#LitmusLive in Black and White

Jason Rodriguez
Aug 19, 2016 · 7 min read

One way or another, I’ve been to The Email Design Conference every year since it started. Last year, I rolled around and chatted with #emailgeeks via robot. Every other year, including this one, I had the pleasure of shaking hands and sharing a drink with them, too.

After all of those conferences, I can honestly say that this year’s Boston edition was the best yet. Here’s why.

It’s all about the community

Even being a Litmus employee, I’m constantly amazed at everyone’s dedication to serving the email community above all else. While we had a few demo stations and the requisite branding on conference materials, The Email Design Conference is about the farthest thing from a user conference that you can imagine.

Aside from mine and Kevin’s use of Builder in our workshops, I’d be hard-pressed to find anything in a session that approached a pitch for Litmus or our products. Every session is about sharing the best ideas from the smartest people in the email industry.

It’s about the people attending, not our product. I think I can speak for everyone at Litmus when I say that I’m damned proud of that.

From fun surprises to impromptu round tables and conversations in the hallway, TEDC proves to be an amazing place for the community to come together and geek out over one of the geekier topics in the tech world.

It’s equally amazing to see that extend to the after parties, too. I’ve been to my fair share of conferences and, while there’s the occasional good after party, most hover somewhere between a little awkward and absolutely cringe-worthy.

Instead of forcing attendees into uncomfortable conversations or making everyone yell over some shitty rock band playing mediocre songs while everyone waits for that one big hit, people can chat over a glass of beer or water and enjoy some decent food while discussing the events of the day, their jobs, or life outside of the email world. Plus, brisket.

It’s amazing to see old industry friends connect, and even more amazing to see new industry friendships made throughout the week. Sure there were a few rivalries forged in the fires of cornhole, but tensions were quickly cut with a swing at The Lawn on D.

It brings together the smartest people in email

It was either on Twitter or in someone’s roundup post, but I remember seeing something along the lines of:

TEDC is great because it doesn’t care about titles. The speakers are giving talks based on what they do and what they’ve done.

No one is up on stage resting comfortably on their laurels. Each speaker is invited based on what they do, what they’ve done, and the way they communicate that to the audience so that it’s understandable and, most importantly, useful.

They’re the doers. The people that have lived in the trenches and have the scars to prove it. And they’re willing to share their experiences so that you can keep your hide scar-free.

It’s not just some old boys club monopolizing every talk with the same thing they’ve been spouting for the past decade. It’s a relatively diverse conference with a diverse audience that spans genders, race, and nationality on top of the typical industry, market, and professional focus.

If I have one hope for next year, it’s that TEDC is even more diverse. I talked to a few people that come from different countries with different languages and different design and marketing considerations. With a little work, I’m sure we can get those people up on stage next year sharing their stories so that we can expand the “Make Email Better” ethos outside of the typical North American and European audiences.

The ideas are amazing

Because everyone speaking is so damned smart, the ideas discussed are downright fascinating. From the history of buttons to complex hyper-personalization using AMPscript, there were deep dives into some really cool topics for everyone.

Coming from a design perspective, my two favorite themes from TEDC were around modular design and interactive emails.

We saw the concept of modular design — building emails with reusable components — taken to the extreme. Emma Goodman’s talk on how TripAdvisor uses modular design and data from Excel files to build out emails for multiple points of sale and languages was fascinating. Likewise for Matt Grantski and Phil Herbert’s talk on using modular frameworks and good subscriber data to hyper-personalize emails. This wasn’t just dumping in a subscriber’s first name, it was building completely custom layouts, with extremely relevant content, for each subscriber.

Interactive email has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue for what seems like a while. With TEDC London and now Boston, I think we’re about to see everyone screaming their lungs out about it. There were more than a few talks (and an entire workshop) that showed off not only examples of interactive emails, but the techniques and, perhaps more importantly, the reasoning behind building them. Not to mention at least one really, really good Photoshop of “the godfather of interactive email”, Mark Robbins.

One of the best things to come out of the conference, even if some people disagree (I’ll address that in another post), was the announcement that Litmus and Microsoft have partnered to provide the email community with the world’s first email client feedback loop.

The moment Justine invited Caitlin Hart, a program manager for Outlook at Microsoft, on stage, the email world changed. After the collective gasp and subsequent roar of applause from attendees, Justine, Kevin, and Caitlin talked about the shortcomings of Outlook, their understanding of what needs to happen, and the current plan to address issues in Microsoft email clients.

Let’s be clear about something: the fact that a Microsoft employee was on stage at an email industry event is a big deal. Things may not happen immediately, and email designers might not have all of their dreams come true in the next few months (there’s always Gmail), but this signals a big shift for everyone. With any luck, it’s the start of a trend across email client vendors to engage the community and improve their own email rendering engines — making email — and all our lives — better in the process.

My team

From a personal perspective, TEDC Boston gives me the chance to see the entire Litmus team. At this point, we’re spread across the globe, so getting a handful of days to meet new faces and catch up with old friends is one of the highlights of my year.

At the very first TEDC in Boston, we weren’t even twenty people strong. It was a small (but great) conference put on by a small and scrappy team. Fast forward to this past week, and we’ve just exceeded 70 people. The Litmus family is big, and getting bigger.

Having the opportunity to meet face-to-face is invaluable. Apart from the work that gets done, it’s an opportunity to chat about music (we have a lot of musicians at Litmus), learn about partners and children, play a few video games, and share some seafood on a beautiful Boston night.

It’s incredibly rewarding getting to hang out with people you know from Slack but may not have seen before in real life. It’s fascinating to learn about what everyone actually does at Litmus, and even better to get an opportunity to collaborate with them on existing projects and implementing brand new ideas.

I know there’s another #LitmusLive coming up in San Fransisco — and I’m very excited for it — but I honestly just can’t wait until the first week of August 2017, when I can see all of my friends and colleagues together again and share that experience with all of the crazy, funny, and incredibly smart people that make up the email community.

Next year, we’ll probably have to get a wide angle lens. I don’t think a cellphone shot will cut it.

Jason Rodriguez

Written by

Helping people better understand the web and email through writing, speaking, and teaching. Can be found at https://rodriguezcommaj.com

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