(Email Development) Onward and Upward: 2016 In The Rearview

We are well in to 2017 now, but I thought it appropriate to take one more look at the past to review two exciting events that happened recently in the world of email development.

While some of the biggest email marketing trends of 2016 were design-focused – including greater personalization, automation, and mobile-focused responsiveness – there were two announcements that made every developer’s ears perk up. But it will be the progress continued in 2017 and beyond that will be the judge of their lasting effectiveness. The two announcements I’m referring to are, of course:

  • Gmail’s announcement to support embedded styles and media queries; and
  • The partnership between Litmus and Microsoft to “make email better.”

Let’s take a quick dive into each of these announcements to understand their impact on email marketing.

Email Development Game-Changer #1

Gmail support for embedded styles and media queries

A momentous shift occurred September last year. If you were paying attention, you could hear the exasperated sighs of pained email coders come to an end, and the cheers of the victorious echoed throughout design offices everywhere.

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but it is indeed difficult to overestimate how important this announcement feels to the email development world– no one can criticize the boisterous reaction of email designers to Google’s news that Gmail would begin recognizing embedded styles and media queries. This longstanding issue, Gmail’s lack of embedded CSS support, has long been at the top of everyone’s wish list for years. It was even one of the primary reasons that the spongy/hybrid coding approach was born – because Gmail used to strip out and ignore media queries.

This meant that all the work one did to make their HTML mobile and desktop responsive was ignored in Gmail. While we want to stay away from hyperbole, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of Gmail’s adoption of embedded styles and queries – not only for email designers now, but as a sign of the kinds of changes that developers can hope to see in the future.

Getting it right

And that hopeful future, where email development standards define the rendering engines of the world’s most-used email clients, will only begin to take shape when vendors take part in the conversation. The Gmail team has long been aware of the issues created by lack of style support, but they always backed up their decision based on security – as stated by Jason Cornwell (Inbox by Gmail Lead Designer) during a Reddit AMA in 2014,

“We are interested in supporting media queries but we need to make sure we do it right. Our changes last year to show images by default in Gmail last year were similar: there was a ton of complicated security work that had to happen behind the scenes before we could make this seemingly simple feature safe for the whole world.”

Two years later (maybe a little slow for everyone on the outside looking in) and the Gmail team has made good on their intentions.

Email Development Game-Changer #2

Litmus partnership with Microsoft

This same kind of approach can indeed be made elsewhere, and it gives us hope that the kind of progress that we wish to see from email clients does not have to only start with the Email Standards Project and conversations within the W3C HTML for Email Community Group. While these are vastly important, it is also important that vendors become part of the conversation. As stated by Jason Rodriguez, Litmus Product Manager,

“You can write specifications all day long, but until you get vendors to sit down and talk about the problems that led to those specifications, absolutely nothing is going to change.”

Good Business OR Industry Changing Event?

And that’s exactly what Litmus is attempting to do with their partnership with Microsoft. Now this one is hard to pinpoint just how momentous (or not) it will be for the future of email development. Touted as “industry-changing news”, it’s hard to see whether this is just a good business decision, or if it will in fact contribute to the larger conversation of email design standards and troubleshooting.

If I were to bet my own money, I would say that this partnership will indeed contribute to the future of email development – but it will most likely come a few years behind the rest of the world, and in increments far smaller than we might hope (but I’m willing to be proven wrong!).

Certainly, any outsider can see that this will be a boon for Litmus, as it will strengthen their core offerings and bolster their standing as a leader in email design technologies. But what is harder to see for outsiders is what, if any, this partnership will serve the larger community of developers whose code constantly fights with Microsoft’s huge market share and their Word rendering engine.

In Closing

To reiterate, these two major email development-related happenings of 2016 are strong indicators of where email design and standards are headed, and there is a lot of cause for hopeful outcomes. We certainly would not want to get ahead of ourselves or put all our hope in the lofty goal of getting all vendors on the same page – but there is no doubt that these are good and important developments.

And in the meantime, the community of email designers and marketers will continue pushing forward for greater support of a variety of technologies, and for the ever-evolving standardization of email development.

Email Creative Archive for email development

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