High Caliber Project

Imagine you’re building a piece of software that is going to be publicized every single day on and offline and the main content creators have never seen it before or been fully trained to use it. This is the short story of how we overcame that and other issues.

First, a little background on the project: In an effort to raise awareness of the all-new Dodge Caliber, the DaimlerChrysler team created an event that saw three teams of college students drive cross country to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. Each team took a Dodge Caliber and stopped at various destinations along the way to promote both the vehicle and the event. In addition to staged press events and interviews, the teams were encouraged to blog their experiences along the way using words and images. ICON was chosen to build the blogs and provide additional info like team bios and route schedules.

It’s important to note that we had an extremely tight schedule to meet with no room to let it slide a day for any reason. Everything had to be buttoned up in advance of not just the event, but the selection of the teams. That was fine. We’ve been there before.

Now for the hard part: the user.

You see, every project begins with a good idea of the target audience in mind. That in turn, helps us create the experience. But when you’re dealing with software where many people have to be able to jump right in without any training and thousands of people are watching, that’s where it gets interesting.

With this project, we had no idea who the students were before-hand. The students were picked very close to the start of the event, and therefore, we had absolutely no access to them…even to ask a simple question like “do you have your own blog?” Had they ever used a blog before? Commented on one? Run their own? Posted their own photos? Resized them properly? Get the pics off the camera in the first place? The list goes on and on. All we had was their name and a short bio.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s a blog. How hard could it be, right? There’s millions of blogs out there right now. True. But we couldn’t guarantee that these 9 people knew what to do with admin access to a corporate blog. And we had to account for their unique position, which was probably akin to being on tour in a rock band: non-stop driving, interviewing, photo taking, meet and greets, THEN blogging.

Imagine going through that experience every day and then being asked to sit down, download photos off the camera, resize them, login to the website, create a post, upload the photos and hopefully write something thousands of people would find interesting. That’s not something most people would find enjoyable for 7 days in a row if the software you were forced to use was not so great.

Here’s what we did to help the students out: We started by basing the 3 blogs on the codebase of thefirehouse.biz – the blog we built and still maintain for the Chrysler Group. The Firehouse has sophisticated functionality: a fully realized WYSIWYG editor, full featured image uploading, editing, and resizing functions, an entire post review/publish process on the backside, podcast support, plus lots more that I can’t even fully explain here. Put it this way. It’s far from your standard WordPress/Blogger experience.

One goal was to have as few UI and usability roadblocks as possible so the students could post as much as possible without having to call Chrysler’s PR group (and in turn have them call us for help). We simplified our software by reducing the number of steps required to do anything. We modified how you upload images, how you review the posts, how you create posts in the editor, etc. Again, when you don’t know the user’s proficiency, you’re safer to make things simpler to use instead of hiding lots of help copy that people will quickly stop reading.

Once the software was simplified, we didn’t leave the students out in the cold and throw them to the wolves. We supported the promotion daily. We were notified when new posts were entered. We checked the site at night after hours for image sizes, copy, and looked for content that we thought would compromise the event or our client’s brand. We even went in to the posts to help students resize photos to fit the site and make any formatting edits if necessary. Luckily for us, we didn’t encounter any content that wasn’t fit for prime time.

The blogs are still live if you’d care to take a look:


In the end, the sites really went off without a hitch and the students caught on to the software very quickly and seemed to have fun posting goofy photos of themselves and the sights and people along their way.