growing a list, and hitting that daunting send button. The result was a twice-a-month email we called The UX Newsletter. It was an opportunity to see MailChimp from the other side of the screen, but it also pushed us, as a team, to get over that mental hurdle of showing our work. We rotated the responsibilities of the newsletter with each issue, and every team member contributed.
We had no lofty aspirations for our little newsletter, but issue after issue, people kept subscribing. We sent our first email to 700 friends and colleagues. Our latest issue went out to more than 17,000. Aside from the significant bump we got in January when we launched our archive site, our growth has been very steady.
We started off publishing biweekly, but eventually shifted to a monthly schedule. It takes a lot of time and energy to put the newsletter together, but using our own tools in a real way has definitely helped us move MailChimp forward. And watching the newsletter grow into an industry resource has made us all extremely proud.
The missing piece
Our original goal was to understand our users’ experience, but after a while we realized there was a big part of the application that we were missing out on: e-commerce features. We decided that we needed something to sell, but what? After tossing around a few ideas, Aarron Walter suggested that we should try a book.
With that, the idea for The UX Reader was born. We worked with MailChimp’s design team to create the book layout and illustrations. The writing team helped us edit and add content to some of our best articles. Our HTML email guru Fabio created the marketing email, and we set up a Shopify store (complete with our MailChimp for Shopify integration) at theuxreader.com to sell the product. Just like the newsletter itself, this ebook is one big collaborative experiment.
Making money wasn’t the goal of this experiment, so we priced the book at $5 with all proceeds going to a nonprofit called RailsBridge. We love their commitment to increasing diversity in the tech world by teaching women and people from other underrepresented groups to code. And it’s especially gratifying to see our efforts to improve our own work do the same for others.
The next chapter
You can expect the next issue of The UX Newsletter to cover lessons we learned from marketing and selling a product online. Beyond that, we’ve decided to broaden the focus of the newsletter a bit. While most of our past articles were from authors in traditional UX roles, we’re hoping to have people from other parts of the MailChimp universe contribute. We’d also like to feature stories by invited guests from the greater UX community. Whatever the future holds, we’ll continue to feature articles where people don’t just provide answers, but show their work. I have a feeling Mrs. McLogan would be proud.