I’ve noticed quite a bit of discussion around use of responsive design in email, particularly whether it’s worth investing the time and therefore money, and if it does indeed drive results (Sidebar: I can’t share specifics, but the stats my clients have shared show it does).
I think that it’s a no-brainer to look at providing a better experience for those users opening your emails on a mobile device. In fact, personally I find it a bit weird that we need stats before we think about this, but there we go.
But when it comes to mobile optimisation, responsive design is only part of the solution – and we need to make sure that marketers don’t implement responsive design in a way that doesn’t really work, get their fingers burned and then never try again. Much in the same way that social share buttons were declared “never to work”, when they were mostly implemented by shoving some social media icons in the footer and blindly hoping for the best.
Here’s what I think we should do to improve the mobile experience:
Design the “desktop” version so it can work on a mobile device
Responsive design isn’t supported everywhere, notably Gmail app on Android, which is probably a large amount of people who will miss out. If you send those people an over complicated design, laden with content, it’s not going to work on a small screen. We need to design something that works ok without responsive – so cut down copy, don’t have a crazy layout, make everything nice and modular. Maybe bump the text size up a bit, and make buttons nice and easy to touch.
We often see emails that have too much content, usually due to multiple stakeholders all trying to get their 5 seconds screen time. This is our perfect argument against this practice. Get rid of the endless paragraphs and make something that’s easy to scan, and you’ll end up with a campaign that has a stronger, clearer message.
A more straightforward design has the added benefit of being easier to “make responsive”.
So why bother with responsive?
Well, you could just leave it there. The chances are your mobile friendlier, but 600px wide email, will still be ok zoomed out on an iPhone. In fact, if budget/time is that much of an issue, you could do this and see how the results look.
Use responsive design as an extra layer of enhancement
There’s a large amount of users (pretty much everyone except Gmail app and the remaining Blackberry users) that we can enhance the experience further for. We can optimise the layout – doing things like stacking content into one column – and make buttons easier to select and text easier to read. If we can make it even easier for these users to comprehend the message and then act on it, it stands to reason that it’ll help with results.
Overall – It’s a few hours extra time in html, for a marked improvement for a significant amount of people on your list. And the amount of users that will benefit from it is increasing all the time. But if you’re unsure about going all out responsive just yet, then perhaps designing your “desktop” email to be more mobile friendly is a happy compromise in the mean time.