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Designing a plain text email

From: Effective HTML Email and Newsletters

Video: Designing a plain text email

In addition to knowing how to design and code HTML email, it also is important to learn how to design and code a plain text email. Both plain text and HTML email design have severe limitations that designers must work around. For example, with plain text email, the limitation are no images. All the content is vertical. You cannot move content around to emphasize important content. You can't increase font sizes, for example, and you can't use color. For example, this is the two-column HTML email that we created earlier in one of our projects.

Designing a plain text email

In addition to knowing how to design and code HTML email, it also is important to learn how to design and code a plain text email. Both plain text and HTML email design have severe limitations that designers must work around. For example, with plain text email, the limitation are no images. All the content is vertical. You cannot move content around to emphasize important content. You can't increase font sizes, for example, and you can't use color. For example, this is the two-column HTML email that we created earlier in one of our projects.

This is the HTML email version, and this is the raw output as text. For example, here at the top of our HTML email, we have a link to web page version. In the notepad, it's the same text size as all of the copy. In addition, the large W that's colored over here with the copy is the same as all of the other characters and all of the other text in that bit of copy. Furthermore, the header, the logo, is non-existent.

Furthermore, when we scroll down to each of the tour descriptions, we have a logo, we have a description, and we have a link to explore more information. Here, in the text version, we simply have artifacts about the images, we have the text, and then we have a link to the Explorer button, but not the link itself, just a mention of the image. So, how do you design a plain text email? I would start with the headings. For example, you can put headings in all caps, or you can put headings mixed case, or you could have all your headings lowercase.

You even can add characters to the right, in this case a dash. In addition, you can use divider characters. Dividers are any of the non-alphabetic characters on your keyboard, for example, single quote, exclamation point, et cetera. A number of these might be interesting, visually, as ways to divide the space within a plain text email. You can even use numbers.

The final constraint you face as a designer has to do with the width of your text. With Notepad++, you can tell the number of characters width that your text email is by looking at the column information down at the bottom of the Notepad++ editor. You want to be somewhere between 60 and 80 characters wide on your plain text email to avoid line wraps that HTML email software often puts in with plain text email. It's better to do the line wraps yourself then to have email software do it for you and wreck your design.

I tried for 65 characters wide on all my plain text. In this case, we can see that it is 68 characters wide. So now we are ready to apply some of these design ideas. Let's say that we start with a few dividers. You can see that if we use a lot of white space, this gives us a lot more room and makes it easier to scan.

We also, if we wanted to put it up closer, we could do that as well. Furthermore, if there's a link here, we can add white space, or we can put it directly under. We can wrap the link in a divider, or we can remove the dividers. In addition, we can use characters here, the divider characters, to set off the link, and we can actually use more text. The only difficulty with this approach is that the links sometimes are so wide that they may be wider than your 60 to 80 characters.

You don't want links to break into the next line, in other words. And down here, finally, is a third way to treat links, which is to treat them as footnotes, to wrap characters around them and assign a number, and then to put the links down at the bottom. This only works however, for my taste, if the links are close to the description so that if a reader finds information they want to learn more about, they can click immediately on a link to go to a web site to learn more. If you put all of your links down at the bottom of your text email, the problem is the reader then has to remember the number as they scroll down.

Designing a plain text email requires skill and thought to succeed. In the next video, we'll apply some of these solutions to a natural plain text email based on our two-column email project which we completed earlier.

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This video is part of

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Effective HTML Email and Newsletters

55 video lessons · 22262 viewers

Tim Slavin
Author

 
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  1. 2m 25s
    1. Welcome
      1m 1s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 24s
  2. 13m 12s
    1. Understanding differences between HTML email and web pages
      1m 21s
    2. Seeing how HTML email displays in different email programs
      3m 27s
    3. Finding Acid tests and compatibility checklists
      2m 35s
    4. Understanding MIME types: HTML vs plain text
      4m 3s
    5. Exploring the future of HTML email
      1m 46s
  3. 15m 12s
    1. Defining spam
      2m 6s
    2. Examining legal issues with permission-based email
      1m 33s
    3. Planning email campaigns
      1m 36s
    4. Creating content for email campaigns
      2m 34s
    5. Understanding design constraints of HTML email
      1m 53s
    6. Designing effective HTML email
      2m 5s
    7. Building email address lists
      3m 25s
  4. 7m 28s
    1. Choosing tools for coding HTML email
      1m 27s
    2. Coding email versus coding web pages
      1m 14s
    3. Preventing problems with email coding
      2m 49s
    4. Understanding the ideal coding process
      1m 58s
  5. 17m 27s
    1. Planning
      1m 8s
    2. Coding HTML tables
      4m 38s
    3. Adding content
      4m 49s
    4. Adding inline CSS
      6m 52s
  6. 10m 44s
    1. Planning
      43s
    2. Coding HTML tables
      2m 41s
    3. Adding content
      3m 39s
    4. Adding inline CSS
      3m 41s
  7. 13m 13s
    1. Planning
      1m 13s
    2. Coding HTML tables
      3m 4s
    3. Adding content
      2m 37s
    4. Adding images
      1m 9s
    5. Adding inline CSS
      5m 10s
  8. 7m 32s
    1. Designing a plain text email
      4m 49s
    2. Designing a plain text email from an HTML email
      2m 43s
  9. 20m 45s
    1. Automating HTML email creation
      2m 5s
    2. Automating HTML email by category
      1m 6s
    3. Automating HTML email with WordPress
      5m 32s
    4. Automating HTML email with ExpressionEngine
      4m 27s
    5. Automating HTML email with FeedBurner from an RSS feed
      4m 27s
    6. Automating HTML email with FeedBlitz from an RSS feed
      3m 8s
  10. 6m 42s
    1. Deciding when and how to test email
      3m 18s
    2. Using testing services
      3m 24s
  11. 13m 56s
    1. Outsourcing your email campaign
      56s
    2. Sending email with MailChimp
      2m 40s
    3. Sending email with Campaign Monitor
      1m 51s
    4. Sending email with Constant Contact
      2m 20s
    5. Sending email with iContact
      2m 9s
    6. Sending email with VerticalResponse
      1m 52s
    7. Sending email with canned templates
      2m 8s
  12. 14m 34s
    1. Solving layout and spacing problems
      2m 50s
    2. Solving image problems
      3m 12s
    3. Solving Gmail display problems
      2m 19s
    4. Solving Lotus Notes display problems
      1m 55s
    5. Solving Outlook 2007/2010 display problems
      2m 40s
    6. Adding video to email
      1m 38s
  13. 1m 36s
    1. Next steps
      1m 36s

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