Crafting responsive email with CoffeeCup's RED

CoffeeCup Software’s Responsive Email Designer makes creating and testing sophisticated cross-platform email content a lot easier.

responsive design

If you’ve ever sent bulk email such as newsletters, updates, sales pitches, etc., then you’ll be aware that this isn’t as simple as it used to be. Many moons ago, you could slap some text into a page along with a few links and that was good enough. Then came HTML mail and the ante was upped but you still didn’t have to break a sweat to ensure that the user could read your content. But now …

To be competitive these days you have to deliver slick, styled, typographically sophisticated content with color, responsiveness, animation … you name it. And you’ve got to take into account not only how email renders on desktop clients (just consider the horrors of Microsoft Outlook’s eccentric rendering of otherwise valid HTML and CSS content) but also what happens to content in various Webmail services and, most importantly these days, on mobile devices. And just to make it all that little bit harder, many mobile platforms have specific version-dependent quirks that break the best-laid plans o' mice and designers.

Allow me to digress for a moment to point you to Campaign Monitor’s article on Responsive email design to give you some background on the issues, as well as a post on the StyleCampaign blog about building a cross-platform seven segment timer display. The latter really brings home the issues of dealing with the range and complexity of current platforms.

While the leading email service providers (EMSPs) such as Constant Contact and MailChimp are very good for creating simple email messages that work well across most platforms, when you get ambitious and try to get really clever with sophisticated designs, you'll discover rendering gotchas that can seriously undermine your messaging. 

You could go Rambo on this problem and try to hand code your email taking into account which clients and which versions render what content in what way, and then add tweaks and hacks to deal with all of the edge cases which come up (and come up they do, particularly where mobile is concerned). Sound like too much work? How about using a template? Great, if you can find one that’s sophisticated enough and meets your presentation goals but even then, if you want to modify it, you’re back to going Rambo to, at least, some extent. Good luck.

After a friend asked me what he should use for creating newsletters I started looking for a really good email layout tool and after much digging, testing, disappointment, heartache, disillusionment, and angst, I discovered CoffeeCup Software’s Responsive Email Designer for Business.

screen shot 2016 06 26 at 3.22.46 pm

CoffeeCup Software’s Responsive Email Designer for Business

RED provides an integrated editing environment that makes constructing and deploying well-designed, rich, responsive email messages much easier even for clients such as Outlook (note that I didn’t write “easy” because, at least for now, this is never truly easy).

RED was based on Curb's Ink (now renamed Foundation for Emails 2), a framework for building responsive email content. RED serves the same purpose as, for example, Bootstrap Studio does for the Bootstrap framework; it's a framework editor.

Using RED you select layout blocks and elements and drag them into place on the canvas then edit, move, and delete them to your heart’s content. An important part of RED is a bar across the top of the editor that allows you to resize the width of the layout and set breakpoints (media queries) that make it easy to engineer the layout for different size screen sizes (the only thing missing is a set of pre-defined breakpoints which means you’ll have to research and decide which breakpoints work for your purposes).

RED helps you build email content around the concept of campaigns, supports sending via Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, AOL, iCloud, or any SMTP account (optionally, and for a price, you can send using CoffeeCup’s bulk mail service to avoid problems with bulk mailing from user accounts). There are also preview and testing features and email list management built-in although this feature oddly lacks importing and exporting from sources such as CSV files. If you’ve upgraded RED you can have your images and captured form data hosted on Coffeecup’s servers. 

My complaints? While learning RED isn’t hard neither is it as simple as it could be. Moreover, the documentation could be a whole lot better which is obvious from the Responsive Email Designer Quick Start Guide which reads “More to come…” at the end of the Responsive Email Design section, posted on Jan 28, 2015.

RED comes in two versions, Business, priced at $199, and Personal, priced at $69. For building responsive, cross-platform email content RED is one of the better tools I’ve found but it could do with a bit more polishing to make it easier to learn and use. CoffeeCup Software’s Responsive Email Designer for Business gets a Gearhead rating of 3.5 out of 5.

Comments? Thoughts? Send me your analysis via email or comment below then follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.