Designer • UI / UX / Development • 2019

The problem

Creating HTML email templates is a difficult enough task. The code is complex and requires rigorous testing. Making them accessible for anyone to use without coding knowledge is almost impossible. These were the issues Help Scout faced as the company grew, and more people were involved in email creation. We took on the challenge of finding a solution, seeing three main issues with the existing setup:


Lacking a single source of truth, people were adding conflicting email templates. They didn’t know, or couldn’t find, the templates that they needed. The result was numerous email templates that were virtually identical.


It became more difficult to track where changes and edits were taking place in the files, meaning that template edits could occur without oversight, resulting in broken emails. Is it an emptying feeling when you realize you’ve sent out a broken email to thousands of subscribers.


Ensuring the emails were up to the latest brand guidelines had become a tedious task. A simple colour change would affect hundreds of files. A system to role out code changes and enhancements was sorely needed.

☝️  Each component has its own specific customization options

A solution

With those issues in mind, Shape was created.

At its simplest, Shape is a library. It contains all the various email components in use at Help Scout. You create your email by combining elements that you see fit, copy the code to your favourite email client, and away you go. No hassle. No-fuss.

Shape was designed to empower marketers and make their lives easier. They now had the flexibility to create any kind of email they wanted, safe in the knowledge that what they were creating conformed to the companies brand guidelines.

As a living web app, code updates happen in the background, without ever interfering with that creation process. Every new email created pulls the latest and greatest code, ensuring the product quality always remains high.

☝️  All editing is done inline, previewing the final product as you go


I’ve never been a fan of the stock email builder. They tend to be either barebones or throw every possible feature combination at you. We didn’t need the kitchen sink. We needed something that would allow emails to be created quickly and effectively.

Shape puts the overall picture of the email front and centre. Edits are made directly to what’s being produced, and menus are always contextual to the action being performed.

☝️  Components can be chained together in all different ways


A natural progression of the emails at Help Scout was to section them into components that could slot together to create various emails. The tools being used, however, didn’t allow for either easy customization or chaining together of these various components.

With Shape, all the email components of the system play nicely together. You can create email configurations in any shape or form you like.

Building for the future

Due to its configuration, Shape is setup to scale with the business. It's currently the primary in-house tool for email creation at Help Scout.

At some point in the future I plan to release a scaled down open source version of Shape, that will let businesses of all shapes and sizes construct robust, flexible emails. Stay tuned!

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