Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Why Email Design is So Bad

For another project I’ve really been maxing out my CSS and design skills. It’s for the real web… that is, real web sites that can handle CSS, JavaScript, Ajax. Then I return to the email world, and wonder, to myself, why is it all so bad? (And is that the reason why I’ve been stunted, so to speak, in my front end programming abilities for the last 6 or so years?).

For those of you that have no experience with contemporary website design, it has undergone a real revolution. Elegant, sparse, and flexible, was my feeling when I finally upgraded a project from old tables and background colors- what we do in email- to the newfangled world of CSS2. So yes, there are technical restraints to using new design, how flash and CSS is oddly handled by all of the browsers and systems out there- but in general, we’re still not keeping to good consistent design (like our contemporaries in web design.)

But back to email- why is it so bad? See this Avis email I got a few minutes ago.

Avis with images off

Not to pick so much on Avis- this is actually middling in the range of design flaws I get in my inbox every day.

What’s Wrong
If you’re asking yourself what’s wrong, read on, otherwise skip to “Why This Happens”.
- First off, the right sidebar alt text font color is hard to read over red.
- Subhead has different font and size- too large, unreadable- than main head. Solution? Encapsulate that in the same style setting, or set the body font to arial 10pt.
- Use of spacer GIFs instead of margins, also clutters up the rendering with image soff.
- Alt text in different font and style than the body- also managed with setting body style or inline styles to match.
- Images for headers, which is not advised with image suppression- use links.
- The Avis branding in the alt text is not enoguh to drive me to download images. It should be interesting and descriptive. They favored branding over getting images turned on- and basically maintaining subscription.

Why This Happens
My belief is that:
- Companies aren’t recognizing the errors and loss in readership, optin and subscribers, by bad design. Either they don’t have a testing suite to show them, or they don’t believe it (see: the perils of gut marketing). This is mostly an issue because they may get the email rendering OK in their work account, and don’t see the myriad of design issues in other inboxes.
- The best minds of design aren’t going into email- it’s still stigmatized by spammers.
- Lack of standardization means that, in the interim, designers just design for one or two situations (browser/OS) and disregard the rest.
- Organizationally, there’s a split in skills- the markup folks and the design folks- and passing the buck of “what works in what browser” and other testing suites. To get someone who knows the markup and can design worth some salt, that’s special indeed.
- Marketing managers don’t want to use templates. They think every communication should be different, that every offer is unique. I think this is misguided, as any email provider will tell you that the majority of their email messages from their clients look alike.

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Written on Monday, 05. May 2008 at 14:49 In the category design, emailstandards. Follow the comments via RSS here: RSS-Feed. Read the Comments. Trackbacks- Trackback on this post. Share on FriendFeed

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    Pingback: 6,860 Unread emails – Kirsty Smith – 14. October 2018 @ 1:33 pm

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