Jul 25, 2017 by Wendy Writing

On Making Mistakes

MailChimp has a unique culture. In our workplace, failure and mistakes are acknowledged as a part of learning.


This is painted on our floor at MailChimp HQ.  

As a technical writer, it’s my job to make sure all the words in the MailChimp app and the Knowledge Base look pretty darn perfect. Typos and errors can make things tough for our users to understand—or worse, erode their trust in our product. Even though the inevitability of human error is part of MailChimp’s philosophy, mistakes can be a hard pill to swallow.

The first time I noticed a typo in one of my newly published Knowledge Base articles, my stomach churned. I started reading my drafts over and over to catch mistakes and went a little overboard in my reviews. I got a bad case of tunnel vision in trying to make my work error-free. My checks, double-checks, and triple-checks started to take up lot of time. Too much time, to be honest.

Photo of artwork: Pencils punched into ceiling tiles that spell "Take Mis Takes"
Here’s an art installation from MailChimp’s office that hints that mistakes are part of the learning process.

MailChimp is a tech company, and technology can change in a flash, so our work pace has to be really fast. We may have to sacrifice a degree of perfection for speed. And that’s OK. Most of the time, it turns out just fine because we work on the internet, which allows for quick corrections. Typical mistakes are small and easy to catch, like a misspelled word or a stray comma every once in a while. But in rare cases, bigger things take me by surprise.

In the summer of 2016, I worked on a project with our UX designers to remake the MailChimp login page. We wanted it to be welcoming and friendly. The designers created the visual elements for the page, and I wrote the copy separately. I looked forward to making our users feel at home on the login page when they arrived at our site. So I imagined our mascot, Freddie, opening the door to MailChimp.com and telling users, “Come on in!”  

That was the line I went with because it felt just right. Soon, the UX team sent the full mockup over to me for final copy approval. I approved it and told them it looked great.

A few days later, I came into work and logged into my computer. A developer sent me an urgent message, “Wendy, there is something unfortunate and hilarious happening on the login page. Can you take another look at the copy?”

As soon as I saw it, it couldn’t be unseen. It was the stuff of my nightmares. If you don’t see it yet, try to channel your inner adolescent and I promise you, you’ll notice it.


A designer’s mockup of the updated MailChimp login page. We gave the page a new look for the summer of 2016, featuring an image of our mascot with his head in the sand.

A login experience that was supposed to be welcoming to our users suddenly looked crass and more than a little bit embarrassing. I had zoned in on getting my part of the project perfect, without considering the big picture. I am certain my face was bright red when I realized the mistake. I was worried somebody would barge into my workspace and fire me on the spot. I apologized profusely to the developer for the oversight. She said not to worry, because she missed it too.

Thanks to MailChimp’s supportive culture of collaboration and review, the mistake was caught early enough and the login page was updated before any of our millions of users saw the cringeworthy wording. And in the end, it all turned out OK. The cheeky new login page ended up getting a lot of positive feedback on social media.

Now, I think twice when I do my work. I like to look at the big picture instead of having tunnel-vision focus on my own tasks. This makes for a better end result, which is a lesson I’ll never forget!

I’m so glad that mistakes are accepted as a part of the learning culture at MailChimp—no ifs, ands, or butts.

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