A couple weeks ago we launched our new Litmus plug-in, built for testing your emails directly in CakeMail. This way you can be sure that they are displayed perfectly across every email platform and that they will not be blocked by spam filters. Which is – as we know – not a simple task! We recently had a chat with Paul Farnell, co-founder of Litmus UK, a once unsatisfied web designer who solved this problem by creating his own application.

Paul Farnell in a creative mood

Paul Farnell in a creative mood

– Can you briefly explain what Litmus is and which issues it resolves?
Litmus lets email marketers proof their email campaigns across every major email client before they send. This means they can be certain their message looks great, regardless of what email software their recipient is using to read it. Some email clients, especially Lotus Notes, Outlook 2007 and Gmail, can really butcher email designs, making them unreadable in some cases. Litmus helps avoid that, and get your message read by everyone on your list.

It also checks to make sure your campaigns will pass all the major spam filters. Sometimes even the most innocuous of phrases can get you blocked. Litmus can give you a “heads-up” before you send, helping you avoid getting incorrectly categorized as spam.

– How was the business created?
Myself and the other two founders started Litmus (initially called SiteVista) over three years ago when we were working as freelance web designers. We’d need to ensure the sites we developed for clients were cross-browser compatible, but we weren’t happy with any of the existing browser testing solutions. So we built our own. Shortly after we launched we ran into the (much larger) problem of email client compatibility.

We quickly expanded our product to include email testing. That’s when things really took off for us, and we were able to wind down our freelance work and focus on Litmus full-time. Since then we’ve hired more staff and continue to grow quickly. There’s a real appetite for the fast, reliable email testing service Litmus provides.

– Your 5 best design tricks?
Let’s see. I do the interface and design work for Litmus, but I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me for tips before!

1. Keep things simple
I’m a big fan of simplicity, and more importantly clarity. Be succinct, use bullet points, use subheadings, and keep the most important information up top. Ok…so that’s four points in one 🙂

2. Find inspiration off-screen
I buy random magazines and books I like the look of. I also take photos of shop interiors or chairs or estate agent’s windows (really!). There’s great design everywhere, and it’s great to take inspiration from lots of sources, not just the latest and greatest web sites. I found Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Montreal particularly good places to spot great design in the most unlikely of places. More so than the UK (where Litmus is based).

3. Don’t rush
I always do my best design work when I spread it out over a few weeks, doing an hour or two a day. It may just be a personal thing, but I really need time and space to evaluate something and try different approaches. I tend to keep a new design on-screen and in view whilst I do other things, so it’s always at the back of my mind.

4. Proofread
This is obvious, but your copy is probably the most important part of your design. I find with email campaigns especially I re-read them perhaps 20 times before sending. A good trick is to use text-to-speech software to read it back to you – that catches things you never noticed when reading from the screen. (On a Mac, select the text, go to the Services menu, then Speech.)

5. Lots of padding
I believe almost every design element can benefit from extra padding! Think you’ve added enough? Add a few more pixels 🙂

– What are your plans for the future?
We’ve got some great ideas up our sleeve for other ways to help designers and marketers build better email campaigns, and save them time. We just had an all-staff meet up over the course of a few days, in order to plan out the next few months. I’m now sitting surrounded by index cards with ideas for future features. It’ll be an exciting year.

Since he won’t share any of the juicy details with us now, we’ll have to check them out online at Litmus or follow Paul Farnell on Twitter. Until then, keep on padding 😉

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Author Isabel Lapointe

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