25 Apr 2018
Who to follow: Crystal Ledesma
Crystal Ledesma is as passionate and dedicated an email person as you’re ever likely to meet.
An Email Visual Designer and Developer based in Oakland California, Crystal currently avails her email services to Premier Agent, the B2B real estate agent lead and tool brand of Seattle, Washington’s Zillow Group – a real estate database company that houses a portfolio of real estate and home-related brands.
Like so many of the email pholks we’ve spoken to over the years, Crystal “fell into” the email game completely by happenstance. Shortly after finishing school, and all set to begin a career in web design/development, Crystal found herself speaking to an ExactTarget employee at her husband’s company Christmas party about the striking similarities between web and email design/development.
That casual eggnog-fueled chat resulted in the job interview that began Crystal’s 4-year (and counting) journey into the wonderful world of email marketing.
In the ensuing years, Crystal has managed to parlay that entry-level email development job into a rich and rewarding career which has come to incorporate her passion for design into solving “the vast and unique challenges presented by email. The very qualities that compelled me to both find hybrid roles and stay working in email rather than focus on web as I had originally intended.”
Couple this love of all things email with a strong social media presence, a quality gif game, and her own awesome email-based website ***in process of being updated to reflect most recent work*** , and you’ve got one of our very phavourite follows!
— Crystal Ledesma (@sentbycrystal) February 13, 2018
5 new emails will take me less than half the usual time to build (if not less) b/c of a modular system I already built for us. #EmailGeeks pic.twitter.com/n58VmZ2qb5
— Crystal Ledesma (@sentbycrystal) August 23, 2017
Now that we know she Twitters well, let’s see what else this rising email star has got to say…
Crystal Ledesma tale of the tape
Favourite food: Toss-up between my Mom’s enchiladas or sopa de fideo.
Pets: Both a dog and cat owner, I love them both! I love animals in general. But I do have a super soft spot for pit bulls.
Dream job as a child: Artist
Last big purchase: Air Jordan 1 Retro High sneakers in Orchid Mist
Guilty pleasure: Ace of Base – I know every word to The Sign album
Pet peeve: Unnecessary rudeness
An interview with Crystal Ledesma
For those who might not know, what is Zillow Group?
Zillow Group is an online real estate database company. It houses a portfolio of real estate and home-related brands on the web and mobile. I currently work with Zillow Group’s B2B brand called Premier Agent, which offers leads and tools to help real estate agents and their businesses.
What does an Email Visual Designer and Developer do?
As the Email Visual Designer and Developer for Premier Agent, I both design and code our emails, but the role could be described as an email content comprehension and rendering problem solver. The problem I solve is figuring out the design and development style that showcases the content that we want to share in an easy to understand and aesthetically pleasing layout and making that layout render well in the email clients our subscribers use.
There is an additional layer to this role at Premier Agent as we are big believers in design systems. Whatever I create, I also need to translate it into an email design system so we have a streamlined, efficient way to use it again and again for future emails. I also have to consider that any email design system I create is usable by team members that may have no HTML experience.
What are the “vast and unique” challenges that make working with email so appealing?
I think it’s the fact that there is never just “one answer” or “one size fits all” when it comes to email. From what content goes in your email to how you design and code the email, there is a general baseline for best practices, but beyond that baseline it all depends. It depends on your business, it depends on your subscribers, it depends on the email clients your subscribers use, the list goes on and on. What works best for us as a B2B brand will likely not work as well for a B2C brand in the fashion industry.
What developments and advancements in the email space over the past couple of years have had the biggest impact on how you do what you do?
ADA is the one that immediately jumps to mind. I really appreciate everyone out there doing the work to see what we can do in the inbox to be ADA compliant. Mark Robbins’ article around accessibility was especially eye-opening.
Doing this work improves overall usability, and in turn is good for business, which is, of course, a positive. But what really had a big impact on me was being reminded that accessibility for people with disabilities is an absolute necessity for them. I’m paraphrasing, but one of the Litmus speakers last year in San Francisco stated that “accessibility is the just right thing to do” and I absolutely agree.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the email design/development game?
First, realize that it’s going to feel a little overwhelming. Email design and development is different and takes some time to get used to and that’s totally okay. I will fully admit that I may have shed a tear or two when I couldn’t get my web development knowledge to immediately and seamlessly translate to email. Email is WEIRD! It just is, but in the end that what makes it pretty fun. You will get over the hump, I promise. 🙂
Start going on the hunt for tutorials, as designing and building for email is definitely different compared to the web. Even if you’re only focusing on email design and not development, it’s important to at least understand the email development concepts so you know what’s possible in the inbox.
Next I’d suggest learning about the variations between email rendering engines and familiarize yourself with them and keep this Email Optimization and Troubleshooting guide from Litmus handy: https://litmus.com/lp/email-optimization-tips …. And don’t be afraid to use Google if you need to!
I’d also to follow and subscribe to websites like Litmus, Campaign Monitor and Email on Acid to keep tabs on new tips, tricks or changes that impact rendering in the inbox. Many also offer free webinars which you should attend as you get to know email.
Get inspired by browsing emails on http://ReallyGoodEmails.com . You can also take a peek at the code behind each email, which will also help you better understand how it all works.
After that, join discussions with the email community via
#emailgeeks on Twitter and the Email Geeks Slack. Learning what you can on your own is great, but a lot of what I learned came from fellow email geeks. It’s a really wonderful and supportive community. Eventually, you will be able to pay it forward and share what you know with others!
On the topic of accessibility in email, what can brands do to improve their approach?
Some of the easiest, most straight-forward things a brand can do are, apply role=“presentation” to any tables, include alt text on your images, and wrap live text in h and p tags. Just doing those small things will mean a screen reader experience will drastically improve. Don’t forget that accessibility is more than just screen readers though, so do your research, and if you can’t do it all overnight, do things incrementally in small steps.
Where is email headed in the years to come?
I definitely see an increase in interactivity on the horizon. We already have some of that now thanks to various hacks that the email community has figured out, but it’s a tricky balance for some brands as spending the time to make something interactive may not be time or cost-efficient, especially as it doesn’t work in every inbox. Just trying to get a process in place first is already a huge lift. But as brands start to incorporate better processes (email design systems shoutout!), they will have more time for more unique email. Plus, over time, email inboxes may evolve to actually accept interactivity and others may follow suit. Though I do think the interactivity won’t be super flashy, it will be more focused on adding convenience and a better user experience for the subscriber.
Final question, who is your favourite superhero?
I always loved anti-heroes, and my personal favorite is Elektra. She is fierce, has a dark side, but also has done the right thing in many situations. She has a lot of fury and rage but also has heart. That constant struggle between the two sides of her personality is fascinating to me.