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Responsive email designs: Intended format across all devices

People in the US own approximately 7 different connected devices, each with its own screen size and resolution. As such, they access their email using smartphones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches and desktops. This means emails must display correctly across different devices. Responsive email designs facilitate this.

In this article, we discuss what responsive email design is, why it is a vital component in any email marketing strategy, how to leverage responsive emails in your email campaigns and how to design your own responsive email template.


Table of contents


What is responsive email design?

Responsive email design is the process of creating emails that adapt to the device they’re displayed on. This way, emails will display properly whether opened on large screens (e.g. through Gmail webmail on a laptop or Outlook Express on a desktop computer) or smaller screens (e.g. reading mobile email on an Android or Apple iPhone app).

Each device has different screen sizes and pixel counts, so your email layout must be adaptive. Responsive email designs are written with multiple layers of CSS code to ensure they align with the device-width and display. Responsive emails and responsive images work by using media queries within the email to detect the screen size of a particular device and then “turn on“ different formats according to screen size.

This means designers and developers don’t need to create separate email templates for desktop and mobile device displays for each demographic.


Why is responsive email design important?

The number of subscribers reading your email newsletters on smartphones and tablets continues to grow rapidly. As such, the desktop version and mobile version of your email must appear the same. Failing to view an email properly is one of the most common reasons people unsubscribe from an email list. Frequently, email marketers make the mistake of creating image-heavy emails, which are difficult to download and don’t always accurately display on mobile devices. This results in email value loss and decreased email opens and conversions.

An email consists of numerous elements, including headers, body text, calls to action (CTAs) and images. If you create them without responsive web design components, even if they’re correctly formatted for a larger screen device, they won’t display as intended on small screens.


What should a responsive HTML email design include?

There are several fundamental components to designing or ordering responsive HTML email templates or email newsletter templates. Essentially, the best emails are clear, concise, fast-loading and render correctly across all devices. Email developers use numerous layers of HTML code and CSS to create an email with these properties.

Conditional formatting is the most important part of the responsive email design process. Depending on the goal of your email, regardless of email type (e.g. an ecommerce sales email with a landing page style, or a long-form newsletter to your subscribers) the basic components of responsive email design remain the same:

  • Keep your email content brief and concise, as mobile readers are more likely to scan content and scroll through emails quickly rather than read blocks of long email text

  • Center the text and other elements of your email message by using a single-column layout so readers can more easily view and read it. This also simplifies the display requirements of your email so it loads faster.

  • Make sure to include image alt text as it improves accessibility and will display on the screen if your image doesn’t load.

  • Ensure your chosen email client’s templates or your email developer implements responsive email image best practices. Implementing responsive email images is straightforward practice for coders and involves using the HTML script <img src="nature.jpg" alt="Nature" class="responsive"> and the CSS script .responsive {
    width: 100%;
    height: auto;
    }

  • Avoid background images and background colors other than white. This helps create visual separation between your email elements and ensures your brand colors stand out.

  • Avoid spacing that is too large for the mobile device format or else your content may display incorrectly.

  • Use the same spacing on every side of the image so it is centered (top and bottom, right and left).

  • Do not delete your email template’s <head> section, or it will no longer be responsive

  • Open your email on as many devices as you can to ensure your code works and your email displays currently before sending.


Final thoughts

Responsive emails are one of the most impactful email marketing campaign elements and it’s vital email marketers get it right. The top email marketing services not only help you create responsive emails, they also track their effectiveness using data collection and metric analysis.

Use the tips we’ve given here when designing your responsive emails and you’ll optimize your email user experience across all devices, increasing your chances of getting the best results possible from your email marketing campaigns.

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