Why is it that we, designers and developers alike have to constantly face blanket rules mandated by people with little to no technical knowledge? What I mean by blanket rules are rules that someone, probably near the top of an organization, has made with little knowledge or understanding of the stance they have taken. It’s usually on a technical issue, and it’s probably something someone has told them or something they heard on the news somewhere. It may even be something you told them!
Case in point, I create a lot of solicited e-newsletters where I work. Some of our designs get pretty crazy considering we are trying to make these things work in every mail client from Hotmail to Outlook. Designing for email is far harder than a standalone web page in my opinion.
Anyway, one of the companies we work for has now stipulated no background images in emails. Where did this come from and why? Well, probably because background images are stripped out of some new clients, but so are hundreds of other elements we use in email every day. The key with email is to layer everything you know, with the hopes that some of these layers will come through, and the rest will gracefully degrade.
Decisions like these should be made by the people creating these newsletters, people with the expertise to know what should and should not be used. We stress a lot of live type, so background images can be very useful since you can put live type on top of them. As a standby you can use a background colour if the image does not come through. With this method, we have created many possibilities of achieving the design and usability goals. Everyone should get the text message. Some people will get the image, and some people will get the background colour. By making a blanket statement like “No Background images ever!” you have just effectively eliminated a tool in the developer’s arsenal. We developers are constantly testing and watching email and web compatibility issues day by day, year by year. We make technical decisions based on the goals and targeted demographic. In a lot of cases a background image is a bad idea, but in a lot of cases it’s a great idea.
The point is, let Designers design, and let Developers develop. If you are hiring a good team they will probably know what’s best. There’s no need for non-technical minds to get involved in compatibility and delivery issues.
So how can YOU help change people’s minds? Just remember, it was probably something someone like you said that created the situation in the first place. Be careful what you say to people, a comment like XYZ won’t work in this situation could mean that further down the road you may see a mandate to never use XYZ, when really it was just in that situation that it should not have been used. Sometimes the situation will be out of your control, and you will just have to grit your teeth and design and code your way around silly rules.
Happy designing / coding.