Bringing 70 emails into modernity with a unified style and simplicity.
There are over 70 different transactional emails that our platform sends out. Sound overwhelming? Until recently, each one was its own special snowflake as there was no central place to manage them. And these were not beautiful snowflakes, mind you. Changing one aspect of the design meant making 70 changes.
Since email is one of the least sexy things to ship they were neglected for a long time. Fortunately our recent rebrand was enough motivation to fix them. Part of this email redesign included moving all of the design templates to a central place. So in theory a single front-end developer can now change the design instead of multiple teams of engineers.
Part of my new email designs included what I thought would be a nice detail: a system of icons and colours. Recipients would quickly distinguish to-dos from comments or updates or errors. These clever icons didn’t hold up in the wild though. Negative feedback about the new email designs was trickling in from teams like support and consulting so we decided to dig into it. Scope was limited to what a front-end developer could finish alone.
Letting data guide the direction
I wanted to have a more complete and objective understanding of the feedback that was trickling in. I crafted a survey using my secret weapon, Airtable. The questions focused on (over-)simplicity, (mis-)trust, and (lack of) clarity. Twenty coworkers in user-facing roles responded to the survey and clear themes emerged.
- Recipients doubt the email’s authenticity, making more work for our users.
- Emails have swung too far towards simple and need more context to be useful.
I’ll outline one example of how I let these themes guide the design revisions. Previously customer logos were always small and at the bottom of emails. However, many customers rely on our emails as an intermediary, sent to people who’ve never heard of our platform. In these cases doubt needs to be reduced immediately. So I moved the customer’s logo to the top of the email and included the name of the user that triggered the action. This way if there is still doubt, at least they know who to reach out to. After designing several improvements like this it was time to test them.
Remixing dot voting to remove bias and reveal what’s valuable
Dot voting is an amazing tool to have in your design tool belt. The common practice is to have loads of ideas from a bunch of collaborators on the wall using sticky notes. All of the collaborators will then go around and vote with small, colourful stickers on the “best” idea. This is generally effective. One problem (amongst several) is that this quickly becomes a popularity contest. The first couple of ideas voted for naturally draw everyone’s attention which leads to bias. I wanted to avoid this.
While some neat digital tools let us dot vote digitally, I preferred to tap into the tactile magic of paper for this research. The plan was for each interviewee to be shown several designs and vote. Typically dot voting is only for your favourite idea. To remix dot voting and make it even better participants vote on what they love and what they don’t—providing more nuance to the findings. Here is the full legend for my study… Green dots mean something is loaded with value for customers. Yellow dots mean there’s some value but it’s on the edge. Red dots mean there’s no value whatsoever or perhaps that it’s even painful for customers. When I shared my user research plan with a fellow designer she suggested one amazing difference: let them vote on the designs before and after. This gave a clear comparison between the old and new designs. Brilliant!
Sorry-not-sorry — RIP 70 printed pages
Did you know: one tree can give an estimated 10,000 sheets of paper. Wow! And let the record state that I’m a big advocate of recycling. At the end of the day only 0.7% of one tree was sacrificed for this valuable research (all of which was recycled). And the findings were valuable indeed.
I scheduled 20-minute interviews with 10 folks who filled out my initial survey. One at a time I would show them the designs. It would take a few moments for them to read over the email and then they’d vote as many times as they liked. Each person looked at fresh paper without anyone else’s votes influencing them. It was engaging and fun!
The point of dot voting is to create a heatmap. This process got unbiased votes, but all of the votes were on separate sheets of paper. So my next step was to take my stack of paper and combine them into one digital version. Seeing the heatmap helped us weigh & prioritize each design change, which you can see below. My clever icon system got no love at all—that’s going in the recycle bin. I wasn’t sure how the customer logo at the top of the email would be received but it proved quite valuable. I was curious if including our logo in the footer would be valuable—it wasn’t. The change from a link to a button was very well-received. Some small text changes to the email heading brought a lot of value to customers.
Now we’re able to make revisions to the email templates with data as our guide.
The dot voting remix tested the designs ensuring a better experience for our users.
What about you? Have you considered the bias that dot voting might introduce? What are other dot voting remixes? Will you remix this?