Fear of missing out (FOMO) got you foaming at the mouth? Picture the scene, four business types in an uptown bistro. Next to the sparkling water is a pile of mobile phones… the first to crack and check their email picks up the bill. Email for mobile is as much about usability as it is design and it’s one thing everyone should remember.
Smartphone email is on the cusp of overtaking desk-based systems, so we communicators have had a look at the best way forward. I’m sure that if you regularly use your phone for email then you’ve experienced the huge quality swing from cracking to lacking.
What does the changing shape of email do to design?
There was a time when computers were getting more powerful and monitors bigger, emails (and websites) were getting more attractive, informative and attention grabbing. Communicating by email really makes the audience sit up and take notice. But spam and the changing face of technology has given designers cause to stop and think again.
Scene change, January 2013, the Sequel offices:
It was high time we created a new email layout. It had to grab attention, use every pixel of available space and say about a hundred things at once with everything above the fold (fold? really? it’s a monitor not a piece of paper).
So how to plan the design; one column, two, three, how wide, how long and how many stories should we have? It’s a usability question, how to get the perfect balance between platforms, content and the huge variety of screen sizes and resolutions.
We had some fantastic layouts, content down one side, images down another, hotlinks, social media – it’s fabulous – ticks every box, but how’s it look on the iPhone? Time to pinch and zoom – so #twothousandandten!
OK, so audiences want choice and they expect everything to work, on any device, Blackberry for corporate, Outlook for everyone, Gmail and iPhone; a total design nightmare, impossible right?
How does the web do it?
Responsive design is the solution. It’s harder to make but the only way forward for the modern web-user is a page clever enough to know how it’s being looked at and change accordingly. (Well at least that’s solved the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.)
And, while your average corporate computer running an older version of Windows doesn’t support all of the modern techniques, happily they ignore what they don’t like (to a point). This means that more modern devices can interpret layout that is aimed specifically for them. Success = intelligent emails that present your content in the right way for the right device.
There are tons of rules about what you can and can’t do, so if your users have an older version of Outlook then the width will be compromised and then sadly it all falls apart.
I’m sure it won’t come as a total surprise that when faced with lots of variables the best course of action is to understand the needs of your audience and then provide them with what is suitable. So keep an eye on your statistics and see what devices they use.
If it’s heavily mobile biased then best stick to the one column; if it’s desktop dominated then go for a decent sized multi-column layout; and of course if it’s a modern audience and you don’t have to worry about legacy technology then you can take advantage and create responsive layouts!
But if you have a typical corporate audience, containing older computers and lots of BlackBerrys. Then design email for mobile first and make compromises for the ultimate good of usability.
(FYI: the new Storyboard layout is a single column – but still quite attractive).
By Charles Fenoughty