How I helped scale JUNIQE’s newsletter design

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I joined JUNIQE, an exciting e-commerce startup specialising in art posters, as a Digital Designer in 2017. Like most e-commerce companies, JUNIQE has a pretty serious CRM strategy. After all, email alone is responsible for 20-30% of the average e-commerce company’s sales revenue.

Beyond revenue, CRM is also essential for maintaining strong customer relationships. And as a designer, that means presenting a coherent and invigorating brand experience for anyone who opens one of our messages. Of course, it doesn’t stop there – you also want them to feel compelled to click on things and buy your product.

Earlier this year our CRM team decided to migrate to a new system. While our legacy CRM system did the job, it didn’t really do much more: it was extremely limited from design, data and editorial perspectives. The new system meant a world of new possibilities, but it also meant that all of the departments needed to figure out how to adapt their strategies to the strengths and limitations of the new platform. Since I was highly integrated with the marketing team at the time and have always loved working with diverse stakeholders, I volunteered to join the cross-functional team working on the migration as the design representative.

The project team consisted of representatives from the CRM, editorial, data and design teams. We each were responsible for project managing the part of the migration that aligned with our individual job functions, as well as working to relay progress and feedback on the initiatives to and from our individual teams. For me, that meant designing the new newsletter templates.

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Getting serious about email

As a project manager I’ve always believed that the most important thing you can do at the start of your project is to create a shared understanding with your stakeholders. In other words, before I could design the solution, I had to fully understand what everyone’s problems were with our legacy CRM. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” was surely not uttered about project management but is at least relevant to it.

From the design perspective, I’d always seen three big issues with our legacy CRM system:

  • We had four fixed newsletter templates, which limited the way we could present products to new and potential customers.

  • The lack of modularity with content prevented us from running even simple experiments. There were so many things I wanted to learn (what hero performed best? what kind of image did a specific segment like? how do certain elements perform on mobile vs. web?) that just weren’t possible with the legacy system.

  • The legacy system also lacked dynamic content flows, which are crucial for successful retargeting campaigns. We’re operating in a pretty competitive market, so retargeting campaigns are crucial in the JUNIQE design team’s strategy to increase brand awareness and differentiate us from the competition.

But what did my stakeholders think?

For the first (and hopefully not last) time in my career, the problems were pretty straightforward. The Editorial, Data and CRM teams all stated the same problems as I did, but from their unique perspectives. For instance, on the Editorial side they wanted more freedom to play with text and content length when presenting products, and on the CRM side they also wanted to leverage dynamic content to drive sales and social engagement.

Following that, we all agreed that a good newsletter template:

  • Was extremely flexible, to allow for variation in design and content,

  • Was structured enough so that we could reliably swap elements to run experiments, and

  • Had components that could handle swapping in and out both graphical and textual dynamic content.

I shared my findings with the Design team to ask what they thought and if they had anything to add. The overwhelming response was: “Please just make it easy to maintain consistency!” If you’ve been a designer at a hyper growth startup, maintaining consistency is a challenge you’re familiar with – as the identity of your company grows, you’re constantly returning to old projects to revitalise them with new branding. And unfortunately, those old projects are sometimes…not so easy to revitalise, either due to poor design or inconsistent documentation. So, I added one more bullet point to my recipe for success:

  • Easy to maintain.

Now that I knew what success looked like, it was time to hit the ground running with design.

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Building a structure

The new CRM system had an option to create a block-based template that editors could manipulate and customise, so I decided right away that static newsletter templates were the wrong way to go. A modular newsletter meant that editors could interchange and customise blocks, allowing for less restrictive design and making it easier for our teams to run experiments on different types of content.

As a starting point, I conducted a UI Audit of every component and pattern that existed in JUNIQE’s newsletters. Where were the most significant consistencies? How might we streamline elements? What’s still missing? I worked with the Editorial project representative and wider team to understand how they wanted to use content across the different blocks, and to discover where the gaps were for them. Together we generated a “wish list” of 20 blocks that I would re-design or design from scratch.

At the same time, I was working with my team lead Bojana on the design standardisation issues. Bojana wanted to reduce the colour palette and asset sizes so that the design team could more rapidly generate campaign materials for each newsletter, and I submitted a revised type scale for her approval.

The design process was fairly straightforward thanks to all the preparation I’d done with Bojana and the Editorial team. To ensure the fastest possible turnaround time, I worked with stakeholders in tech and editorial to order the 20 blocks by importance, and then designed them in batches of 5. This made the feedback loop exponentially shorter (imagine if someone submits 5 complex new assets for you to review…now imagine if someone submits 20 complex new assets for your to review) and allowed the tech team to code the most important blocks right away. The smaller batch sizes also made it easier for us to test every new block “in the field” and ensure everything was working correctly.

Once all was said and done, I handed over a final Sketch Library that could be shared, used, and expanded by JUNIQE's creative team. And, like any good project manager, I documented everything so that future JUNIQE employees know how it all works.

Here’s an action shot of the newsletter being generated:

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That’s a wrap

I like project management for the same reason I like design: you get a lot of feedback. The CRM and Editorial team love that block-based design makes the flows are lighter to design, iterate, maintain, and update. And the Data team? They really like the amazing improvement on our KPIs.

All videos and images in this article were created by me during my time at JUNIQE. A special thank you to the wonderful Esa McGavin for all of her help with copy editing this post.

tristan bezard