Do you need to re-think your approach to mobile email?

“Do you design mobile-first?”

I’m asked this question quite frequently. And of course I know that the expected answer is “yes, of course”, which is why it comes as no surprise that when I reply “no” I get looked at as if I’ve just trumped loudly in a business meeting. 

The thing is, I’m not sure that a mobile-first email design philosophy is the answer. Let's look at our options...

design for desktop and casually ignore mobile

Well, no, that’s obviously daft. Daft, but depressingly prevalent; 23% of B2C brands are still sending out emails that are only designed and built to be viewed on desktop or webmail. It’s easy to see how this happens - email code is hard, slicing up a big image is the simplest way of creating an email that doesn’t explode when it lands in the inbox. Add to that the fact that most of the business world consumes email using desktop clients and you can see how it’s all-too-easy to rationalise a desktop-only design approach.  

The good folks at Litmus are handy with the research, and according to their 2017 State of Email report, 54% of email opens (out of more than 12 billion tracked in 2017) were on mobile devices, with desktop and webmail at 16% and 30% respectively. It’s safe to say that for the majority of sectors, more than half of your recipients will open your email on a mobile device.

OK, so we design for mobile first, then?

Sure, you could do that. But what does that actually look like? A single column of content, lots of space between elements, predominantly live text, big fonts, large tappable buttons and links suited for clumsy fingers. In purist terms it makes a lot of sense, but creatively it’s a very limiting approach and for many sectors the loss of design freedom is going to be too bitter a pill to swallow. 

So responsive design is best, yes?

In a lot of ways, yes, it is. Responsive design enables us to use behaviours such as stacking, hiding, re-sizing and swapping to arrange content differently depending on the size of the screen or device on which it is being viewed. Problem solved, let’s go nuts in Photoshop and our developer will make it work.

Alas, there is a drawback. Some mobile email clients still don’t support media queries, so your responsive code won’t… respond. Instead they will scale down your desktop layout to fit a small screen and, often, break it a bit in the process. 

Something for everyone

We believe that the answer is to consider every inbox, and use all of the tools at our disposal. Responsive design will always give us the most flexibility, but we also need to think about those poor souls trying to decipher our emails in the old Android native mail app, for instance. That means thinking about how our desktop layout is going to behave on a small screen and making small adjustments. 

Essentially, take a bit of the logic behind mobile-first, but use responsive design techniques and an understanding of how a wide range of layouts and design elements behave across the entire spectrum of clients and devices to make it better. 

Would you like us to help?

At Wax Media we create email that inspiresTM (not actually TM). With more than a decade’s experience working with some of the biggest brands and agencies, whatever your goal, we can help you get the most out of the email channel. For a no-obligation chat, give us a call on +44 (0)1189 778578 or email - we’d love to hear from you.