Pushing the Envelope

I once worked with a creative director who mailed a coconut from his beachside vacation back to our office. No packaging. Just the coconut with the address written on the shell with an ever-present Sharpie®. He, like most creative types, had enough curiosity to find ways to “push the envelope” in places where there are many restrictions. He’s not the first to do this kind of thing with the United States Postal Service (USPS). In fact, there’s a long history of highly unusual items sent through the mail: diamonds (the Hope Diamond!), pets (seriously?), people (someone saved on their travel expenses), even buildings (80,0000 bricks specifically, sent 40 crates at a time with about 40 tons collectively shipped). These examples are likely some of the things that have led to what many designers like me lament: the ever-present mailing automation bureaucracy requiring approval on special direct mail sizes and packages. For example, that building that was shipped brick by brick led to the postal regulation of only 200 pounds of goods per day allowable for shipping.

While the USPS has no official motto, Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds is often cited, since it is chiseled in gray granite over the entrance to the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue.

I wonder if designers shouldn’t alter that motto to Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor….automation.

I say this in jest because of a recent project for a client with exquisite taste, a project of which I am very proud. This particular client expects all the graphics we develop to be the very best quality, which meets my artistic and design sensibilities perfectly. As ONSITE approaches the first full year of their newest addition to their facilities, a residential trauma center, we decided we would like to showcase them in the best way possible by creating their annual brochure with all the formality of a special invitation for those who opened it to learn more.

As in years past we designed a brochure with all the pertinent details of ONSITE’s services highlighted with beautiful photography showing their campus in all of its glory, with a warm, welcoming, and upscale yet homey feel. Located in rural Tennessee, ONSITE is surrounded by the rolling hills, flora and fauna typical of the area. Nature is everywhere, so we expressed this graphically in their brochure, using a specialty paper for the cover embossed with a wood grain exemplifying the diversity of trees in the area. This year though, we didn’t want to seal the brochure with the USPS required stickers, which always seemed to diminish the design of the brochure. Instead, we created a wrap that opens like a very special envelope.

LEFT: Outer wrap for brochure; TOP MIDDLE: Mail panel of outer brochure wrap; BOTTOM MIDDLE: Decorative sticker; RIGHT: Embossed paper and foil stamp

LEFT: Outer wrap for brochure; TOP MIDDLE: Mail panel of outer brochure wrap;
BOTTOM MIDDLE: Decorative sticker; RIGHT: Embossed paper and foil stamp

Initially, this wrap was only going to be closed on two sides, but USPS said: Nope—it needs to be enclosed on all sides for automation. We came up with a die cut wrap with the outermost flaps being equal in length and sealed with a sticker. USPS said: Nope—the sticker is not enough, and one flap needs to extend much further down on the vertical plane in order to go through automation safely. So we came up with a design that glues, and decided we liked the sticker design so much, we’d keep that too. Were we there yet? Nope—the paper we selected needed to have a white box for the mailing address because the contrast without it wasn’t enough for automation to read. With that, did we finally have an approval to proceed in presenting the design to my client, as well as get those much needed cost estimates? Yes! Oh happy day! After four rounds of prototypes, with everything from paper weight, paper color, finished print size, and sealing of materials reconsidered and revised, we had achieved the official stamp of approval from the USPS.

LEFT: Opened outer wrap showing brochure contained inside; RIGHT: Brochure spread showcasing the architecture of the new Milestones at Onsite residential center.

LEFT: Opened outer wrap showing brochure contained inside;
RIGHT: Brochure spread showcasing the architecture of the new Milestones at Onsite residential center.

Previous printings of the Onsite brochure required three clunky stickers in order to pass USPS automation requirements.

Previous printings of the Onsite brochure required three clunky stickers in order to pass USPS automation requirements.

 

While the postal regulations may drive us designers a little kooky, these regulations are all in place to help keep postal costs down, saving marketers what could add up to loads of money. So the research that goes into the planning process is of utmost importance. It’s more complicated than experimenting by slapping some postage on a coconut and sending it through the mail, especially when you’re sending several thousand pieces.

I am one of many designers certain that print still has its place, even if that is a much smaller place than a decade or even a year or two ago. While it’s hard to imagine major changes aren’t imminent in the way our mail is delivered due to less print mail being sent and the slow breaking of the USPS bank, direct mail still supports marketing efforts. Heck, even Google sends out direct mail!

Despite the major declines in revenue within the United States Postal Service over the past several years, my friendly postal worker still delivers mail to the box on the front porch of my house, traveling on foot practically every Monday through Saturday. She even greets me by name. I admit that I still get more junk mail and bills than I would prefer but, at the same time, I get that expectant excitement when someone sends me something personal around the holidays, my birthday or just because. I even enjoy getting the occasional catalog of products and services that I long to purchase at some point. I’ll even hang onto these if there’s something specific that catches my eye or I want a reminder to see what other products are offered online.

Because of these shifting trends in modern-day mail, the specially-designed piece is even more likely to get extra attention from consumers than the collection of coupons and junk mail. Coupled with a marketing campaign utilizing online advertising, e-blasts, social media and more, that well-designed print piece can make a bigger impression on customers. Marketers of course have to accurately pinpoint the target audience, and make sure the mailing list reflects this audience, but print still supports all the messaging a business puts out into the world. Nowadays, diversity of the medium is often key. If you need assistance with determining any of these services, please don’t hesitate to give Studio Haus a call! It’s what I love to do!

OTHER INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE USPS:

From Wikipedia:

USPS is an independent agency of the United States federal government responsible for providing postal service in the United States. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution.

The USPS traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress, where Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general.

The first postal service in America commenced in February 1692.

The official post office was created in 1792 as the Post Office Department (USPOD). It was based on the Constitutional authority empowering Congress "To establish post offices and post roads". The 1792 law provided for a greatly expanded postal network, and served editors by charging newspapers an extremely low rate. The law guaranteed the sanctity of personal correspondence, and provided the entire country with low-cost access to information on public affairs, while establishing a right to personal privacy.[14]

From the USPS web site:

The United States Postal Service is an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the Government of the United States and operates in a business-like way. Its mission statement can be found in Section 101(a) of Title 39 of the U.S. Code, also known as the Postal Reorganization Act: “The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. “

The USPS is legally obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality.

The USPS has not directly received taxpayer dollars since the early 1980s, with the minor exception of subsidies for costs associated with the disabled and overseas voters.

While the Postal Service has no official motto, the popular belief that it does is a tribute to America's postal workers. The words chiseled in granite over the entrance to the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue come from Book 8, Paragraph 98, of The Persian Wars by Herodotus. During the wars between the Greeks and Persians (500-449 B.C.E.), the Persians operated a system of mounted postal couriers who served with great fidelity. The firm of McKim, Mead & White designed the New York General Post Office, which opened to the public on Labor Day in 1914. One of the firm's architects, William Mitchell Kendall, was the son of a classics scholar and read Greek for pleasure. He selected the "Neither snow nor rain" inscription, which he modified from a translation by Professor George Herbert Palmer of Harvard University, and the Post Office Department approved it.