Confession time: I don’t read email newsletters. I’m signed up for several from UCONN (undergrad), I may get one from Cheshire Academy (high school) but I’m honestly not sure, and I get some stuff from Quinnipiac (grad school). I was encouraged to sign up for several newsletters in my first semester of grad school and seeing as I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newb, I did. I haven’t read – or possibly even opened – a single one. The only newsletter I read with any regularity is called The Crunchwrap (yes – the taco bell kind) because it’s written by my dog’s uncle.
Not reading newsletters wouldn’t be a big deal except that a LARGE part of my job is planning, contributing to, editing, and executing a monthly newsletter that goes to approximately 15,000 people a month.
It all began innocently enough – an alumni e-news that maybe came together quarterly and was made up mostly of shared news stories that had already been written by others. When the pandemic began, the e-news became a central part of our communications plan. Unfortunately for me, the need to produce this content was so urgent I never had much time to think about the branding or how it fit in with our overall communications aesthetic. I slapped together a logo and we got underway.
Since then, the CCU e-news has grown in a way that I am so proud of. I now lead a team of about 10 colleagues across three departments in quarterly meetings to discuss and plan content. I oversee the creation of the original content that is created for the newsletter and serve as the editor and producer of the piece 10 months out of the year.
While the process of creating the newsletter has evolved, the look has not in any real way. This week, I decided to change that – from brainstorming what needed work and what should stay the same, to creating a wireframe for the new layout, to creating new graphics and laying out a draft of our upcoming newsletter using the email design platform QuadMail.
I wanted to give the look of the newsletter a refresh that brought it into line with the new look of our website including new colors and the use of a gradient. I also wanted to find a way to organize the content of each newsletter under the category headings without it feeling clunky. The categories that can go into each CCU newsletter (although not every issue contains every category) are a lead story, a community profile, news from campus, events, stories from the archives, and the in case you missed it.
I began the process by creating a wireframe – an overview layout that includes every type of content that we may have in any given issue.
I used the website draw.io to create the wireframe as I had already worked with it in a previous class. Since wireframing isn’t something that I will need to do regularly, this free online program worked fine. And let’s face it… in my line of work showing up with even a basic wireframe makes me look like I know what I’m doing!
The wireframing process was interesting – I felt like I was two steps ahead because I already knew my content and the capabilities of the email platform. The other side of that coin was knowing the brand and the technical limitations made it hard for me to think big about my redesign. It was certainly a good time to reflect on whether the way I was already laying out the newsletter was the best option.
As always, my favorite part of the project was designing a new header. I didn’t want to stray completely from the Choate ConnectsUs branding, since we’ve used it regularly for the last two years on both the newsletter and our webinar series. Instead, I opted to give the branding a facelift with new fonts, new colors, and a gradient background. We’ve also begun brainstorming a new tagline to replace “Bringing Choate Rosemary Hall together, apart” but I am not enthusiastic about any of the options so far.
I also created section headers to help organize the flow of the stories within the email. Finally, I laid everything out in QuadMail.
The content of the March e-news was already finalized, but in future issues, I intend to focus more on finding images that are compelling instead of an afterthought. I also added buttons to direct the viewer to read more instead of links as had been done in past issues. I look forward to seeing if having the very bright call to action will increase clicks.
As you can see in the events section, the wireframe didn’t translate perfectly to the actual layout, but I wanted to keep the layout of the newsletter as true to the wireframe as I possibly could for this attempt. I will need to revisit the layout before we put this version into action.
I’m thrilled that I took some time to think through this process now that I’m well into my second year of producing the CCU E-news. Certainly, there are some limitations to what can be laid out using our mail platform, but it has made me think differently about what content we should include in each issue.