Content + Code Blog

Now you're thinking with blocks (how to look at things modularly)

“I'm going to guide you through using the power of thinking about email templates modularly, or in 'blocks'.”

Now you're thinking with blocks (how to look at things modularly)

A screen grab of a tutorial from the video game Portal.

Building a custom-designed email template requires a lot of overhead: designing it to follow brand guidelines consistently, coding and testing it to work in various email clients, regularly writing content, and plugging it into the template. It requires a tough balancing act between quality and efficiency.

In the videogame Portal, you're taught how to get past obstacles using a gun that creates portals, holes that you can travel through to get from your current position to another wall or platform that you shoot your second portal to. As the game progresses, you begin to realize just how powerful the mechanism is. Similar to how the AI guides the player through the game, I'm going to guide you through using the power of thinking about email templates modularly, or in 'blocks'. Minus the part of the game where the AI decides to try and kill the player.

Develop your toolset

From a design standpoint, use a brand style guide for your team to refer to. This will give everyone a sense of the patterns that make up the visual brand. For the development, learn about email client limitations and keep a collection of code hacks for recurring elements. And for writing content, develop a voice and keep it consistently on-message by collecting imagery and highlighting text blurbs.

Keep things blocky

Now use your toolset to develop a production process that holistically mixes design, development and content. Follow design patterns and development best practices, keep content succinct by focusing on quality over quantity. Here are some examples of the kinds of blocks that make up each aspect of the process:


"Follow design patterns and development best practices, keep content succinct by focusing on quality over quantity."

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Use apps

In the book, WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us, Tim O'Reilly makes the case that the robotic revolution will not replace our jobs, but augment them while creating new opportunities for how we work. Robots will be doing the mundane, repetitive tasks which they are good at doing, while we can focus on the more creative aspects.

The same applies to developing email marketing campaigns. When thinking about apps you can use, keep in mind an emphasis on the individual aspects of your email campaign that ensure quality of design, code and content. While email template builders seem like a good idea, they often fall short on meeting the requirements for the level of quality a custom template can demand. The best kind of email editor allows each team member to do more of what they're best at while reducing wasteful efforts.

In the end, the sum is greater than its parts. And now you're thinking with blocks!

To edit your blocks, we've made Blocks Edit to effectively augment your team's workflow and save a bunch of time in the process. Start thinking in blocks and sign up for a free trial.

Photo of Ovi Demetrian Jr By Ovi Demetrian Jr
Founder/Interactive Designer, Blocks Edit