Email designer and developer, and truly a lover of all things email, Nicole Merlin has been leading the way in HTML email development for over a decade.
Comfortable in almost every marketing automation platform, she’s built a career around creating standout emails with a number of different use cases — and empowering others with that knowledge. Her tutorials and guides are used by hundreds of thousands of email developers around the world (perhaps you’ve taken a look at one yourself), and the content she’s produced has gone a long way towards shaping how we, as an industry, do email.
In the most recent move in her career, one that we couldn’t be happier with, Nicole joined us here at Knak. Yes, you read that right. This HTML email coding legend has joined forces with a platform that offers email and landing page creation with no code.
I know that sounds weird — but it really isn’t. Read on for my Q&A with Nicole, where she sheds some light on how this unusual partnership came to be.
What drew you to email development?
Like many 90s children, I taught myself HTML when I was young and really enjoyed building web stuff with it. Then, at university, I did a degree in communication design, which led to my first job as a junior web designer at an advertising agency. That’s where I first started doing email because the developers were always very keen to palm it off.
During this time, I learned three key things. One, these email creation jobs were always coming through, so it was important. Two, it was a mystery to most people. And three, the developers hated it! They’d do anything to get someone else to do it. I became fascinated by the challenge, and soon started a little blog called Email Wizardry — which is also the name of the business I launched in 2012.
I’ve always enjoyed researching and writing up tutorials and articles about email and sharing my knowledge because there are so few standards. It really does feel like the Wild West. I’m also aware of the challenges email developers experience, so when I figure something out, it’s really nice to share it with other people. That’s a nice crossover with Knak because so much of what we do is give people their time back and let them be more creative.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Through lots of experimentation, I figured out a useful way to build emails so that they were responsive without media queries. This helped with a lot of the issues with media query support on smartphones — some of which still exist. I wrote a tutorial about that, which I’m proud to say is still very popular.
Aside from that, I do get lovely emails and tweets from people who tell me that one of my tutorials has saved them time (or saved them from pulling their hair out!). I definitely feel proud when I get those messages. It can take an extremely large amount of time to write a tutorial, but it’s rewarding when you know it’s helping people.
As an email developer, why join a company with a no-code creation platform?
My whole career in email has been about two things: building the absolute best emails possible, and sharing my knowledge to empower others. Knak’s mission is totally aligned with that. With Knak, the whole idea is to remove barriers so that marketers can use their time and energy to be more creative.
As a designer, I love the idea of pouring my email development skills and knowledge into a framework that allows people to take off their coding hat and just enjoy creating an amazing layout. Working for Knak means all the cool stuff I know can be part of a platform that spreads that knowledge exponentially.
Second, while creating for the web has gotten easier, email has gotten more complex. In the grand scheme of things, email clients haven’t offered much in the way of upgraded HTML/CSS support and increased adherence to web standards, and new features like dark mode have been implemented in completely unique ways. For me, this additional complexity makes it more attractive to try and solve these problems for a lot of people at once, and that’s what we can do with Knak.
Lastly, due to the limitations of each individual Email Service Provider (ESP) and Marketing Automation Platforms (MAP) there are some solutions to email rendering problems that cannot be implemented consistently with hand-coding. Being platform agnostic, Knak totally solves that problem, and once we fix something or make something easier, it goes straight into the hands of people who need it. All of them.
In the email development community, WYSIWYG editors tend to be looked at with disdain. Is this still true?
Email service providers and marketing automation platforms have tried to create useful WYSIWYG editors — but very few have succeeded. That’s because most of them simply repurposed web editors, which are nowhere near sophisticated enough to handle the complexity of email.
The gap between what a standard web WYSIWYG editor can achieve and what good email code actually looks like is huge. So, it’s no real surprise that email developers are sceptical of what a WYSIWYG can accomplish. That said, a specialised, purpose-built WYSIWYG editor for email is a completely different story — and that’s what the Knak team has built. Knak closes the gap between what a visual editor can do and what great email code looks like. We’re meeting the needs of marketers and email developers alike, because we’re email developers ourselves.
What does your day-to-day look like now at Knak?
As part of the wonderful Knak editor team, I get to work on all the exciting new features that we’re adding to the platform. Plus, I’m always keeping an eye on how things are rendering on email clients to ensure we’re on top of any changes to email apps. In addition, we’re working to optimise our email code and ensure that under the hood, beautiful looking emails are going out with the latest and best techniques.
What excites you about where Knak is going next?
There’s lots of fun and exciting stuff on the horizon. At the moment, we’re focused on mobile editing — adding lots of ways to fine tune how your email looks in every size, whether on mobile or computer.
We’re also adding more dark mode functionality, which is really exciting to me. I’ve done a lot of research and writing in the past couple of years about dark mode, which can be really hard to solve for every platform and every use case. So it’s exciting to be able to implement some universal solutions using Knak.
Clearly, email is far from dead. What’s next in this space?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that email is dying — but it’s never true. Sending messages to each other is a human impulse. And email is in all of our hands. It’s always there.
Honestly, I don’t really see any explosive stuff on the horizon. I think email will just keep being there, slowly improving and evolving. I think email apps, email rendering, and clients will continue to evolve. From a marketing perspective, I think a lot of creative people see it as a medium that’s not yet mature enough for them to be able to craft visual experiences in the same way as the web or even print. But we’re changing that.
We’ll keep elevating what’s possible in email, allowing people to do more and to make experiences better for everyone and what you can do design wise. I feel that Knak is helping fast-forward this process. We’re doing the work in the background, spending the time, and putting in the effort to give marketers the ability to craft what they want to craft without being hamstrung by the limitations of platforms, providers, or code.
As Nicole mentioned, there’s a lot going on at Knak. Check out our latest product update for more details!