When HTML Email Goes Horribly Wrong

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I get a lot of questions about how to make email newsletters visually appealing. While I understand the desire for adding some sizzle to your communications, This entry from design standards champion, Jeffrey Zeldman, outlines the pitfalls that await the HTML emailer.

The article, When is e-mail like a bad website?, deconstructs an HTML email sent from a major cell phone manufacturer, presumably with plenty of resources to perform usability testing (Be sure to look at the screenshots to see how mangled the messge gets).

The last sentence drives the point home: “Responding to this post by saying, “Funny, it looks okay in my e-mail client” will miss the point that e-mail, as a medium, really doesn’t want to carry all this freight.

Let that sink in for a moment.

“…email, as a medium, really doesn’t want to carry all this freight…”

Consider that as you plan your email marketing campaigns. Email is primarily a text-based medium. Adding images complicates things a bit. Trying to shoehorn a pixel-perfect newsletter design into email adds an exponential amount of complexity.

The fact that a company as large as Nokia encountered difficulties using this medium should be enough to give us pause.

How much time and effort do you have to devote to testing and design of graphically intensive e-newsletters versus the ultimate benefit of adding the extra complexity. Is the risk of having your high-gloss layout break on a large percentage of your users’ email clients worth that extra time and resources?

In many cases, your time may be better spent crafting a better message and a killer subject line than tweaking that last pixel on your email layout (only to be betrayed by a glitch in Hotmail, Wiscmail, Gmail or some other web-based email client).

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