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Press Release

Eric Sloss

For immediate release:
March 23, 2005

Carnegie Mellon Team Completes Redesign of U.S. Postal Service Domestic Mail Manual

New Manual Debuts at National Postal Forum, March 20-23

PITTSBURGH—"How to" manuals are often the last resource people turn to when trying to find accurate directions to perform a task. They're hard to navigate, complicated and difficult to understand. But now, thanks to a three-year collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design and the United States Postal Service, there's renewed hope for these instructional booklets.

At the National Postal Forum in Nashville, Tenn., March 20-23, representatives of a Carnegie Mellon interdisciplinary design team unveiled the newly redesigned "Domestic Mail Manual," which employs a user-centered design approach championed by the university's School of Design. The Domestic Mail Manual is the third USPS publication to be redesigned by the Carnegie Mellon team. "A Customer's Guide to Mailing" was published in 2002 and "A Guide to Mailing for Businesses and Organizations" was published in 2003.

The Domestic Mail Manual is a handy 7" x 9" booklet that sits readily available at all local post offices and was mailed to residents and businesses across the United States. The user-friendly, 24-page guide includes simple shapes of mail, functional grids to delineate important information, easy-to-read fonts and colors that will assist customers on their mailing needs.

The project began in 2001, when the USPS approached Richard Buchanan, then head of the School of Design, with a proposal for a three-month pilot project to see how Carnegie Mellon might help them redesign their "Domestic Mail Manual," a document that serves as the operational core of this federal agency. The USPS not only realized that the manual's efficiency and clarity could be improved, but that it could be critically positioned to reach out to customers in ways it had never done before.

The USPS, intrigued by the notion of user-centered design, was drawn to the School of Design because it offered the unique combination of innovation and collaboration. Carnegie Mellon was not only willing to work closely with the USPS, but was able to bring together an interdisciplinary team of students from Carnegie Mellon programs in Design, Interaction Design, Communication Planning and Information Design, Professional Writing and Human-Computer Interaction.

A team consisting mostly of graduate students was assembled and began work in the summer of 2001. After three months of research and user testing, the team identified three primary audiences for the USPS mailing standards: individual customers; small and medium-sized businesses and large business mailers; and postal employees and other expert-users.

"A Customer's Guide to Mailing," the first in the series, has received a prestigious Society of Technical Communication award and has been reprinted in Spanish and Chinese. This guide, intended for household and retail use, is available in every post office in the U.S. The second document in the series, "A Guide to Mailing for Businesses and Organizations," is specifically designed for the small business audience, a constituency previously underserved by USPS publications.

The "Domestic Mail Manual" (DMM) presented a more significant challenge for the Carnegie Mellon team than the first two. Because the regulations have legal standing, the team could not change any text. In order to improve the usability of the document, they redesigned the information architecture and the visual design of the existing text.

The designers were able to make the document more user-friendly by implementing a more modular structure based on user pathways. With this task-based approach, information is sequenced by the order of doing, and items are repeated when necessary instead of just referenced with a page number. While this format did increase the overall page count by 300-400 pages, it allows users to choose only the sections they need.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this project is the impact the project has had on the USPS. Carnegie Mellon introduced the USPS to user-centered design and subsequently helped them adapt their core practices to reach out to their external audiences. Sherry Freda, manager of Mailing Standards at the USPS Headquarters, joined the Carnegie Mellon team at an American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) design conference to discuss her experience with the introduction of design into a large organization.

While the completion of the "Domestic Mail Manual" marks the end of the School of Design's existing contract with the USPS, a close partnership has been forged and Carnegie Mellon hopes to continue to work with the USPS on future projects.

Design schools have rarely, if ever, received a contract this large and important for a design project. The project has brought in $3 million to the university, which has made it possible for the School of Design to support six full-time Ph.D. candidates and eight part-time master's students.

The School of Design is part of the Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts, which is an internationally recognized community of artists and professionals that also encompasses the schools of Art, Architecture, Drama and Music and their associated centers and programs. For more information about the School of Design and the College of Fine Arts, please visit

For more information about the School of Design's partnership with the United States Postal Service, please contact Angela Meyers at For any other information, please contact Eric Sloss at 412-268-5765 or


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