The iconic Yahoo! purple cow circa 2000 — design by Amy Armock

Yahoo!: Thinking Inside the Box

Design story and walk down the memory lane

Design starts from a pain

As a young designer at Yahoo! in 2006, HR came to me with a problem. Recruitment was failing at an alarming rate, and they were having difficulty explaining why. They were under intense pressure to improve the situation, and thought a smartly designed flyer explaining the benefits of working at Yahoo! would do the trick.

Design is pragmatism

I was able to deliver the flyer the same day. While that may have improved matters a bit, I knew it wasn’t enough to make the most of this opportunity.

Design is preparation

The next day I set up a meeting to examine the entire candidate experience to understand how I could help at a strategic level. The results of the experience audit revealed the problem: Yahoo! HR was sending six different mailings to candidates that were not consistently designed or thought out. Also the offer letter itself was full of legal mumbo jumbo that had no connection to the brand personality or company culture.

Design is asking the right questions

The question in this case wasn’t “Are candidates aware of the benefits of working at Yahoo?” The goal of the recruitment process wasn’t simply communication: it was inspiring an emotional connection with the company and brand. The better question we posed was, “Can we leverage our brand identity to make our employment offers a unique and memorable experience that provokes enough excitement to seal the deal?”

Design is focus

Once we had this emotional connection, it should be as simple as possible for the candidate to sweep through the details and say yes. The six mailings would be consolidated into a single box and harmonized visually, making the company look ready for business and the choice effortless.

Design layout and die-cut template

Design is consistency

Visually arresting Yahoo! Purple was the brand color and would be used not only throughout the materials to unify the messaging, but also the entire outside of the box, to make the offer appear as a nifty product in its own right.

Design is human

The interior of the box would be wallpapered with all the fun things Yahoo! employees do at the office. I worked with Steve Maller, an awesome photographer to capture the spirit of Yahoo!

Good ol’ times. Photo credit Steve Maller

Design embraces surprise

But what could make the experience truly memorable and unique? The Yahoo! Yodel was the internationally recognized mnemonic of the company, featured on countless TV and radio spots, and widely beloved. How do we bring that into the experience? Well, can we have the yodel sound when the box is opened? I did research on whether this was feasible and affordable and it turned out it was. Open the box, and….Yahooooooo!

Make sure your sound it on!

Design has value of its own

When the first boxes were ready and shipped out to candidates, they instantly became the talk of the town. Just to experience that moment for oneself made it attractive to apply. It represented Silicon Valley’s iconic new twist on everything: even a simple offer letter would be reimagined with the help of technology.

Final Yodeling offer letter box

Design is measurable

The results? A 40% improvement in the signing rate immediately after the yodeling boxes were introduced.

Design is durable

With such outstanding response, the yodeling boxes were used at Yahoo! for over 10 years. How could they take it away?

Design can have unintended consequences

One job candidate threw his offer in his trash can, and every time he added more trash it kept on yodeling. This wasn’t exactly the best brand placement for the company of course, but it was still memorable enough to reach the press.

Just a random video of someone opening Yodeling offer letter