In a sense the production of an email would appear to be a simple task; one starts with a picture of the advertisement to be emailed - usually in JPEG, GIF, or PSD format - and transforms it into another medium (HTML). The act of making this transformation would also appear to overlap with web design itself, as the advertising email is basically a small, one-page HTML application.
However, the medium over which this page is typically rendered is significantly different from the standard browser model in several important ways, each of which distinguish email production from standard webpage coding. First, the email equivalent of the cross-browser problem is much larger in scope when one considers the variety of email rendering clients in common usage. A highly abbreviated list of the most common clients includes Outlook 2003, Outlook 2007, Outlook Express, Mac Mail, Lotus Notes, Eudora, and web-based clients like GMail, Hotmail, or Yahoo. This situation is complicated by the lack of a recognized body like the W3C to institute rendering standards. Attempts at such standards do currently exist, like the Email Standards Project, but such efforts are hampered by competing motivations in light of the ongoing spam email problem.
Second, as legitimate advertisers struggle more and more to distinguish their message from spam email, it is becoming more and more essential that an email production engineer be familiar with the latest anti-spam requirements. Such familiarity includes not only an understanding of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and its requirements, but also an understanding of how to construct advertisements such that they do not trigger SPAM scores.
Third, the rapid pace of email client development requires an even more attentive eye for detail in email production than for web. The recent introduction - and even more recent rise to prominence - of phone-based email clients like the BlackBerry or the iPhone is making the field even more challenging. This situation, coupled with the lack of standards mentioned above, inevitably requires that an email production engineer be familiar with the concept of elegant degradation, as in many cases one has to expect that the intended rendering of one's product will fail at least partially. The reader will note that this requires a very different design philosophy from webpage coding, in which the ultimate coding goal - to ensure 100% compatibility with all available rendering media - is actually attainable.
Finally, as a result of these other differences, the best practices associated with email production is very different from that associated with webpage coding. For instance, the tableless web design that continues to be the standard of choice for internet applications is for email production purposes hopelessly reliant upon W3C standards that are rarely met by today's most common email clients. In practice, therefore, the use of tables is a fundamental requirement of proper technique for email production, in order to ensure that emails are rendered to their recipient with some degree of control.
- Source: Email Production
- Email Standards Project
- Forbes, "Why the SEC can't stop Spam," 3/08/2007
- International Herald Tribune, "'Bad guys are winning' despite fight against spam," 12/06/2006
- PC World, "Crafty Spam Outsmarts Gmail's Filters," 3/10/2008
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) email standards draft