An exhibition bringing email off the screen and into the Design Museum.
Mailchimp is the leading email marketing platform. But when the brand came to SSS with a brief to concept an exhibition about email marketing, we saw an opportunity to unlock an even more powerful story about the digital workhorse.
Article after article, our research showed us that the world was pondering the demise of email. Yet, over 50 years after its inception, it remains more relevant than ever. It's outlived prime ministers, presidents, countless technological trends, and fads. Remaining the world's most trusted and reliable source of communication throughout multiple decades, impacting not only our professional correspondences but also our personal lives and cultural norms.
From this insight, Email is Dead was born, an exhibition that went far beyond the topic of email marketing, exploring the cultural power of email, its origins, and continued relevance as an essential part of our everyday lives, both personally and professionally.
Email is Dead was an interactive exhibition at the Design Museum in London in the fall of 2023, which sought to demonstrate that email isn’t dead, but more alive than ever.
The exhibition began by taking visitors through over fifty years of email history with a visual timeline that highlighted both the technological and cultural significance of this everyday tool. Then, through a series of immersive installations, visitors went on a journey that worked to explore three key assertions: Email is Powerful, Email is Personal, and Email is the Future. Together, this narrative journey demonstrated email’s global impact, our intimate and personal relationship with the communication medium, and its future potential in both our lives and the broader world.
Within Email is Powerful, a photo booth transported visitors to a randomized assortment of imagined locations around the world, demonstrating email’s global connectivity, while a graphic installation visualized email’s power as a business tool.
In Email is Personal, SSS curated a selection of life-changing emails from around the world. From an adopted child finding her birth parents to a life-saving cancer diagnosis to Airbnb’s co-founders initiating the idea for their multi-billion dollar company over email, SSS tracked down emails from celebrity talent and everyday folk alike to highlight the myriad of important messages that travel to and from our inboxes every day.
Next, we crafted a digital quiz that determined a visitor’s email personality. Through questions that assessed one’s emailing habits, this quiz worked to highlight email’s impact on linguistic conventions in a fun and interactive way. Are you for or against exclamation points? LOL or hahaha? Rarely do we stop to think about how email affects the way we communicate!
We also recognized we couldn’t make an exhibition about email without speaking to the frustrations it can cause. Unwanted spam. Unprovoked ghostings. Unfortunate typos. There are all kinds of ways email can let us down and affect us on a personal level. To honor this reality, we also came up with dozens of absurdist inventions that tackle the everyday annoyances of email, visualizing them through built constructions, 3D renders, and illustrations with the help of our creative partners. From an Inbox Elixir that achieves the hallowed zero inbox in an instant to a pair of Tone Reading Glasses that help analyze whether the person sending you an email is actually being rude or you’re just reading it wrong, we imagined every email problem and solution under the sun.
To conclude the exhibition, we aimed to demonstrate that email isn’t just surviving, but thriving, and will be for years to come. Here, we invited a selection of email experts to predict the future of email. Finally, we invited visitors into the ‘perfect place to send an email’—an immersive cloud room where they could send an email to their future selves. This digital questionnaire, accessed via a QR code, captured visitors’ favorite memories of the day, as well as their hopes and dreams for the future, to be auto-sent via Mailchimp a year from their date of visiting the exhibition.
In addition to the concept development of Email is Dead, SSS also developed the art direction and spatial design, creating a distinct visual identity and graphic application of the design system throughout the exhibition environment. Through the identity, we created a sense of depth that speaks to email’s impact and expansive power as a communication tool. The UI of email is inherently flat, but the potential is limitless. We alluded to this boundless potential by using imagery of the sky and inflating familiar icons.
The spatial design focused on creating a playful and approachable space through the use of color, inflatables, and interactive interfaces.
SSS also oversaw the exhibition’s music direction in collaboration with music producer D33J, creating an original composition for the exhibit. The composition included all the sounds you might hear when sending an email, such as a swoosh, pop, ding, type, click, and send. SSS also worked with Olear Studio to create a bespoke fragrance meant to capture the olfactory essence of email.
The result was an exhibition experience that challenged visitors to look at email differently, turning the mundane into something magnificent.