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June 12, 2023 - Articles

Email Peeps 16: Mark Robbins

Mark Robbins

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

It’s mostly a series of happy accidents. Being in the right place at the right time and landing in a career where somehow things click and make sense to me.

January 2012 I was made redundant, I was out of work for about 6 months then a mate helped get me an interview at Learning People where he was working. It was a marketing job, mainly focused on email. I had done some bits of marketing work before and some bits of basic HTML and CSS but the first email I ever built was for that interview. They liked what I built and I got that job and started learning more about email. 

After a while of reading that so much basic code did not work in email I started to test things for myself and realized that a lot of it did work, it just needed a fallback. So I started experimenting more and pushing things further and ended up building a couple of interactive games playable in email clients. Around that same time I saw a tweet about a company called RebelMail building an in-email shopping cart. I shared the tweet and the first person to like it was one of the founders, so I got talking to them, turns out they had already seen some of the stuff I was doing and I became their first employee.

A few years later, RebelMail (now called Rebel) was acquired by Salesforce. Salesforce was great and I got to work on a couple of cool projects but I’m not well suited to such a huge company. Luckily there was an exciting new product around, something I was a huge fan of, I had been using from the first Beta launch, and had been recommending to anybody who would listen. That product was Parcel who had recently been acquired by and luckily they were looking for new software engineers.

I’ve only been at Parcel a few months now, but I’ve already learned so much and worked on some amazing projects and I know there are a number of very exciting things coming up. I’m looking forward to seeing where it all goes next.

What’s your favorite email code hack?

I think it has to be ghost tables. This is the process where you design your email layout using <div> elements, you then add a fallback table element to apply widths, background colours and columns where needed. This fallback is for Windows Outlook and Windows Mail which won’t support these styles on a div. The table is then hidden using a conditional comment so it will only be rendered by the clients that need it and all other email clients will see it as a comment and ignore it.

This hack allows us to remove the use of table layouts for the majority of email clients. Which in turn greatly improves accessibility, while reducing the amount of bugs in other email clients often caused by table layouts, along with all the additional hacks & workarounds needed to fix then. It also allows for better inheritance of styles and overall I find ends up with less code and more readable code.

It can be a bit of an effort to switch over to this style of code, but it’s well worth it. I find it to be a much better way of writing code all round.

Why is email accessibility important, and what can email marketers do to make their emails more accessible?

If your email isn’t accessible, your email is broken. At best a broken email will frustrate the recipients, leaving a negative feeling about your brand. At worst, you’ll lose a customer and potentially could even face legal action for discriminating against disabled folks. 

Accessibility issues are just as important as rendering issues but they can be harder to spot so they often get overlooked. You can send yourself a test email, and check it in the email client you use. But just because it renders well for you, doesn’t mean it will render well in all email clients. The same thing applies for accessibility, just because it’s accessible to you, it doesn’t mean it’s accessible for everybody.

The solutions are similar too. We can use inbox testing tools to collect screenshots of a number of email clients to help with our render testing. We can also use accessibility tools to highlight potential issues to help with our accessibility testing. Then in both cases we can take things further with the addition ofl manual testing.

Accessibility benefits all of us, even if you don’t see the benefits now, you may get ill, have an accident or simply grow old. As I’ve been digging into accessibility more and more, I’ve started using more assistive technology myself. I’m dyslexic and sometimes I find reading takes so much brain power that I might not actually take in the content, so I sometimes use a text-to-speech(TTS) reader. A few years ago I developed arthritis in my hand and now I do a lot more navigation using just the keyboard, also my eyesight is not as good as it once was, so I’ll often use zoom controls to make text bigger and easier to read towards the end of the day. Using assistive technology like this has been a big help to me, but also it highlights a number of issues still present.. 

What’s in your email marketing toolbox?


  • 14inch Macbook pro
  • BenQ PD3420Q 34 Inch Ultrawide Monitor – effectively I get 3 screens by using the ultrawide monitor and laptop screen.
  • Logitech MX Vertical mouse – using a vertical mouse really helps with the arthritis in my hand
  • Apple Magic Keyboard – the keyboard is a bit flat so I added some feet with sugru to lift up the back and give a better typing angle.
  • Pixel 5 – my personal phone and a test device
  • IPhone 10 – just used as a test device
  • Plus a hand full of other devices that come out occasionally for specific tests


Mark's Office Space

My desk is normally a lot messier than this, I tidied it for the photo. I often feel bad when I see pictures of other people’s perfect set up, but I tend to work better amidst a little bit of chaos.


  • – I was always a big fan of Parcel from the very early Beta stage so great to be able to use all the cool features while also adding more.
  • VS code
  • command line autocomplete – Some engineers live in the command line, but I often struggle with it. Remembering all the commands is hard enough but being dyslexia, I really struggle to spell everything correctly. Fig offer auto complete suggestion which has been a huge help to me.
  • GuitHub – I also use the github desktop app for the same reasons as above
  • Parallels virtual machine – I use this to run Windows and test things there.
  • NVDA, JAW and all the screen readers built into operating systems
  • Plus more email clients than I can count.

How do you see the email marketing space evolving over the next few years?

I’d love to see more focus on people over statistics. Historically there have been a lot of dark patterns in email, trying to increase clicks but at the expense of user experience. These tactics can show some short term results but if you lose the trust of your users, overtime you’ll see more negative impact. I’d love to see people creating more educational content around email user experience.

I also think I have to mention AI as it’s such a hot topic right now. I think there are potentially some huge opportunities in how we can use AI in email but for now we should be very careful with how we do it.

I’ve not done a lot of research yet but from what I’ve tested, asking an AI to code an email will produce code that is inaccessible and full of bugs. Asking an AI to write some content, it can make up facts and give some very bad advice. I think these issues can be fixed but for me, the biggest thing currently missing in AI is the ability to say  “I don’t know”. For now we need to be double checking everything carefully and see if after that we’re still saving time or not.

How do you manage work-life balance?

To be honest I struggle, I try to be strict with myself but I’m not great at it.

Often when we talk about stress and burnout it’s associated with being unhappy in your job or having too much work thrust upon you. But I really enjoy my work and have a flexible workload, yet I can still get burnt out easily.

Because I enjoy my work I can easily fall into working late without noticing, and after I finish I can still be thinking about it for a while. I try to finish at 6pm everyday, in reality I tend to finish a bit after that but if I’m running much later then my partner will often come and get me. Then after work I’ll try and take about 30 minutes to sit quietly and wind down, this allows me to (hopefully) get out all my work thoughts. I might make some notes for the next day but I won’t do any work.

I play a lot of music which I find is a great way to destress. I’ll pick up a bass or guitar and noodle away for a bit and it seems to untangle my brain. Or if I’m really blocked, I’ll grab the drum sticks.

The hardest part is noticing the burn out coming. Over time I’ll get tired and not find the time for meditation or the motivation for music. I just need to take a moment to realize I’m getting frazzled again and to take some actions to fix it.

Much love,

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @emaillove


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