Email, a mild rant

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[Note: this post was updated on April 5th, 2018]
Among the more useful tools of our age, email gives us the power to communicate directly with those who would, presumably, like to hear from us. But like other task-oriented things, we love it and we hate it a little too.  (Wouldn’t it feel good to simply press “Like” on some emails and move on?)

The emails I best enjoy receiving are in plain text, with a hyperlink call-to-action or two. I can easily scan the text and follow links to the product, article, or site that I signed up for in the first place. Quick and easy.

The Web Design Update Newsletter, from the Information Technology Systems and Services of the University of Minnesota (Duluth) is one of the best examples of a well-organized and thoughtful newsletter. Plain, well designed, and powerfully informative.

Sometimes individuals and organizations make poor choices when trying to get their message across. Here are some “don’ts”:

Put everything in an image file

I still get emails like this. In order to achieve pixel perfection, all the copy and visuals are shoved right into a JPEG. Gross! So anti-web! The ‘text’ cannot be copied and pasted, or, recognized by your calendar and browser. Quit doing this!

Subject line says “alert” when it isn’t urgent

I get these from my bank– subject line: “…Banking Alert”– only to tell me that my statement is now available. Why is this an alert? Why all the scare tactics. In their excellent book “Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose” (2014,  New Riders), authors Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee remind us to think about the context of our communication, think about how our readers may be feeling, then we may better modulate our tone to fit the situation. My bank didn’t get the memo.

Use SMS style language

I get business emails with phrases like “Check back w/ U tomorrow…” and “…paperwork & copy r almost done! 🙂 ”
Stop. It. Now!
Prolixity can be avoided without resorting to emoji and texting jargon.

Long, useless signatures

Just put your contact information in the signature, not the history of the world.

Don’t include an image in your signature, because these show up as unexpected attachments. Avoid confusing and annoying your recipient with legal disclaimers. Unless you are the US Government, or, Dow Chemical, legal statements in a signature are, likely, unnecessary. If you are a big company or government employee, then the matter of legal disclaimers will be decided for you. If you are discussing trade secrets, ask an attorney where disclaimers should go, but, please don’t litter your email with these unless you absolutely have to.

Do use a service

If you are sending lots of emails, whether plain text or style-heavy emails (those with images, background colors, and fancy typography), use a service like MailChimp, or, Campaign Monitor; their templates have been well-tested across many email clients, and render well. Alfrick Opidi, at Cloudwards has written an excellent article outlining the many aspects of cloud based email services–well worth a read.  (These are not sponsored links– I’ve used their services and like what they do.)

I think that improving the email experience is a design problem that still needs addressing, don’t you agree?

By Beau

Painter, designer (print and digital) since the twentieth century.


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