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The Joys of Designing for Email

The Excitement Of Designing For Email

When it comes to designing for the web, compromise is a necessary evil you have to accept. You can design some slick, cutting-edge visuals all you like, but as soon as one of the technical folks tries to turn it into a functioning website they’ll quickly tell you it doesn’t really work like that and start to take it apart.

This is something you quickly get used to in web design, and soon enough you’re making those compromises yourself, cutting out the middle man, knowing what does and doesn’t work, what can and can’t be done.

And then there’s email…….

Designing for email feels like some sort of cruel practical joke. Imagine designing a website today, for use in 1996. That’s almost as bad as email is. Almost.

Gone are the advances in HTML, CSS, Java, and all the modern inventions; things that make web design fun and engaging. You’ve got Microsoft Word levels of creativity to play with, and even if you manage to get your information, logo, links and anything else looking quite neat and professional, your recipient's email client is probably going to shatter your dreams anyway. For fun.

There’s no real standard in displaying emails, Microsoft, Google and Apple (as well as numerous others) all handle them differently. Once your message is received, replied to, scanned by the NSA, replied to again, forwarded twice, scanned by the NSA again, printed, drawn on, crumpled up and put in a bin, your signature will have been dismembered and scattered bit by bit across half the globe.

So the question is, what do you do? First off lose all expectation of how amazing it’s going to look. This is pretty solid advice from Rex Weston, a man who’s spent 14 years learning and perfecting how to get the best out of an email signature, and (I assume) has the patience of a saint.

The most important things to remember are:

  • Keep it fairly thin and vertical; the more ‘horizontal’ you go, the more likely it is that your signature will be split up and stacked vertically.
  • Remember that images may be removed and reborn as attachments by some email clients. So don’t try to cheat the system by doing it all as images.
  • Make sure that if you strip all the images and formatting out of the signature, it’s still readable and easy enough to extract the key information.
  • Check that all your text, particularly addresses and phone numbers don’t get awkwardly split over separate lines. If part of it goes, it all has to go.

And most importantly, have a look at this article before you even begin. I’ll probably send a letter next time instead.

Published on: 9th July 2015 by Steve Ingley