By David Greiner on 19th June 2014
As readers of this blog know better than anyone, building emails that look amazing everywhere has always been a lot trickier than it should be. Throw in the growth of mobile in recent years, and it’s only getting harder. Today, we’re ready to start reversing that trend by announcing a revolutionary new way to build emails. It's called Canvas, it’s available in your account right now and I think you’re going to love it.
Here’s a quick video demo to give you an idea how it works.
If you’re keen to give it a try, jump into your account and create a campaign. You’ll see a new gallery of emails you can quickly customize and make your own. If you’re interested in why we built Canvas and what makes it special, then read on.
For the last 12 months or so, a special team inside Campaign Monitor was tasked with creating a completely new way to build beautiful emails. Something that ignored all the current approaches out there, was intuitive, flexible but also simple enough for anyone to understand. And finally, the end result had to be a beautiful email that worked on every device, every time. Simple, right?
After exploring and testing literally hundreds of different UI approaches, we ended up with the simple design you see below.
If you’ve created an email with other tools on the market, you’ve probably come across a library of hundreds, or even thousands of templates. Each of these templates might only have subtle differences like a different color scheme, or an extra column. We thought that was backwards—overwhelm people with choice up front before they even add their content to the email.
Instead we wanted Canvas to be flexible. Let me choose a style of email that matches my brand, and then give me the ability to customize how I lay out content as I add it. Your content should inform the design of your email, not the other way around. For launch, we’ve got 10 completely different template styles available.
Once you’ve chosen the style that suits you best, that’s when things get really interesting.
Every single template has a range of unique layouts you can drop in depending on the type of content you’re adding. These layouts can be reordered and content can easily be dragged between them and will automatically update to suit the design for that layout. We’ll be adding more and more layouts to each template over time.
This approach means we can offer a smaller number of “templates”, but gives them almost endless flexibility based on the type of content you’re sending. No two emails from Canvas ever need to look like they came from the same template.
Drag and drop is a tricky thing. It’s great because it lets you easily move your content around as you build your email. But if you have too much flexibility when it comes to positioning elements in an email, it becomes too easy to break the grid and end up with things out of alignment. It also becomes confusing when you move an element and it doesn’t appear exactly where you intended.
Our solution was the blue line. Pick something up, move it around your email and we’ll show you all the places you can drop it with a simple blue line. We’ll automatically resize it down to suit the new location, adjust the padding, font weights and every little detail so that no matter what changes you make, your email stays balanced and conforms to a precise grid. Here’s what it looks like in action:
We’ve spent the last decade deep in the darkest corners of email design and discovered so much along the way. Every single trick, technique and a whole host of new hacks we’ve discovered as we built it have been poured into Canvas. Automatically generating VML code for your buttons so they look amazing in Outlook. Web fonts that work in more email clients than you’d think. Crazy table nesting tricks and complex media queries to stack columns on mobile devices. Retina everything. You name it, Canvas does it automatically and in the background. And yes - we'll share the coding techniques we've developed in the process of creating Canvas here very soon.
The idea of pixel perfection and email in the same sentence is something most email designers will laugh at. Rightly so - while it’s something you can come close to for the web, email clients and their pesky CSS support makes it near impossible for email. One very cool addition the team came up with (and a nice salute back to the older days of web design) was the new spacer element.
If you’d like to move away from the defaults Canvas provides for padding and margins between elements, the spacer allows you to tweak their position and we’ll do the rest to ensure it looks as intended across every email client. You’d be surprised how handy this thing is once you start building your own emails.
If you’re an agency or designer, Canvas is an insanely easy way to roll out new templates for your clients. Choose a style, drop in their logo, customize their footer and give it a name. Your clients can then jump in, choose that template and get access to all of the power of Canvas. We've put together a big FAQ to answer any questions about Canvas, how it fits in with existing templates, what your clients will see and more.
And of course, for anyone who wants to roll their own designs using our template language, the old editor will still be available for your clients, and all existing templates will continue to work exactly like they always have.
The most exciting thing about Canvas is that it’s just getting started. The team have built it in a modular way so we can continue to add more templates, more layouts and more types of content over time to give you even more power. We’ve got big plans for Canvas over the next 12 months, and are already heads down on some really cool improvements to what you see today.
It’s been a massive effort by the team to get us this far, and I personally wanted to take this opportunity to thank them for building something we’re all insanely proud of. We can’t wait to see what you start creating.
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