CT No.7: Drag and drop it like it's hot


Twin Cities! The next Content Innovators Happy Hour is on October 7 at Fjorge in downtown Minneapolis. The theme: interactivity in content technology. I hope you can make it. Get your tickets here.

Rational code and the human factor

I work in digital because I enjoy never being 100% sure of how I’m going to get from point A to point B. I like how the system shifts — sometimes graceful pivots, sometimes destructive earthquakes — when the path between two points changes. I like figuring out the most elegant and efficient solution to an otherwise messy problem. I enjoy the roadmapping process, like I always geeked out over proofs in geometry. I like the things I make with my cyborg brain.

But here’s the thing: I don’t really code. I know the bare minimum of HTML and CSS. I’ve tried to teach myself Javascript a few times, but I haven’t been able to give it the time and attention it needs. I understand how code works, but I don’t code, and yet I am a digitally successful professional who calls herself a technologist!

What I like about code and cyborg brains and digitally built virtual things is that they are purely logical. Humans, on the other hand, have shifting and fallible perceptions and feelings and generally have a lot of trouble learning new systems, especially after they’ve taken the time to learn something as complex and asinine as the English language.

Some see the code in English. We reduce sentences like fractions. We use the Hemingway app. We shame users of the word “leverage” as they should be shamed.

Some see the code in design. They follow the rule of threes and the Fibonacci sequence. They yield leading and kerning and contrast and proportions like dietitians.

If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably see the code in a part of your chosen occupation. If it’s not actual code, you call it “craft” or “professionalism.” And you may be rankled when some tyro skips over that craft and makes their own thing that is based on all of your principles but is totally different and ignores everything you ever learned… but it still works and people like it.

You’re also reading this newsletter because you see the new possibilities. You’re excited to skip over all those crafty steps that actually made things harder and get to what’s next.

With that disclaimer aimed at anyone who understands why drag-and-drop digital editors are a fucking nightmare, please, I beg you: come with me as I recommend a WYSIWYG email design tool.

What You See Is What You Get In Your Promotions Folder: Bee

Bee is a drag-and-drop editor, like Canva for email template design. If you send regular promotional emails, it could be a godsend.

Even before responsive templates became mainstream a decade ago, email template design was a bear. Email clients don’t handle code changes well. Sometimes your email template has an extra space in it for Outlook 2010 and that’s just how it is, no matter how many times you try to fix it.

Here’s a caveat: Except for this prêt-à-porter basic basic Substack template, I haven’t worked directly in email templates for about 8 years. Although I understand the theory of dynamic content in email templates, I rarely execute. I also thought Bee was the only tool on the market for drag-and-drop email design, but I was mistaken. Still: Bee is worth checking out. It’s freemium, and the paid versions are a fairly small investment.

At a glance: Bee

There’s not much to it: Bee lets you drag and drop pretty things into your emails and ensures the designs are responsive. Templates are blocky (because responsive email), but fairly flexible. The design wizard prompts a choice between “One template; many messages” or “One message; the best template.” It’s a smart way of thinking about email strategy!

Some other features to Bee aware of (never sorry):

  • Customizable colors

  • All the standard and Google webfonts

  • Tagged templates (pro version)

  • Plenty of existing templates to choose from (or create your own)

  • Connections to one-click export your templates to Google, MailChimp and MailUp

  • Enables dynamic content with custom HTML

  • Plugin so you can enable email creation within a web app (very cool)

The professional version adds approval workflows and commenting, as well as Hubspot and Sendgrid email connectors. With an agency version available, projects can be kept within brand-labeled folders.

Bee marks the first time I’ve reviewed a tool solely from ProductHunt. And, since it’s from ProductHunt, the interface is a little buggy! There are quirks and order-of-operations silliness that seem illogical in a drag-and-drop interface… until you remember how long it’s taken to get a decent drag-and-drop email template editor on the market.

Oh, and Control-Z as undo doesn’t seem to work, but I’m sure they’ll fix that soon.

I’d recommend Bee for design teams that have to produce many marketing-based emails for different clients but don’t have in-depth coding knowledge. The text editor is not super satisfying for long-form content emails, but Bee’s sweet spot is getting visual messages out quickly and responsively.

Content tech news bits with added snark because I’m feeling WYSIWYG.

Free strategic advice for the week

Your craft has evolved this year. That’s pretty cool. You should tell someone.