By Ros Hodgekiss on 6th February 2013
When designing email newsletters, everyone has something that they hold sacred. For some, it's ensuring the email looks great in Gmail. For others, it's having punchy copy. But the aspiration that regularly catches me short is the desire to have an newsletter look exactly the same across the gamut of email clients.
In my previous life as a full-time email designer, I had a big-name client who used to make all sorts of cross-client comparisons when reviewing email campaigns. Rounds of amends would commonly begin with, "Wow, the spacing between paragraphs is different between Hotmail and Outlook" and "Why doesn't the newsletter look the same in both Outlook and Lotus Notes?"
Of course, the client had the right to question inconsistencies like this, and if anything, we should have caught them first. So we'd explain that there were rendering differences between email clients, then do our best to rope these differences in (generally with the help of lots of tables). After all, we both had a style guide to live up to.
Situations like this used to make me wonder whether designers are too hard on themselves in regards to cross-email client consistency, especially when they're not answering to a corporate style guide. Just like it is in browser land, each email client has its quirks, its things it does and doesn't support, hard-coded in. Would it be healthier to accept this variation and design for an optimal experience in the most sophisticated clients, while ensuring any bells and whistles degrade gracefully for everyone else? After all, many of us are accustomed with the idea of a "mobile version" and a "desktop version" of an email newsletter - so why not an "Apple Mail version' and a 'Outlook version', too?
The argument for this is not just a fluffy matter of aesthetics - techniques like using web fonts instead of images for headings, or even animated GIFs can potentially have an impact on response rates. For example, making a call-to-action more appealing to 30% of your subscribers (and still decent for everyone else), is likely to result in more clicks than you would have had when aiming for a universally consistent design.
Secondly, unforseeable events like Outlook.com dropping margin and float support go to show that what may work one day, may totally be laid to waste another. When things like this happen, you can't be blamed for taking the defeatist line that 'consistency' is 'impossibility'.
Nonetheless, we can't be blamed for placing emphasis on consistency. In many aspects of our jobs, it's critical. However, given the rendering differences between email clients can be so great, perhaps it's worth occasionally thinking about how we can craft the best possible email experience, instead of levelling things simply to benefit those facing the worst.
Is consistency between email clients important to you and your colleagues? Why, or why not? Let us know in the comments below.
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