Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from Chapter 2. Reprinted from Content Strategy at Work, by Margot Bloomstein with permission of Elsevier, Inc. © 2012 Appropriate, Inc. Published by Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
Designing Cohesive Experiences: Introducing Content Strategy to Design
“They could be updated, moved around … you could pull out a specific card and stick it on your monitor. The brand guidelines were very much meant to be used-and they were meant for the whole company.” That’s how Denise Wilton, the former creative director of MOO and moo.com, described the editorial and visual brand guidelines she developed for MOO, the charismatic custom printing company based in the UK.
Is there a place for high-quality paper stock and inexpensive, extremely small print runs in the $100 billion global print industry? As the custom printing industry has commoditized low-cost, low-volume solutions-100 business cards for less than $50? No problem!
Deriving Design from Content at MOO
MOO stands out for its cheeky, can-do value proposition. How? While its products offer value with fairly quick turnaround, they’re often not the cheapest or fastest solution for the target audience, many of whom are freelancers who demand quick turnaround. Instead, MOO maintains its brand through peerless consistency and builds an enthusiastic following by ensuring the brand comes through in every touchpoint and interaction:
• Category nomenclature
• Gallery of audience submissions
• Calls to action
• Error messages, 404-page design, and metacontent
• Confirmation emails
• Product packaging design, inserts, and promo codes
• Tweets from @overheardatMOO
Spanning verbal and visual style and tone, those are just a sample of MOO’s touchpoints.
Call it loyalty, call it love, but many of MOO’s customers greet even the most mundane interactions, like confirmation emails, with glee, forwarding them to friends and tweeting out quotes. Naturally, this free advertising only further bolsters the brand and company. Printing millions of cards every month and shipping to customers in more than 180 countries, MOO soon noticed more than half its customers lived across the pond. MOO responded by opening a US production facility in 2009 to meet the volume of orders coming from the US. The headquarters remain in London, and the voice remains distinctly British.
Brand loyalists are “in” on maintaining the magic of MOO. What’s the secret? They engage with a brand that never breaks character-ever. This all comes down to how the content and visual design (along with interaction affordances and features) all work together to maintain a cohesive voice and consistently manifest the same communication goals, or message architecture.
In many teams, interaction designers and information architects also use the message architecture for cues to how they should organize and label sections or choose appropriate design patterns. SEO specialists also use it to ensure keyword recommendations reflect the brand personality, as you’ll see in Chapter 5. A message architecture is a hierarchy of communication goals; as a hierarchy, they’re attributes that appear in order of priority, typically in an outline. I usually focus on establishing three to five main communication goals, or big buckets of terms, and define them in as much detail as is necessary for the team that will use the document. In this chapter, we’ll discuss how visual designers and content strategists (and, later, copywriters) can apply a message architecture to develop a cohesive, consistent user experience.
Psst… StickerBooks are stateside
http:/ jwww.moo.com/blogMoo.com, @overheardatMOO, and MOO’s packaging all manifest the same communication goals: message architecture at work!
Notice how the brand is simultaneously both empowering and responsive. MOO upholds these attributes consistently through a variety of tactics:
- Copy speaks in the first person and conversational sentence structures
- Imagery doesn’t just show product, but people interacting with the product
- Emails and the website flaunt examples of customer work
- Copy in packaging and packing slips shares in the enthusiasm of getting new business cards
The creative direction in large part stems from the content itself, which has matured and grown into a more formal content strategy.
Denise explained that the early impetus for MOO’s creative direction came from a staple of its communication, the order confirmation email.
A confirmation email has few tasks to fulfill: tell the recipient that the company received their order, inform them as to what will happen next, and remind them not to reply to that account as it is likely an automated email. MOO takes this mundane, utilitarian communique a few steps further by seizing the opportunity intrinsic to unbranded content.
This is the body of their order confirmation email (personal communication, 1 March 2010):
From: Little MOO I Print Robot <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I’m Little MOo-the bit of software that will be managing your order with moo.com. It will shortly be sent to Big MOO, our print machine who will print it for you in the next few days. I’ll let you know when it’s done and on its way to you.
You can track and manage your order from the accounts section at https://www.secure.moo.com/account.
Remember, I’m just a bit of software. So, if you have any questions regarding your order please first read our Frequently Asked Questions at http:// www.moo.com/help/ and if you’re still not sure, contact customer service (who are real people) at https://www.secure.moo.com/service/.
Little MOO, Print Robot
“The email from Little MOO is one of the first touchpoints after you place an order,” Denise explained. “Richard Moross [founder and CEO] wrote that. He got fed up with automated emails that were really impersonal and wanted to bring a bit of personality to it. When I started, that was the one thing in place. Everything else came with that in mind.”
Denise joined when MOO was a startup and she wore multiple hats, extending the brand through design, copywriting, and community management. “For quite a long time, we didn’t have a formal process, but as we grew and had other designers coming in, we knew it would be good-for all staff members. You want people to code in a certain way, send out emails in a certain way, and since we printed business cards, we documented the brand in that way.”
Denise went on to compile a set of business cards that detailed the brand with cues for verbal communication, visual design, and interaction design. “The cards covered history, values, tone of voice, personality, grammar, color breakdowns, how to use the logo, everything,” she noted. “On top of that, there were more detailed guides for how to write for MOO and how to interact with the MOO community.”
“Each card in the set worked either as a standalone piece of information, or formed part of the larger piece, the idea being that anyone who needed it could pull out a relevant card and stick it to their monitor to guide them. But each card was written as a standalone piece, so it didn’t matter if you got them mixed up. If you were a designer, you could pull out the relevant cards, or if you were a writer and just needed some writing guidelines, you could pull out those cards. They could be updated and moved around, and they were meant for the whole company. They were very much meant to be used.” We’ve aII encountered the alternative, as had Denise. “Otherwise, what happens with brand guidelines is they get written … and just shoved in a drawer.”
Consider how MOO’s example mirrors the growth, energy, and opportunity in many areas of the web industry:
Are you helping to relaunch a company that has gained some traction and visibility, and now needs to realign its brand, print collateral, and web presence with how it sees itself-and how it would like to be seen? Or perhaps you’re in-house, managing marketing for a growing company, helping to launch the next product or reach the next round of funding, all the while grimacing over “cobbler’s children” remarks?
MOO demonstrates how a brand can hone its consistency over time, even after a period of more organic growth, through two key factors that inform both content and design:
• A single message architecture, stemming from the Little MOO confirmation email, drives all tactical components of communication: visual, verbal, and interactive
• One set of brand guidelines applies to the entire company
In this chapter, we’ll deconstruct MOO’s approach to design and content strategy through the application of a message architecture. It can add to what you may already explore in a creative brief, or fuel communication with your client that other deliverables and activities manage to sidestep. Either way, if you’re a designer, creative director, or someone who manages designers, welcome. This chapter’s for you.
Want more on MOO’s content strategy? Check out Margot Bloomstein’s book Content Strategy at Work, and get the full story.