SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A we speak with Leesa Wytock, senior director of experience, about our engagement with HMH.  

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is a global leader in Pre K-12 educational content and services, combining digital innovation and research to make learning more engaging and effective. 

Why did HMH engage us?

HMH engaged us because they were looking to redesign their customer-facing digital experience. HMH was an established leader with a digital experience that fell flat in articulating a clear brand mission to the user. When HMH reached out to us, they had a tangled web of brands and websites that wasn’t laddering up to a larger, more integrated HMH story.

HMH’s goal was to sharpen their story and bring it to life in a human and modern way. Their website was a powerful opportunity to serve their customers better. HMH wanted to completely revamp their digital experience with the aim of creating an experience that would express their learning POV, and, most importantly, help visitors easily find solutions and content that engages them.

How did we help this 180-year-old company start a new chapter?

When HMH engaged us, they were going through a massive business transformation—they were on a journey to articulate what they stood for. It was the perfect time for us to redesign their experience, using the lens of what matters most—their customers.

We started out by helping them prioritize the main audiences their website would speak to: customers buying system-wide educational programs and educators looking for content to enhance their classroom. Next, we helped HMH shift perceptions of their users and what their specific needs were.

Previously their website prioritized an “add to cart” experience. Their new experience needed to better balance their e-commerce needs, while allowing users to understand their offerings and why HMH is the right choice for them.

We also created a visual and verbal toolkit to modernize and humanize HMH’s new experience. Their new toolkit was built around the core design idea “defying gravity,” and included UI elements, design techniques, animation principles and voice guidelines. We trained the entire HMH design and communication teams on how to use this toolkit to ensure scale and consistency.

What were some of the challenges of creating this new digital experience for HMH?

When we started the project, the company was undergoing a significant and meaningful transformation, which meant we had to work in an incredibly open and agile nature to pivot based on new feedback and perspectives.

Once we “looked under the hood”, it was clear that we needed to do some extreme simplification so HMH could effectively serve their customers. Simplifying a digital experience requires making tough decisions and keeping your customers relentlessly at the forefront of your decision-making. Extreme focus and editing can be challenging, but these challenges were made much easier by the fact that our clients at HMH were some of the best we’ve had. We were truly in it together, with a singular focus and fierce dedication.  

How are we helping HMH continue to evolve their brand?

HMH is evolving into The Learning Company. We are using this shift as a lens for the purpose, brand story and ongoing touchpoints that we’re developing for both their internal and external audiences.

Leesa Wytock is senior director of experience at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @leesawytock