The current state of email clients is such that responsive email is considered one of the most difficult tasks in web-development. It’s time to force the hand of email client developers.
In 2001 Jeffrey Zeldman wrote:
[Web] standards have been around for years. Browsers that support them have been around for six months to a year. If not now, when?
It typically takes 18 months or longer for web users to upgrade their browsers. Many still use browsers, like Netscape 4, that date back to 1997. These folks will only upgrade if we give them a reason to do so.
To hell with bad browsers, A List Apart
When Zeldman wrote the words above, browsers were leaving behind a period of competing on proprietary features. Today, support of web standards is embraced by the companies developing browsers; it’s how the browser manufacturers compete today.
In my talk at Web Directions Respond earlier this year, I credited Zeldman’s article with helping create the browser environment of today. The web developer of the early 2000s took his message and ran with it, standards were embraced by web developers, forcing the hand of browser manufactures so web sites worked and looked decent in their browsers.
It’s time to force the hand of email clients
A friend recently posted the ludicrous closing code from a responsive HTML emailer he was coding on Twitter.
</td></tr></tbody></table> </td></tr></tbody></table> </td></tr></tbody></table> <div class="footer" style="font-size:8px;line-height:8px;"> </div> </td></tr></tbody></table> </td></tr></tbody></table> </center> </td></tr></tbody></table>
It’s not better, it’s accommodating.
It’s time to stop accommodating bad email clients, there are email clients that support something representing web standards. Developers should code emails for those clients, poor quality clients will be forced to catch up.
Every table you add to an emailer makes it less future friendly. Each upgrade to email clients, each new email client will require you waste time and money going back to check your email still works – adding more and more unsemantic code to fix it.
As web developers, we’ve dealt with differing CSS support before. We still do. Progressive enhancement works for websites, it will work for email clients too.
Why would my company do this?
Upward management is a long standing tradition of employees, make your employers and clients aware of how much supporting crappy email clients is costing them. Make your employers and clients aware that you can make emails look good enough in bad email clients and enhance them for modern clients.
In summing up his article in 2001, Zeldman wrote:
Your company’s survival is tied to the ability of the products it makes to work in situations you haven’t imagined, and on devices that don’t yet exist. This has always been the challenge of web design.
The same applies to email. Crippling your code from the start is to code for the present, Moore’s law tells us the need to update your code will become more frequent, and will cost more money in the long run.