Double lives of HTML email

As I was just finishing up some HTML email invitations for a client, it made me think about the double lives that these creatures live. A HTML email being essentially a microsite, containing its own HTML code, declarations, styling, and then imagery - being embedded, hosted remotely, or otherwise. Quite a world away from the plain-text regular emails that get sent around daily.

However, there is just so much crossover - with clients like Gmail, Hotmail or others, web-based clients, where writing a coloured email is actually getting close to the complexity levels Inception. Because you are, in effect, on a website, with its functional content undoubtedly spread over a cloud of servers, writing in what appears to be a plain email, but is really an online interface for creating a microsite of its own, which will come with another set of accompanying files, coding, etc.

And it doesn't stop there. As these HTML emails get sent around, forwarded and received on a wide variety of clients, they will inevitably get corrupted, their layout broken, images lost, etc., as each Gmail, Outlook or Eudora will serve their own caprices. Of course, images are a significant part, which can make or break a nice HTML email. They should complement the content, but not be crucial to the gist of the mail, should be formatte appropriately (often omitting everything any other microsite format would deem as essential), etc. And, the piece-de-resistance, the email should look just as readable with the images on or off. Preferably on any browser, or email client. Writing an email is, therefore, not as easy as writing an email.

Which is why getting them right is a bit of a craft. And the warm, fuzzy feeling one gets when one of them turns out alright, looks nice, handles well, is robust enough to travel, and even has all the copy in the right places:

Mind you, this is the same email. On the left, it is viewed with the images turned on, whereas they have been turned off on the second one (to preserve bandwidth, or more frequently, as a preventative measure by Gmail and such.

In any case, the content does not suffer, all the images disappear without a trace, except for the title / logo, Which is replaced by, lo-and-behold, the title. Everything else slots nicely into place, pretending to be a plain-as-Jane email (in up-to-date and intelligent browsers).

Until you turn the images on, when its other self makes its appearance. Crisp.