Hello, Moz community! My name is Derric Wise and I am the Art Director here at Moz. After three years here,, I have often been asked the same two questions:
The second question is attached to a longer of an answer, which is what this post is all about. Let me introduce you to Matthew Heilman who, as Creative Director in 2010, hatched the idea that eventually led to the creation of our beloved Roger.
Without further adieu, let’s hear it from the man himself…
Q: Who are you? Let us know where you hail from and what you do.
My name is Matthew Heilman (insert shameless plug
) and I currently reside in the perpetually damp city of Seattle (go Sonics!). I’m currently the lead UX designer for the mobile properties over at Nordstrom, which is actually a few blocks north of where the main Moz office is. My number one goal at Nordstrom is to make our customers happy by providing them with intuitive and relevant features, with a sprinkling of fun. I guess if you really want to simplify it, you could say that I make it easy for people to buy nice pants while they’re on the move. Prior to being at Nordstrom, I was the Creative Director at the SEOmoz and was the mad scientist behind the creation of Roger.
Q: What inspired you to create Roger?
I remember when I first came to SEOmoz; there was only a handful of people in comparison to the cornucopia of folks there now! With that said, the brand and design were also in their beginning stages. Matt Inman had created a great start and established a consistent design language for the company at the time, which was awesome because I didn’t inherit total craziness. One thing I personally thought that Moz didn’t have at the time was a visual voice or champion for the brand. We did have two things going for us, though: a recognizable logo, and a CEO who was a figurehead in the community.
I had sketched up some random ideas prior to creating Roger, one of which was taking Rand and turning him into a cartoon character. I ditched that direction because I felt that, as a brand, we should create a voice that wasn’t anchored by a real human and had more of a 3rd party role. When thinking of a mascot, I wanted to create something that was a little more fun and approachable. With Roger, I really wanted to create was something that would almost make you feel bad when you thought about leaving; kind of like the feeling you get when you try to leaving your house and your puppy is crying. (But seriously, don’t leave SEOmoz because if you do, then you make puppies cry.) Really what came about was a lovable-looking robot that really made you feel good about the decision you made to be a part of the SEOmoz community.
Q: Where did you get the name Roger?
Honestly, I would love to tell you that it came to me in a dream while I was on a long trek across Tibet, but that one was all Scott Willoughby. Scott was SEOmoz’s Director of Conversion and Retention Marketing during the time that I was working on Roger. He was integral about backing the idea of having a cartoon robot play a role in the brand, and he also had some really stellar ideas about what we could do. I remember brainstorming ideas at the time, and Scott’s suggestion of Roger just seemed to make sense. It really fit the whole lovable robot idea perfectly, in my opinion.
Q: Why a robot and not a camelopard (Google it!)?
Because a camelopard only has +10 stealth and is susceptible to magic attacks, and everyone knows a robot is impervious to magic attacks. Actually, a camelopard sounds pretty sweet. Maybe you guys can add a little antagonist into the mix and make it a camelopard?
In all reality, during the time I was kicking around ideas, the robot just seemed like a good fit with the industry. Something mechanical and a little more sci-fi was more of a natural fit.
Q: What problems were you trying to solve by adding a mascot to the brand?
At the time, there really weren’t too many problems with brand identity that I was trying to address with Roger. My main goal was to steer SEOmoz away from what the rest of the industry was doing, which was having real life spokespeople be the identity behind the brand. At the time, we had Rand who was a figurehead in the industry, but it just seemed too familiar in comparison to what other people were doing with brand recognition. We had a real opportunity as a younger company to try something different and outside of the box.
I think you run into situations with real life spokespeople that are hard to get out of. Perceptions can change on a dime with real life mascots, and it’s sometimes hard to change direction, especially when the spokesperson is your CEO. With Roger, we could always pull back and try something different if it was a massive fail. I also go back to what I previously said about creating a mascot that has these lovable qualities — qualities that appeal to a broad range of people.
Q: In your experience, has the mascot helped the SEOmoz brand?
Most definitely. Having Roger has helped establish SEOmoz into its own sort of brand niche. The fact that we created momentum and recognition with Roger was great; we made a decision as a company to lead in the industry when it came to mascots and visual recognition. It’s tough to set yourself apart from the competition these days, whether with technology innovation or brand innovation. It’s really about seeing what the competition is doing and going into a different direction that is still relevant.
However, I wish it was just as easy as creating a mascot and, wah-lah, you have a recognizable brand. You almost have to tread a fine invisible line with mascots, because you can really get into a situation where you overexpose the mascot and dilute the true focus, which should be that of product innovation and customer service. I think the mascot is really secondary, or even tertiary, to good product design when it comes to visual hierarchy in the brand. A good user experience and useful features is really where the focus needs to be when it comes to the brand of the company; this is really what keeps people coming back.
It’s really easy for people to create a mascot and put it on everything imaginable, but you can get to a point where people just don’t want to see it anymore and it loses its impact. I would almost compare that scenario to an overplayed song like “The Macarena.” I really think SEOmoz has done a great job of not over exposing its users to Roger. Moz has really used Roger as the sort of loveable hook to get people in, but has also focused on the priority of creating great features and providing outstanding customer service.
Thanks, Matt! And there you have it, folks. That’s the backstory of Roger. Let’s all marvel at his work for a second:
However, the story does not end there. Matt and I go way back. I mean WAAAY back — like all the way to second grade back. As you can see, we have always been hard at work creating things together.
When I started at SEOmoz, my first project was to expand the Roger character. I have a background in illustration, so I broke out my trusty pencil and started animating Roger in alternate poses, adding different costumes and situations, the works. To this day, I literally have piles of hand drawn Roger images and assets that we then scan and rebuild in Adobe Illustrator. Currently, we are developing new landscape scenes for Roger to live in, which we call the “Land of Moz” around the office. Ultimately, this expansion to Roger’s lifestyle helped redefine Roger to become the robot we all know and love today.
The changes made to Roger are both minute and drastic at the same time. Rather than list out each difference, I will just show you. After all, I am a visual type of person. Check it out!