Blasting Off Responsive Emails
Like any higher education institution, Syracuse University sends a lot of emails. Between student information, newsletters, event invitations, and fundraising outreach, their emails cover countless scenarios.
If you consider, then, that these emails can be sent from individuals, departments, schools/colleges, or remote campuses, and are “blasted” by different services depending on purpose and audience, the idea of keeping things consistent seems like a pipe dream.
There are also other issues that plague anyone trying to send out email blasts.
To be able to send emails with rich content and styling, you often have to involve a designer and developer. And even then, email clients are seemingly frozen in the web of the late 90s—many of the improvements in user experience, accessibility, and efficiency for which today’s web developers are forever thankful never made it to email clients (or if they did, overzealous email providers still mangle them).
And since most people consume email on their phones instead of their computers, creating well-designed emails that work on both (or any device, for that matter) can be a challenge.
We approached Syracuse University about building an automated tool that would tackle all of these issues for them—allowing regular users across the University to easily create their own rich emails that could be blasted from their existing platforms, while ensuring design consistency, accessibility, and compatibility across the board. The results were transformative.
The tool allows content contributors to focus on what they’re good at: writing. Removing the design decisions gives peace of mind that emails will be consistent and accessible every time.
Email Generator represents a giant leap in Syracuse University’s ability to engage and inform over rich email. As of April 2022, there are over 400 individual users on the system, and over 17,000 emails have been created. Considering the average cost of developing emails the old way, we’re confident we’ve helped them save millions of dollars.
In addition, we continue to work closely with the University, listening to their needs and implementing features that help make authors’ and administrators’ jobs easier.
That’s a whole lot of modern synergy for the venerable email, a technology that’s been around since the 70s.
The Adjacent team made our work lives exponentially easier with the Email Generator. It’s easy to learn, and the clean, clear, on-brand email output is exactly what Syracuse University needed.Kim Infanti Executive Director, Digital Engagement and Communications Office of Alumni Engagement
Before we created the Email Generator, the University needed to jump through many hoops to get an email blasted.
First, since an agency was involved, the person requesting an email (let’s call them the author) would need rope in a colleague that would serve as a project manager. Next, they’d send over a brief to the agency outlining the content the email needed to convey. Of course, after the email was put together, there’d be copy revisions and photo swaps, each of which required its own back-and-forth. The process could cost anywhere from $500 to more than $1000 per email. Not ideal.
With Email Generator, each author has their own account, and creating a new email is as simple as logging in, hitting “Create Email”, or selecting a template to copy from. Boom.
Authors can craft emails from an assortment of content blocks, mixing and matching different pieces to achieve their perfect layout.
As for the back-and-forth—after saving or editing an email, authors can send around a preview link that shows what an email will look like on any size screen.
When all’s approved, the Generator exports the email, tailored for whichever blasting service the author selected. No agency required.
While Email Generator massively streamlined workflows, there are plenty of other features that have substantially upped Syracuse University’s email game.
Design and Consistency
With great power comes great responsibility. Everyone likes expressing themselves, and creating eye-catching emails is no exception. We built in lots of customizability to the Generator, but there are certain things that designers will tell you shouldn’t be done (think: red, 72pt, Comic Sans headlines).
Text styles, font sizes, spacing, and brand colors are intentionally absent from the editing interface, ensuring brand and accessibility compliance.
Often overlooked, accessibility is an extremely important part of any media distributed electronically. Email is no exception, and Syracuse University is no stranger to these challenges.
We’ve taken measures to ensure emails created with the Generator comply with accessibility guidelines. Authors are required to provide alternate text for any image placed in an email, markup generated by the tool uses proper structural tags to ensure parsability by screen readers, and text sizes and colors are controlled to make sure contrast and readability don’t suffer.
We developed a set of styles and content patterns that not only carry Syracuse University’s look and feel effectively, but also work across all devices and major email clients.
What’s more, the email preview screens themselves allow authors and email reviewers to see how various screen dimensions will affect an email’s layout.
A few default templates are included in the Email Generator, but authors logging into Email Generator can gain a glimpse into emails being created University-wide. They can also create new emails from any existing email they find.
Not only is this is a great way to handle periodic emails (newsletters, etc.) with the least amount of work, but it helps encourage cross-pollination of design and content ideas between departments that wouldn’t otherwise happen.
The Email Generator was a game-changer for the Syracuse University Alumni Association. Our emails are easy to build, clean, and consistent. We couldn’t ask for a better product from a more responsive, talented team.Kim Infanti Executive Director, Digital Engagement and Communications Office of Alumni Engagement
Before building any solution, you always want to make sure you’re solving the right problems.
Syracuse University already had tools and procedures in place to handle lists, scheduling, blasting, and unsubscribes for emails. What was lacking was an easy way to generate consistent, high-quality emails themselves, not a way to get them out to people. As they say, don’t fix what ain’t broke.
Because we zeroed in on only the parts of the process that were lacking, we were able to focus Email Generator’s features while allowing it to integrate smoothly with the other parts. As a result, we were able to adapt quickly to later changes that might have otherwise sewn chaos.
The University already used two different email blasting services depending on the audience, and between them, things like unsubscribe placeholder links, outer layout containers, and style overrides are all liable to need tweaking.
Since we built in this assumption from the get-go, when the University decided to switch one of their providers, we were able to identify the changes required and provide a new option for seamlessly outputting new emails for that service.
When Syracuse University underwent a branding change in 2017, there was a massive amount of updating to do on all forms of media.
Because of the dynamic nature of Email Generator, we were able to update styles in one step. After making the switch, email authors need only to visit and re-save their current emails to refresh the branding and styles.
The absence of branding in the editor also allowed the University to control exactly when all communications would start reflecting their updated brand and ensure all emails complied.