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Best Practices When Designing with Mobile in Mind

June 27, 2014

When designing an email, it is important to design with mobile users in mind. The easiest way to do this is to make the email responsive so that it will look as intended and function properly across any platform. But if you’re on a small budget, or just not that savvy, there are some basic “best practices” for designing an email while keeping your mobile users in mind.

The easiest way to come up with these best practices is to break down an email into its basic parts, and then give some generally applicable “best practices” for each part as they apply to mobile users. For the sake of brevity, we’ll break an email down into three basic parts:


The funny thing about this process is that while an email for “Bed Bath & Beyond” will look completely different from an email for “Phillips Seafood,” the structures are basically the same.

Generally, an email structure looks like the following:


The header is usually the first element that contains at least the company logo, and depending on the email’s complexity, may also contain social media icons, navigation links, and email sharing links.


Whether it’s one column, two columns, three columns or more, the content generally comes after the header. Again, depending on complexity, it may contain multiple articles and graphics.


The last element of the email is the footer. It follows the content and has the various CAN-SPAM items, and again depending on complexity, may also have some social icons, email sharing links or other items.

The nice part about mobile is that the structure remains the same, so the first “best practice” for coding an email for mobile is to maintain your existing email structure, as it will ensure your subscribers understand what they’re looking at (it would be weird to see the footer first) and it will reinforce the structure they normally see in the desktop/web client version. That’s a no-brainer, but it’s better to make that simple fact clear!


Now that the web has graduated from 256Kbps dial-up, images are an important tool for email marketers, even though some clients still try to block them (ahem…Outlook, Gmail). This is a great thing because email marketers are using images more intelligently every day to come up with some really awesome looking emails. But that can also cause a problem for mobile users. Why? Space.

A widely accepted best practice for email size for web and desktop clients is to keep it no wider than 650 pixels. While this width practice is based on the ever-decreasing users on 800x600 resolution monitors, it’s been maintained. This is because even though our screens are getting bigger, the email clients are keeping that restriction in place because they’re using the extra space for their own purposes…and that’s fine…but I digress.

Since emails can be 650 pixels wide, designers can create awesome images in that space to generate an email that makes a big impact. But that doesn’t work for mobile. Mobile clients don’t have 650 pixels to work with (yet). They have around 480 pixels, and without being responsive, the awesome images will be cut off and break your beautiful email. So what’s the “best practice” for images? Should the industry start designing for the sub-650-pixel platforms? Nope. I would argue that a good “best practice” would be to make your large images resize for mobile and leave the smaller supporting images (under 480 pixels anyway) at their native size.

A quick Google search will give you some techniques on how to resize images for mobile, but if you want it done properly, be sure to ask an expert.


Every email you send should have a purpose. And as an extension of that purpose, the email will probably contain some sort of call to action. Now I don’t want to get into the myriad ways you can ask your subscribers to basically “click here” because that would take a whole ‘nuther blog post. So instead, we’ll focus on the call to action as an interaction in the email.

Emails can have numerous calls to action, and regardless of how you paint, style or pizzazz it, the “action” you want your subscriber to do is click with their mouse (and hopefully perform the actual action of purchasing, voting, etc., as indicated in your email and reinforced on your landing page). But this is a problem for mobile clients. The obvious reason why is because they don’t have a mouse. All mobile users have is their finger and a tap of the screen. So why is this an issue? Because of accuracy. With a mouse I can get right down to a single pixel and click on an item. On mobile, you’re only as accurate as your skinniest finger, and I have yet to see a finger that is one pixel wide.

So how do we avoid frustrating our subscribers who are using their finger and not a stylus or mouse? The answer, and subsequent “best practice” here, is to make your call to action larger. Start at the design phase of your next email and find ways to increase the calls to action so that they will not only get lots of attention from your desktop and web client users, but will also be a good size for mobile users to easily tap.

Combine your new larger call to action with your resizing images and reinforcing structure, and you’ve got yourself an email that not only looks awesome for desktop and web clients, but also looks appropriate and works effectively for your mobile subscribers.