This morning I stumbled across a rather insightful, and well-written article (circa May 2015) by Jowita Ziobro, Director of Web and UX Design by @DelightenUK. Jowita lays out seven predictions on how web development will change in the near future. As email design is a subset of general web design and development, it’s important to know what kind of changes lay in store for the macro web world as some of these, invariably, will filter into the email world.
More importantly, some of these have already filtered into email!
Gestures are the new clicks
Although this may be a no-brainer considering how mobile usage has overtaken desktop—the fact remains that emails are still designed with buttons too small to be tapped by the most nimble of fingers. As touch screen technology marches forward, and the lines between tablets and PCs are blurred with numerous hybrid touch screen models of PCs hitting the marketplace—not to mention the fact that I see more and more people at conferences carrying nothing more than a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard—touch is the new mouse pointer. Our friends over at Litmus have a bevy of good design advice on how big a button should be on a mobile device to really leverage the platform’s interactivity and make clicking and converting easier.
Images rule (or why the fold is dead!)
If you think back to the sale of Instagram, a few guys creating an app that provides auto-magic filters for square images, then you know how ‘image’ oriented we are as a species. The sale put a premium on the engagement—perhaps obsession—we have with images, image taking and sharing. At one time, the fold was a magical line of demarcation that would separate beachfront property from the other side of the tracks. The task of any email designer worth their salt was to deftly brand that which was ‘above the fold’ and convey enough urgency that someone would be compelled to scroll below the fold to discover the gems that lay just below the surface.
That was so pre-smartphone—welcome to the gesture-driven world obsessed with images. A commentator on NPR once said: “I know that at some point in my life I’ll have taken more pictures than I can possibly ever look at or review.” Images drive interactivity and the fold’s death means liberation for designers that want to use big and bold imagery to define their brand and calls-to-action, or as Jowita puts it: what magazines have been taking for granted for years.
Animation brings it all to life
Animated gifs are coming back in a huge way: I’m seeing more and more animation in my inbox and I think it commiserates with the spirit of gesture (motion) and bigger and bolder imagery defining today’s email design. A quick perusal of the contents of my inbox yielded this gem that takes up nearly the entire ‘fold’ of my external monitor, and by the way it scales beautifully on my iPhone to boot.
And the winner is… … … … Email
According to Jowita, “email has one significant advantage over social: a much higher percentage of people will see what you send them.” I couldn’t agree more with her: all metrics point to higher engagement rates on email vs. social and a higher, more measurable and predictable ROI. It’s not that social lacks utility, or isn’t part of a comprehensive digital marketing and communications strategy, it’s just that email is a richer medium. 140 characters + the massive volume of tweets on any given day means that the message may get lost in the noise. Relying on Facebook’s algorithm, and again a rather high signal to noise ratio on any given news feed, means that conversions are lower and messages fall on deaf ears. Email on the other hand is infinitely searchable in someone’s inbox, offers the added benefit of ‘being there’ when needed as my friend and colleague Alessandra Souers says about the repetitive nature of many retail email cadences. This isn’t to say that you can’t overdo it. Measurement and testing are key to any email marketer’s success.
Things you should consider in email web design…
Jowita lays out a number of interesting pieces of technology that may find their way, over time, into email design such as Web Components and CSS Shapes. A quick list for you to consider and evaluate against your current email template might look something like this:
- Keep it flat and simple (faster load times = less abandonment)
- Bigger buttons for thumbs not mouse pointers
- Simple scrolling with a thumb (even horizontal as that crops up once in a while)
- Use animations to enhance the content and offset the flatness/simplicity
- Don’t be afraid of images and the fold—we’re naturally curious and want to see what comes next
- Invest in email, it has a handsome return