Meet a Community Champion: Nicole Merlin

By Ros Hodgekiss on 20th June 2013

Community Champion: Nicole MerlinWe've encouraged many of our customers to share their knowledge via blog posts - not just for the feel-good factor, but because it's the best way to get recognized in the email and web communities alike. This month's Community Champion took up the challenge by starting the Email Wizardry blog, which has since become a runaway hit. Whether or not you know her from being a self-publishing phenom or friendly face on the forums, please welcome Nicole Merlin to the Community Champion stage.

Hi Nicole, you've really made some noise by sharing your know-how via your blog. What motivated you to start educating others?

a really well-designed email can be impressive in its own rightI was definitely motivated by being familiar with how difficult coding HTML emails is. When thinking back to my early days, I reflect on how awesome it would have been if there were more helpful, email-focused sites. There are many more resources available now, but nowhere near as many as there are for the web, so I just want to contribute to the mix in the hope that I can help make it easier for others.

As a designer, I like to shine a light on well-designed HTML emails and not just focus on ROI and clicks. I really want to be able to analyse email from not just a marketing perspective and show that a really well-designed email can be impressive in its own right.

Your recent blog post on the Mailbox email client recently got a lot of attention.

It definitely did! That post has received around 1,250 hits since I wrote it – I definitely did not expect that. Thanks to a few retweets from Campaign Monitor, Litmus and others, my blog is a lot more popular, thank you very much!

It’s funny because I almost didn’t post that article; I realized just before I leaving work for the day that I probably should share my observations. It's now turned out to be the most popular thing I have ever written.

Email is a unique field of expertise - what is your background story?

I spend a lot of time educating people about HTML email because it is perpetually misunderstoodMy love of web development started at 16 when I taught myself to code by creating a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fansite, using tables - it was 1999 after all. I later studied Communication Design and worked at a print factory, learning the ins-and-outs of print design. I continued to work in print for a while, before returning to web design.

I currently work as a designer at an advertising agency in Melbourne, Australia and although I primarily design for websites, I often get to work on HTML emails. When I started here a few years ago, my first HTML email job was a newsletter for a big paint brand. Being familiar with using tables - thanks to all those fansites I made - I was totally comfortable laying it out. However, I consistently tried to defy the lack of CSS support, so spent about two or three times the allocated hours trying to figure out things like what the heck Outlook was doing to my styles.

These days (and a few thousand hours of email coding later), I do quite a bit of email work, but being in a corporate environment means I am bound to the briefs and budgets of our clients. I also have to spend a lot of time educating people about HTML email because it is perpetually misunderstood, which makes it difficult to get the resources needed to apply progressive and cutting-edge design and development methods to client work. Working privately on projects and my blog lets me get all of that out of my system!

Finally, we've spoken to customers who have had great design tips and ideas, yet have been hesitant to start blogging. What advice can you offer?

Oh man. Post them! Absolutely post them. The more information that exists about email quirks and perks, the better!

The thing that used to deter me from publishing my findings was the fear of people on sites like StackOverflow where the immediate response is often to shoot down whoever is answering a question. Eventually, I realised that it was silly not to share what I know!

I get stuff wrong all the time and sometimes struggle with posting ideas on a forum because occasionally you realize a day later that you have it totally wrong and have to go back and fix it. But I think it’s way better to just put it out there - you can go back and add another comment if you learn something new. Everyone is in this together, and I find that everyone in the email development community is really friendly and nice.

The worst that can happen is what used to happen to me, which is that my blog got about 2 visits a week. I was happy with that. Now that I get more visitors, the old posts that I wrote when it was completely unknown are still useful. And most of all, the response that I have had has been overwhelmingly positive.


A huge congratulations to Nicole for taking the Community Champion crown for the month of June - her Email Wizardry blog is well worth following, as are her email tutorials on tuts+. If you've been proactive in helping others, we may get in touch with you in the months ahead. However, if you'd like to nominate a fellow customer, be sure to get in touch with details, including how they've helped you.

7 Comments

  • Mark
    21st June

    Great article.
    I’ve been thinking about sharing some of my findings on a few little tricks I’ve found.  All I need now is the time…

  • André Armenni
    21st June

    You are always a Champion Nicole! Thanks for helping me out with your blog and twitter!

  • Nicole Merlin
    25th June

    Thanks André and Mark!

    Mark — definitely make sure you share :) I started with Tumblr. It was a very easy way to get going.

  • Terri
    3rd July

    Very awesome. As a fellow agency email developer I’ve dug through many a random web search and comment thread frenzy searching for email problem fixes. There are very few tutorials and even less posts with good fixes that go in depth or offer cross-platform testing.

    Email is the red-headed step child of the web and it shouldn’t be. It is such a part of everyone’s daily lives and livelyhood.

    Kudos Nicole.

    This stuff is constantly going to change, as does everything digital (it’s a living standard), so blogs are perfect. I’m inspired.

  • Karine
    3rd July

    Nice to see people who gives their time to help others!
    Am so glad to have start making website 18 years ago, For me its faster making a HTML newsletter then coding a css website.

  • Nicole Merlin
    31st July

    Thanks Terri and Karine :) Totally agree with you Terri about email being the castoff (until now). I think a renaissance is approaching!

  • Joaquin
    23rd September

    I am about to enter this field of development. I am looking at your blog right now and trying to learn how to do things!

    I hope more people like you will popout

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