Community Spotlight: Mark Robbins

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The Community Spotlight is a new monthly blog series highlighting some of the amazing members of the Litmus Community.

This month, we’re chatting with Mark Robbins, an email designer, Community all-star, and musician. You can follow him on Twitter and check out some of his work on his website.

So who are you and what do you do?

I’m Mark Robbins and I work for Rebelmail where I build interactive and experimental emails.

community-spotlight-mark-robbins

When did you first get involved with email marketing and design?

A little over 2 and a half years ago I got a job at The Learning People, where I was tasked with building the HTML emails that account for a large part of the traffic to the site.  After a couple of months of this I got curious as to why certain things couldn’t be done.  Why can’t I use an <li>? What’s going to break, which clients will it break in and what will it look like?  I started doing my own tests and found a lot more was possible if you spend a little time on it.

The Learning People were great at giving me the opportunity to build my knowledge.

What are some of your favorite tools? And what does your typical design process look like?

I love Litmus obviously, the testing I do there is hugely valuable. It’s just not practical to test on that many devices without it.

Kevin, our designer, will work closely with a brand to create a design that makes use of our interactive technology whilst staying true to the brand identity, and that really enhances the email user experience.

Then I have a gulp workflow to build the actual code. I can break my code down into modules and then every time I save it compiles the code and refreshes a preview in the browser.  This means I can make a change to the header, footer or even the master CSS and it’ll be applied instantly across all the templates using that module.

What’s your favorite email hack?

There are so many I love. It’s one of my favorite things about email, I love that it’s dirty and you have to get creative to make things work.

My overall favourite has to be the checkbox (or radio button) hack, it’s what most of the interactive stuff I build is based on.  It can really expand the possibilities in email.

Mark presenting at Completely Email.
Mark presenting at Completely Email.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in email today?

The unknown.  When a browser releases a new version they will document the changes and have a beta release available for developers to test on.  In email, we don’t know about a change in an email client until someone posts on twitter or the Litmus Community.

You’ve done some pretty impressive email experiments, including a games in email and some interesting Community Contest entries. How do you come up with new ideas to test out?

Ideas can come from anywhere, usually a small comment and it just gets me thinking—how can I put that in an email? How could I push that further?

Justin Khoo, suggested putting a score counter in a game so I built ThWack-a-Vole.

Andrew King, made a comment about Super Mario in an email so I built Mario.

Mike Ragan did a great talk about pixel art in email, which inspired me to build a dancing Carlton Banks (this one takes a while to load).

One of Mark’s recent Community Contest entries.

 

Also the guys at Rebelmail don’t think about limitations, they really push me. On quite a few occasions I’ve said no that’s not possible, then a day, a week or even an hour later I’ll find a solution.

My experiments aren’t always practical but it’s not about that, it’s about pushing the limits to find what’s possible. That can then be scaled back into something that will work for the end user.

What do you think email will look like in five years?

I really like the look of the Microsoft HoloLens. I think we’ve had enough of screens getting smaller—how much usable information can you actually fit on a watch face?  I think this holographic augmented reality type technology is the future.  You won’t be squinting to read your email on a tiny screen, you’ll be reading off a wall or a table, or just have them floating a few feet in front of your face.  And Outlook 2020 will still render emails in Microsoft Word.

When can we expect 2 String Slim to play at The Email Design Conference?

When you meet my rider demand of 1000 brown M&Ms to fill a brandy glass.

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