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Designing Email for the Mobile World
02 November 2012

Emerging Mobile Importance

With much discussion on the subject of responsive design within the industry, Free Rein's Ian Tearle considers the emeriging issues of email design - and why responsive email designs can not only bring benefits, but drive results.

Responsive Emails

There has been a lot of discussion on the subject of responsive design in email of late within the industry, particularly in terms of costs and whether it drives results.

My personal opinion is that it is an obvious route to go down for any development team or client. We can already see from the stats of existing websites that mobile usage has risen exponentially, and have adjusted our design patterns to provide a better experience for users opening your sites on a mobile device - so why not your emails?

However designing for email software is not as straight forward as it sounds, especially when we consider responsive design. When it comes to websites, although the path is generally more straight forward, in the world of emails we have to consider compatibility in a vast array of readers and software which vary considerably from each other. Designers have to at least understand basic HTML markup and where the pitfalls lie in online development. In most cases, slapping an image here or there just won't cut it.

Design a more compatible "Desktop" version

Responsive design isn't supported everywhere, most notably and maybe somewhat surprising the Gmail app on Android, which cuts out a large amount of recipients. If your email design is over complicated and content heavy, it's not going to work well on that combination. We need to design something that works OK without being responsive - so cut down on copy, ignore the crazy layouts, and make everything nice and modular, bump up the text size and make buttons easy to touch.

We often see emails that have too much content, driven by multiple stakeholders all competing for the 5 seconds of screen time; a perfect argument against this practice. Remove the endless paragraphs and update the design that compliments mobile device reading habits and is easy to scan; you will end up with a campaign that has a far stronger message.

A more straightforward uncomplicated email design has the added benefit of being easier to "make responsive".

So don't bother with responsive?

You could just leave it there. Your email is more mobile friendly, however even at 600px wide your email is still only "mediocre" zoomed out on an iPhone. But why not offer those recipients the chance of a much better experience and potentially gaining you more leads through your email marketing.

Use responsive design as a layer of enhancement. There are still a large amount of users that we can further enhance the experience for (disregarding Gmail app and Blackberry users). We can optimise your much simpler designed email by doing things like stacking content into one column, making buttons easier to select and text easier to read. If we can make it even easier for those users to read the message and act on it, it stands to reason that it shall help with results.

Essentially, it's a few extra hours of time in HTML, for a marked improvement to a significant amount of people on your recipient list. And the amount of users that will benefit from is increasing all the time as technology grows and mobile devices become more mainstream for day to day tasks like reading email. But if you are unsure about going all out responsive, perhaps making it to the starting line of designing your "desktop" email to be more mobile friendly is a happy compromise.


If you would like a review of your email designs, or would like to know more about our range of responsive solutions then get in touch.