Dec 20, 2010

More Templates and New Tools

Over the past year, I’ve been tasked with various email template projects. One of my first projects was the creation of many of the predesigned templates found in the app. The latest was MailChimp’s Designer Templates.

Two or three months ago I started taking a much closer look at our template usage statistics and I found that our Start-From-Scratch templates are kings of the ring. People love the ability to customize their campaigns.

With that in mind, the decision was made to look into what changes in the template language and in the templates themselves would benefit users the most. Along with the rest of the User Experience team, I spoke with our developers and our support folks, looking to amass a big pile of ideas and then refine from there.

Those ideas in hand, we’ve started to chart out a path into the future (and we won’t even need 1.21 Gigawatts of electricity to get there). It was decided that the first step would be increasing the number of Start-From-Scratch templates from five to thirty, with templates that are flexible enough to give our users lots of options and allow the HTML-savvy to expand or change to suit their needs. We decided to introduce some additions to the template language that will allow for some layout trickery, standardized editor options, bridged some pain-points, and ensured ease-of-use.

There are now a total choice of 36 templates spread across categories like "Two-Column" and "Fancy". You’ll find templates built specifically for campaigns sent to mobile phones, or some that work well for sending image galleries or product listings.

Along with the increased number of templates available, we’ve also:

  • Refined the looks of each template using design grids, so that your content will always look as good as you’d want it to,
  • Added a larger amount of repeatable content blocks, allowing you to add and subtract (and even hide) areas for your content,
  • Included helper text in each content block to give you ideas on how to better utilize editable areas,
  • Reworked email pre-headers to give you the option of including a couple of lines of teaser text without sacrificing the important "view in browser" link,
  • Included links to Facebook and Twitter that, via merge tags, automatically pull in the profiles you’ve linked to your account (and which you can remove, should you not need them),
  • Added a "variant selector" to the template language, which allows you to swap between different types of content blocks as you create your campaign email,
  • Made image size restrictions more consistent in all templates so that there’s less of a chance a template will suffer a "blowout" due to an overly large image,
  • Introduced a Content Recovery System, which allows you switch templates and re-insert any of your content that may have lost its previous home,
  • Created an mc:hideable template language tag to allow you to hide and show specific blocks within email templates,
  • Extended the template language to include the @styles declaration, allowing CSS styles to be pulled into the campaign’s text editor and applied to selected content,
  • Standardized style options within the campaign editor, allowing for greater style choices while making email design a little more bullet-proof across various clients.

All of these changes and ideas have really gotten our brains cranking, and I can tell you that we’ll be spending the next year introducing more cool features, more cool templates, and more cool.. stuff. 2011 will be pretty exciting.