Stensul Talks: Crystal Ledesma

Meet Zillow Group’s Senior Visual Designer and Developer who’s bringing design systems to email

Stensul Talks: Crystal Ledesma

Welcome to Stensul Talks, a semi-regular series where we interview thought leaders and practitioners in the world of email marketing. This week: Crystal Ledesma, Senior Visual Designer and Developer, Email at Zillow Group.


Stensul: So, how did you get into email design?

CL: Like most people, I fell into it by accident. I was working as an administrative assistant in the past, had just finished studying to be a web developer and designer, then met someone at Salesforce Marketing Cloud who was looking for an email developer… and that was that. I never switched back to web.


Stensul: What’s the most interesting part of email design?

CL: Building design systems around email. How do you even start to design an email when you’re dealing with so many different formats, screens, apps, and contexts in which an email is going to be seen? Who is the audience? What is the brand look and feel? Take all of that, mix it all together, and then determine reusable modules and components to establish the brand email designs and thus the system. Such a variety of questions and needs, extremely challenging and interesting!


Stensul: How do you go about designing an email for so many different people and contexts?

CL: My go-to when designing an email on an individual level, is to consider the audience first; learning where they are -- are the majority using iPhone etc... and hitting the top five (systems) before I even start.  That helps me understand what I can even do in the first place.

So I’ll focus on designing emails for those top five, but I keep in mind progressive enhancements (on other systems), while remembering that some users are on Outlook desktop. The question is whether it’s worth doing progressive enhancements on tight timelines, or are we doing this at baseline.


Stensul: So what’s your day-to-day look like?

CL: It’s a little bit of everything, usually on a very tight schedule (laughs). Going behind the curtain, building design systems, then breaking them apart into pieces, because we were sending so many emails and I’m the one person on my brand who knows how to dev things to get them out the door. If I don’t build these systems, we’re not going to grow.


Stensul: What do you think about introducing dynamic content or interactivity?

CL: On the business side of the house, we don’t use too much dynamic or interactivity because (most of the users) are on Outlook desktop. We might do something like a countdown clock, or a little more fancy with the animated gif, but nothing too major. Some agents are on teams, others are lone wolves, so they really like to see themselves in their work.


Stensul: Talk about using digital asset managers to assure that the company is unified from a branding perspective across all channels?

CL: We have an internal brand team whose sole focus is setting those tool kits, so they set a lot of that at the highest level. Then there are design groups on the consumer side and the business side - so there’s a lot going on each design group leadership and so (DAMs) are useful in seeing where there are gaps where users need to refine.


Stensul:  Talk about accessibility issues — can they be largely solved through content-type, alt text, that kind of thing?

CL: There’s a two part answer to that. We designed a system so that came really naturally -- we can build from the ground up and never have to go into a campaign level. We already have the standard table role presentation as a default, which helps. Then you have to be thoughtful about h-tags and p-tags, and a myriad of other accessible code which also becomes the default. On the design side we work with an internal brand team, making sure they’re thinking about whether the contrast is there for accessibility, or around the color they see in different contexts, and so on.


Stensul: How do you anticipate supporting things like voice?

CL: It’s not something we focused on quite yet — we move so fast that even though it’s on our list to explore and we do make an effort to set accessible defaults, we aren’t actively testing for it with everything we send.  A few people are pioneering exploring voice - and it’s very interesting, just in terms of how you design systems, testing the screen reader, users with accessibility needs, things like that.  


Stensul:  What issues do you find around compliance?

CL: We don’t have official processes in place for that, and being in design leadership for email, I poke the bear constantly (laughs).  I can make design decisions on my own, but I need to make sure it’s all legal.


Stensul: What are some of your email pet peeves?

CL: I don’t know the official term for it — but I hate when companies try to make an email seem like it’s a transactional when it’s actually marketing. Like an Account Alert -- that reminds me of  something I’d get from my bank, and so now I’m worried about what is this… but then it turns out it’s a marketing message.  


Stensul: Whose emails do you really like?

CL: Uber does email very well, Lyft are really good too — clear information, easy to skim, never confused about it, and designs are aesthetically pleasing.

InVision emails are always very clear, beautifully designed, really thoughtful use of transparencies to make layout look seeped into the hero. They do lovely work.

Learn more about Crystal’s tips for building the perfect marketing email by downloading our ebook, Stensul’s Guide to Marketing Email Design.

And check out Crystal and more in our webinar on scaling your email marketing through design systems right here.



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