Why We Needed an Email Design System

Reading Time: 4 Minutes Product & Design

Up until recently, we have had one design team doing everything at Benchmark. What this means, is that the same design team that was creating the products and the development of new features was also in charge of design for marketing and creating and maintaining branding. I remember one time that our team was designing an email to promote a new feature  we were about to release. With no email design system in place and a desire to have some form of consistency, we spent over an hour scouring through past email headlines trying to find the correct hex value for the gray we had used in the past. It was apparent that we had a problem. However, working toward a solution didn’t feel pressing until six months ago when Benchmark decided to split the responsibilities of our single design team with a newly formed marketing design team.

In the past as the single design team, creating email templates for our company departments was difficult. With each specific purpose or departmental need, our team would come up with something from scratch. If the marketing department wanted an email last minute, there wouldn’t be enough time to create one for them of any quality. As you can imagine, we wasted time trying to maintain some consistency in our designs without a standardized system in place and found ourselves often frustrated and confused. These same design inconsistencies were multiplied across our international offices with emails sent out in nine different languages from Benchmark offices worldwide.

With the move to have a fully dedicated marketing design team that would take ownership of the email design templates, we recognized that a system needed to be put in place. Otherwise our experience of frustrations, lack of timeliness, unclear brand voice and having to return to old emails to find some form of consistent stylization not only would continue but would be amplified.

From these problems, we wanted to create a modular design system that would help to solve our problems of inconsistencies and lack of timeliness. We took an inventory of all of the emails that went out this past year from our Benchmark teams, including those from our international offices and organized them all by language and purpose to see what particular needs each office had to account for and what type of emails each region was sending. Some regions were focusing more on education, while others focused more on events and partners. Marketing needs will be different in each region. It’s important to create solutions that are inclusive to all of our offices and not assume that marketing needs in one region will be the same as elsewhere.

email-pieces

We took note of all of the emails that we saw repeating to get an idea of the modular pieces we might need i.e. monthly/weekly newsletters, promotion, webinar invites, product announcements, automated system emails, even personal emails from the company owners. Then, we documented the structure of each of these emails by the content sections that made them up. We then documented all of the styles for each of the sections. We found that we had numerous different styles being used for headers, content blocks, typography, social media buttons, contact info and image styles just to name a few. After we had everything documented, we were able to create unified styles for each use case. Things that we were considering as we did this were our current branding, of course being aware of the other languages and what was applicable for them, mobile styles, readability, aesthetic. It required us to sift through everything we have had before and create a standard for the aesthetic and appeal for our clients.

Another thing we had to do was to create and find an image strategy and what we should do for images since they can dramatically change the look of an email. In order to keep consistency, we created a guidebook that we passed on to our other international design teams and to our marketing team. We also collaborated with the marketing team to make sure our goals were aligned and everything meshed.

Our final challenge was setting everyone up to be able to use the new system. We accomplished this easily with our email platform. We set up our design system as a master account and made each office a sub account of the master account. Using the ability to send email designs to sub accounts, we were easily able to get everyone up to speed. We used to have everyone doing their own thing in separate accounts. Now being under one account, everyone has access to email design templates and it helps to maintain the consistency that we are looking for while allowing ease of use and maintaining a standard.

email-examples

I learned that it is easier to think of everything as a whole and create and manage a system rather than designing for each individual problem. The key, however, is to not create something and forget about it, but instead using it and revisiting it in order to make adjustments, followed by updating documentation to continue to maintain our standards and consistency. This is not something we have figured out completely yet, but it is a contined process of learning and growing. We used our own email editor to design all of our emails. We did this so that it is easier for local and regional content managers. Ideally. we would have done it all in code to have more control and to update standards more quickly. For now, using our own email designer was simpler and gave us an opportunity to feature our own product and being inclusive of ease of use.

This information is helpful and I wish that I had a detailed solution to reference prior to embarking on this journey. It has made such a difference for us. It was a pain point and took a significant amount of time to find a solution. So, if there is a way that this could be of use to our users, it felt important to share our process.

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