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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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