In our Monkey Business series, we sit down with internal comms pros, HR top-performers and email gurus to get the best tips and tricks to engage employees, fix your culture, and help you improve business performance.
If you’re an internal communications professional responsible for crafting engaging employee newsletters, you should know firsthand that the world of email design is a hard one to navigate!
Well, coding email is harder! Email can render over 500 different ways, especially if you’re dealing with pesky email clients such as Outlook.
Luckily, there are many email design gurus out there who have already done all the hard work for you when it comes to designing emails.
Ted Goas is one such email design guru who firmly believes in the power of email as an effective mode of communication that is here to stay.
He is a Sr. Product Designer at Stack Overflow and an advocate for investing in good email design.
He helps companies, startups and local businesses with email projects by creating jaw-dropping responsive email templates from scratch!
We had a chance to talk to Ted regarding the importance of email design, the future of email and whether or not email clients will improve in the near future.
If you’re interested in levelling up your email design game or want to know what the future of email holds, read on. This one’s for you!
The Future of Internal Email and Responsive Email Design – Monkey Business with Ted Goas
1) A lot of people don’t believe email has a future. What do you think the role of email is in today’s world and what made you gravitate towards email design and development in particular?
In “Newsletters are Immortal”, David Pell argues that newsletters have staying power. I argue that email, as a whole, has proven staying power. Selling something? Onboarding a customer? Resetting a password? Email is everywhere. It’s a direct message from you to a single person. The moment your email lands in someone’s inbox, you’ve got their undivided attention.
On top of that, Email is something that nearly everyone uses and understands. There is no learning curve. There is no rate of adoption. Email is everywhere. Social sites and chat apps come and go, but people will be checking their email forever. Click To Tweet
Simply put, knowing how to work on email is an important skill to have now and in the future. I wrote more about why people should get into email on Medium.
2) From an email design perspective, what do you think are some of the important things anyone creating internal newsletters from Outlook needs to look into?
Until I heard about ContactMonkey’s tool, my advice would have been to keep the email as simple as possible; who knows what Outlook will do to the code when you hit Send or (even worse) Forward. I’m excited to see ContactMonkey tackling this problem.
On the plus side, a company’s employees often use a handful of email clients. e.g. one or two versions of Outlook and a few mobile clients. In these cases, folks working on internal emails can focus on a small number of email clients and not worry too much about testing in the 100+ clients out there.
3) What’s your favourite email newsletter? What do you think are some of the ingredients that make a kick-ass email newsletter?
My favorite newsletters are the ones with different sections. Articles, links, quotes, tools, jobs, events, etc. The variety ensures there’s always something I’m interested in. Email Weekly, Product Design Weekly, Authentic Jobs, Offscreen Mag, and CSS Tricks are just a few that I think do this well. I’m also totally hooked on Future Crunch. Each newsletter contains a ton of info, but it’s broken up in a way that’s not overwhelming.
4) Your favourite and least favourite email client?
My favourite is Apple Mail and iOS Mail. It’s basically like designing for a modern browser.
My least favourite email clients are Mail.ru, Web.de, Orange.fr and other non-US email clients. I see a lot of weird things happen with my designs and there’s almost no documentation for these clients.
5) In your experience, what have been some of the biggest challenges when dealing with email clients, especially Outlook and Gmail? And what are some of the ways to overcome these challenges?
Things like hybrid design have solved most of the problems I had developing emails for Outlook and Gmail. When it comes to these clients, most of my time is spent explaining their quirks to folks who aren’t familiar with email design.
For instance, many folks don’t realize there are so many types of Gmail and that they render email differently. Or introducing someone to VML (vector markup language that ships with Microsoft Office) for the first time and watching their jaw drop.
6) What does your current process look like when working on email design and development?
My workflow starts with a functional spec. I’ve been using a modified version of a template that Jay Jhun shared at The Email Design Conference in 2014. This allows everyone to contribute early and build a shared understanding of what we’re doing.
I design in Sketch and share my progress early and often with everyone involved. Once a design is validated, I jump into Sublime and use Cerberus as my starting point. When the rough draft is coded, I move to Litmus Builder and push it across the finish line. Lastly, I integrate it into SendGrid, Iterable, Campaign Monitor, our codebase, or whatever ESP it needs to be in and support the team in QA and reporting.
7) On a Litmus podcast, Kevin Mandeville preaches the importance of “coding like it’s 2017 and fall back like it’s 1999.” Many developers and designers continue to remain optimistic that rendering engines will continue to improve and web and email may eventually come together. What’s your take on all of this?
I don’t think the main purpose of email is to render web pages, so I don’t expect universal email rendering to reach web standards anytime soon. So if we code like it’s 2017, we should realize the design will fail for some folks. So we either need to be okay with that or, as Kevin says, write additional fall back code to ensure everyone has a relatively similar experience. Ultimately our job is to convey a message and the quality of a rendering engine shouldn’t get in the way of that.
8) I’ve heard of developers using different techniques such as “progressive enhancement.” What are your favourite hacks and techniques when it comes to email?
I’m a fan of progressive enhancements that can silently fail without affecting the experience too much. I reach for things like subtle hover effects (that don’t work in Gmail), animated GIFs (that are stuck on the first frame in Outlook), and web fonts (that don’t display in Yahoo). These progressive enhancements don’t require much, if any fallback, so it’s easier to scale them without spending too much time on maintenance or troubleshooting.
9) Tell us about Cerberus, your open-source project. What motivated you to kick-start this project and did you ever anticipate how well-received it would become?
Cerberus was a classic “scratch your own itch” project. I’d been coding emails for a while, but the things I’d learned and hacks I’d used were scattered over a dozen projects. I thought, “Why keep recreating the wheel?” and created a set of starter files that I later open-sourced as Cerberus. I never thought anyone else would use it, but I’m so happy that folks have!
10) What advice would you give to young developers entering the world of email design who will have to deal with designing responsive emails from Outlook?
For someone just entering the world of email design, I’d advise them to stay away from designing responsive emails from Outlook! At least to start, since that’s more of an advanced topic. Learn of fundamentals of email design and writing, familiarize yourself with Campaign Monitor’s CSS guide, and gradually work your way up to building responsive email and debugging Outlook quirks. It’s definitely encouraging to know though that with tools such as ContactMonkey, you are able to without having to worry about rendering issues.
Key Takeaways (TL;DR)
- Email is definitely here to stay. New social media apps and tools will come and go but email will always remain a primary mode of communications. That’s why you can’t go wrong by investing in good email design.
- If you’re an email designer, be sure to implement fall backs in your code in order to create a seamless email experience.
- Aspiring email designers, designing emails from Outlook is an advanced topic! Be sure to first get familiar with some basics of email design before you start trying to fix Outlook issues.
- Tools such as ContactMonkey have now opened up exciting possibilities for the future of email design, especially when it comes to sending responsive emails from Outlook.
Let us know what you thought of our chat with Ted. If you want to add to the conversation or share your email hacks on email design, tweet at us with #MonkeyBusiness!
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