How to Create an Ugly Email Signature

When you develop and sell email signature software as we do – software that is used both for brand improvement and marketing campaigns – making sure the design looks good no matter who is reading the email is at the top of the agenda. After all, that’s the point in standardizing email signatures from a […]

Published: 3/18/2015 by Bjarne Mess

When you develop and sell email signature software as we do – software that is used both for brand improvement and marketing campaigns – making sure the design looks good no matter who is reading the email is at the top of the agenda. After all, that’s the point in standardizing email signatures from a branding perspective – consistency, continuity, and professionalism.

If you try out Xink, either our cloud-based version or the installed version, the ultimate test to determine “if it works” is if the signature looks exactly as you expect it to. Sometimes, it really doesn’t matter how many features we have, just as long as the software produces the right signature. Ultimately, does the software deliver as promised? That’s the key.

Achieving this goal wasn’t easy though. Ensuring consistency across platforms takes a lot of brainpower, and designing an interface that enables anyone, pro or novice, to create a compelling email signature was of the utmost importance. Here’s why.

 

What Are the Challenges?

In some ways, creating uniform email signatures sounds like a really easy job, so what’s the big deal? Well, let’s compare this seemingly simple task with the evolution of internet browsers. This should provide you with some invaluable insight into the “how” and “why.”

When I started using XMosaic for Unix in the early 90’s, the layouts were pretty simple, because the browser itself didn’t support many capabilities . You could lay out some text and images, set up a simple unmarked list, and it looked fine. At that time no designers were involved. It was “the good old days,” as we’re fond of saying. But it wasn’t to last.

As browsers continued to evolve in the late ’90s, with now-famous names like Netscape, IE, and Firefox coming onto the scene, it started to become very difficult to get a web page to display correctly across all browsers, as cross-browser compatibility wasn’t yet a common practice. In fact, this issue became so pervasive that I remember we had buttons that said, “Best viewed with Explorer 3.0,” just to let the reader know that the design would look different in the browser they were using. And yet, it only became more complex over time, with many new browsers appearing – all with their own interpretations of how HTML is supposed to be displayed.

Now, with the use of mobile devices becoming de rigueur, this adds a further complex dimension to how a web page should display end function – just a few years ago, it was a given that almost every web page was viewed on either Windows or Mac. That is no longer the case. Emails and web pages are just as likely to be viewed on a mobile device as a desktop, and this is one more thing companies must take into consideration when designing their digital presence.

 

But How Does This Affect Email?

If we know that both browsers and a user’s device can impact how a web page is displayed, how do you think that an email will be affected under similar circumstances?

Think of an email (especially an email signature) as a web page; when viewed across different browsers, results can vary. Sometimes buttons don’t work, animations appear strange, you cannot log in, buttons are gone, and tables look twisted. It is exactly the same with emails. Email programs show HTML differently, and your email is basically just a piece of HTML (sorry to say!).

It is commonly accepted that web programmers spend significant time and energy to ensure that web pages are compatible with the most-used browsers. It is even widely accepted that developers all but force users to opt for certain browsers because of HTML compatibility issues. Imagine if this attitude were also acceptable when it came to emails? “If you want to view this email as it is supposed to look, then move to Apple Mail”.

I don’t think this is reasonable, and neither should you. Remember, you don’t know if an email is being viewed in Outlook 2013, Apple Mail, Gmail in a Crome browser, OWA app for iPhone, Emacs for Unix, or even printed out on a Star LC24-10. It might look perfect when you send it, but not when the recipient reads it. It might even look ugly when you send it, but perfect when he or she reads it. The problem is that there’s no way to know – or at least, there didn’t use to be.

It is commonly known that an email is built in one of three formats: HTML, rich text, or plain text (and if you didn’t know this, now you do). Rich text emails will soon be dead, so we have HTML and plain text emails left to consider. Plain text, of course, has long been considered the safe bet as firewall administrators used to prevent individuals from sending out HTML emails because they were “dangerous.” However, you can now send out HTML emails without suffering a bad conscience, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of the benefits they offer.

One of the main advantages afforded by HTML is that it enables you to style emails as you want. However, in doing so, you can run into some complex issues which you might not have foreseen. Email signature design is possibly even more complex than traditional web design because there are different factors at play, with different limitations. You need to consider so much more, which makes crafting a good email signature, and one that can be viewed across browsers and email platforms, like a piece of art. Our Xink software has been designed to alleviate or eliminate altogether these potentially complex issues. So much so, that signature formatting, continuity, and consistency is all but guaranteed.

Remember this the next time you see an email signature from someone in your network. The images might be gone, you might see a red x, details may be hidden or missing, campaigns may not be clickable – this is all due to the fact that designing and coding email signatures can be tremendously difficult. This is why we offer Xink as a solution to the arcane world of email formatting.

 

Follow These Tips for an Ugly Email Signature!

If you follow these steps, your email signature is all but guaranteed to not look good, and will in all likelihood not comply with your design. Consider this helpful advice if you want your email signature to display properly, and look professional and uniform, no matter who may be viewing it! Don’t do the following:

  • Create and design your signature in Microsoft Word and then copy into Xink.
    This will produce all kinds of unwanted and unused code, and guarantee that the recipient cannot read nor render your email signature correctly.
  • Use the most modern HTML5 programming techniques when creating your signature.
    This will confuse all email programs, as they don’t know how to process modern code – just avoid this entirely.
  • Use inline styles in your signature.
    Older email clients (like pre-2010) do not handle inline style tags well.
  • Paste an image into your signature.
    This is probably one of the worst things you can do. With impressive certainty, the image will appear as a red x; you’ll find it included as an attachment rather than inline; or your firewall administrator will need to release the email from the spam bucket. In fact, this is the reason why it is commonly believed that having graphics in your email signature is dangerous. Not likely! Just do it right by adding the images from your admin interface. Our technology will handle it correctly for you.
  • Implement a design with scripts because you want your logo to rotate.
    Yeah sure, make your email signature a playground. It will never work. If you do it anyway and believe that the reason it doesn’t work is because of our software, then remember this post. Just leave scripts alone!
  • Include all relevant information in just one image, with no text.
    What a great idea! All but ensure that your signature cannot update automatically because each of the images is saved for each individual. Remember that your email signature is a living space, not just an area for “Kind regards,” so we cannot update the information in images.
  • Add a logo that you got from your designer, not taking into account that this logo takes up 5 MB of space.
    Always remember to have images that are scaled 100% for your signature. Never scale your email images manually; always make your designer provide you images that you don’t need to scale. If you insist on keeping the oversized images you receive from your designers, we can guarantee that the images will be oversized in your email signature.

Now that you’ve got a few tips and tricks here to help ensure your email signatures look good, format properly, and display across browsers and email platforms, please remember that our team can still help you create a signature that is right for your business. If you need help, we’re here to provide it!

We can help you implement a corporate email signature design that is a piece of art.