‘Chronicles of a Head of Digital’ – 27

So many times in the past 20+ years of my working life has the old mantra #SmallSteps proved to be so true.

From the olden days designing buildings to today making digital things, it’s all about taking a project and breaking it down to its essential parts, in the correct order and then working out the elements from there and moving forward in consecutive small steps. You can’t go designing the aesthetics of something without knowing the layout. You can’t go writing the full copy until you know the size and audience. You can’t start the technical build until you know the platform or materials required.

Back in the day, I didn’t go ordering 12 pallets of bricks from the merchants as soon as a new job came in regardless. What if the bricks didn’t match the existing if it were an extension, or we ended up doing an oak frame with wattle and daub, or it was a steel and glass tower?

Same logic applies today.

I don’t deploy my crack build team until we know everything we need to. Will it be an email or a page or a site? Will it be sent through a system, live in something like Marketo or on a standard server? Does it have to: live in a framework, fit a template, work in a CMS? Is it responsive, what is the message/content and all that? Is it pure broadcast or CTA driven? Awareness or demand generation?

Small steps in the right order, every time.

Emails are a continual case in point. They are the simplest things, on the surface of it. But their apparent simplicity hides a multitude of things that can go wrong. I always see an email as a ‘stupid web page’ off of the olden days. There’s not a great deal you can build into them. You have image download restrictions, no rich media, and limited things to play with in terms of responsiveness and media queries. You need to dumb down. But to dumb down you need to smart up. IMHO at least.

Look at what the elemental requirements and parts of your email are. Break them down. Email UX is an art form in itself.


I always start with some paper and a felt tip. Scamp out what you need. Do it over and over until it works. Especially if this is a template to pull into Marketo or MailChimp or such like with drag-and-drop panels to consider to enable evolving content week on week and the ability for the lowest common denominator to amend and send.

All these things to consider are a small step. Do them in turn. As soon as you try to jump one you know it will come back up later, and everything after that step will probably need doing again.

Needs. Requirement. Platform. Audience. Content overview. Elements first. Flow. Layouts. Mobile and Desktop. Not mobile first, do them together. Use a pen, it’s quicker. And layouts/wireframes/scamps – call them what you will – get someone who knows code to do these. It’s a UX and tech thing not a ‘design’ thing at this stage. Agree all this and then add the aesthetics. Design by science. Then you can build it. And it will work first time.

Successful delivery is the result of strong planning and management.

The right small steps in the right order.

Tick off the list, get sign off and proceed. Step by step.