HTML Emails. Who needs them?

There has been a lot of talk going on recently about HTML emails, and I thought I would weigh in and give my two cents. Outlook, the most popular email platform, announced that they were switching their rendering engine. The decided to switch to using the Word engine! Excuse me, but I think Word is word processing software and in no way should it be used to render HTML. I think we have all seen the output when you convert a Microsoft document to a web page. It’s scary.

So in the wake of Microsoft taking a step backwards, the real question is: does it even matter?

In my opinion, it shouldn’t.

What do the experts say?

As Zeldman states:

E-mail was invented so people could quickly exchange text messages over fast or slow or really slow connections, using simple, non-processor-intensive applications on any computing platform, or using phones, or hand-held devices, or almost anything else that can display text and permits typing.

Jeffrey Zeldman - E-mail is not a platform for design

Emails seem similar to RSS feeds. We are getting the content without all the other crap. We need to ask ourselves, do we want to see RSS feeds completely designed? Nope, because then we might as well visit the site.

Remember how we thought getting cross-browser consistency was hard, how about cross-client HTML emails. It’s a nightmare. Some support CSS. Some strip it all out. Some support inline CSS. It’s awful. My favorite quote from the article, when he is discussing CSS support:

… but only if you author in nonsemantic table layouts and bandwidth-wasting inline CSS. Which is like using a broken refrigerator to store food at room temperature.

Jeffrey Zeldman - E-mail is not a platform for design

In Zeldman’s follow-up article Eight points for better e-mail relationships, he steps back a little from his previous stance, and he notes a few points about HTML email.

I think that after he cleared his head a little, this article is very on-point. HTML email should be something that people specifically sign up for. It should not be the selected option; they should have to choose it.

Simple is better. Zeldman posted an email that his friend received from Nokia a few days later. This is pure comedy.

Roger Johansson also had an opinion on the subject, and it’s very similar to mine.

So what do we do?

I think we need to discuss the problems with full HTML emails with the marketing people who are pushing them. Is this really what’s ideal? Is this going to receive the most positive feedback? I think not. I would be perfectly content receiving a simple mostly text email with limited branding (a logo). Not to mention how much easier this would be to create.

Now that, I don’t have a problem with.