An interview with MJML

Over the recent months, MJML has been gathering some serious attention in the email development world. Developed in 2015 by MailJet, MJML has gone on to receive over 5,000 stars on GitHub, its own Slack community, and numerous updates improving it.

So, what is MJML?

In their own words, “MJML is a markup language designed to reduce the pain of coding a responsive email. Its semantic syntax makes it easy and straightforward and its rich standard components library speeds up your development time and lightens your email codebase. MJML’s open-source engine generates high quality responsive HTML compliant with best practices.”

With all this in mind, and the rising popularity of this email framework, we decided to have a sit down and interview Nicolas Garnier, the current project lead for MJML.

The Interview

Can you give some background on yourself and your history in Email Development?

While I graduated from a Master in Business & Marketing, I discovered programming as a hobby while studying and instantly got hooked, becoming a self-taught developer. As I wanted to bridge both worlds, I started developer relations in 2013, then joined the email service provider Mailjet after my internship at Microsoft, again in the DevRel team, in 2015. I started working more on the programming and deliverability side, as I was focused on our API, meeting developer communities and advocating developers’ needs internally. Then, after working in the open sourcing process for MJML and seeing how rapidly the interest grew among the email community, I got the opportunity to take over the project in May 2016. I’ve been leading this very exciting project since then!

In two sentences, how would you sell MJML to our readers?

MJML is a layer of abstraction to make responsive email easy. Instead of having to deal with complex hacks and quirks proper to each email client over and over again, we bundled all of our findings as well as the community’s discoveries in a simple language that is responsive by design on every major email clients.

What was the inspiration behind creating MJML?

We initially created MJML at Mailjet for our own needs, and had been using it for more than a year before open sourcing it. As we provide a drag and drop tool to create responsive templates, we needed to be able to programmatically manipulate responsive email HTML from UI blocks. Manipulating this code quickly got tricky as we had to play with conditional comments for Outlook, fallbacks for Gmail and every other hack, hence the idea of a layer of abstraction to make this easier.

What would you say is the primary difference between MJML and something like Foundation by ZURB?

First, we have a completely different approach in terms of technique used: MJML is mobile-first, while FFE is desktop-first. In email clients where you can’t make a distinction between the mobile and desktop versions, like Outlook.com, the default layout will be shown in either case. We consider it better to show a mobile layout on a desktop screen than a desktop layout on a mobile screen.

Our users also really appreciate what they call our “forward-thinking” spirit, as we roll out updates regularly and like to explore new areas with interactive components, such as mj-carousel. MJML is also very lightweight, flexible and you can easily create your own custom components.

Finally, I think the community plays a big role in MJML. Members are very active on the community Slack, helping each other out and working with us to make MJML better everyday thanks to their contributions.

Do you have any new features planned for MJML? If so, can you give us a sneak peek?

Yes, we’re always up to something! One big milestone coming up for us is the launch of MJML 4, which will make the engine up to 35 times faster and ease the component creation process even more.

We also just released v3.3.0, which introduces native support for media queries and the mj-accordion interactive component, among other new features.

What do you think is the next “big thing” in Email Development?

As the vast majority of email geeks, I think interactivity is going to be big. Right now, it is mostly restricted to “visual” interactions, but I believe we’ll be able to provide a better experience serving real business purposes in a near future. To do so, we need to be able to access outside services from emails, which is quite limited at the moment as most email clients don’t allow form submissions. However, things are changing. The most recent example? Requesting and sending money from Gmail.

Another big thing coming is the ultra personalization of emails. I love how Product Hunt customizes their newsletter so everyone gets a different one. When you open it, you know it’s going to be made of content you’re interested in. It’s impressive how relevant they get, blurring the line between marketing and transactional emails.

Are there any email developers who inspire you? If so, why?

Pardon my chauvinism, but I’m a big fan of Rémi Parmentier, aka HTeuMeuLeu, a real email detective! Rémi is a great source of knowledge and actually helped us on several occasions on MJML, especially on interactive components. I love his mindset, how he explores what’s under the hood of those email clients that drive us nuts, and how he shares his findings with the email community to make our life more sane.

I also really like Justin Khoo, aka Freshinbox. His blog is a very rich source of information for email hacks. If you’re encountering a problem you can’t fix, his blog is probably a good place to start!

Last, but not least (even though I could go on forever), Mark Robbins is someone to follow too, both for his experiments with interactivity and his involvement in different conferences, he’s a great speaker!

Do you have a favourite email of 2017 so far?

Burberry had struck last year with their scarf email (offering visual interactivity as well as personalization with your initials printed on the scarf), and they did it again this year with an email taking us through a cool interactive path, where we get to explore the brand’s universe.

Closing words

I’d like to thank Nicolas for taking the time to do an interview with us and sharing his thoughts. If you’d like to try out MJML you can try it live here.

Don’t guess, test!

As always, whenever you’re making changes to your email development process it’s important to ensure you test ever iteration. That’s why we offer a 7 day free trial of our testing suite.

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