The Goldilocks Challenge of Responsive Email Design – Part I: Too little

Posted by Dale Langley 

022We’re living in the age of mobile devices. According to the latest Return Path statistics from August 2013, 48% of opens (55% for retailers) are on mobile. A report by Bluehornet found that 80.3% of email recipients said they would delete a mobile email that ‘does not look good’. What’s worse is that 30.2% also say they would go on to unsubscribe.

The increasing use of mobile apps for email, where dimensions are smaller and rendering is different, has many implications for email marketers. This three-part Goldilocks series will explore the pros and cons of responsive design with real life examples and suggestions.

First, we dive into the perks of optimisation.

Non-optimised email will, at best, look messy, and at worst be downright unreadable for anyone without a magnifying glass. It is important to keep in mind that iOS devices  – which make up 82% of mobile opens according to Yesmail  automatically scale all emails. This means that many non-optimised emails will end up with minuscule text.

One such example is a recent offer from The banner looks good, but the text below is too small to read comfortably on a small screen:

mysupermarket text


On devices and apps that don’t automatically scale emails, the customer can usually see only the upper-left corner of non-optimised email. Here’s an example –  a PizzaExpress email rendered in the Android native email app:


While this rendering in itself is not necessarily a negative thing, it does mean that the upper corner of the email must be inviting enough so that the reader scrolls across. That can prove to be quite a challenge.

When you do choose to use responsive design, it is important to ensure it has a clear benefit. We’ve seen several examples where optimisation was used, but it didn’t address all the issues of reading email on a small screen. One such example is a recent email from Just Eat, a food-ordering website. They have use some optimisation, however, some of the text is still too small read comfortably:

Just eat optimised

Tailoring emails for mobile devices can make them much more aesthetically pleasing, leading to a higher ROI. Don’t take our word for it, let us take you through two optimised examples from LivingSocial and Atrapalo.

001  022

These screenshots of LivingSocial emails are taken from Android’s Gmail app. We think that it looks fine on the left – but is better on the right, where it’s optimised. A single column means bigger pictures and space for more legible descriptions along with bigger CTAs.

007  019
Atrapalo has done something similar. In the Android Gmail app (left), the responsive design isn’t being displayed by the App but the two columns layout looks fine and the content remains legible. But the rendering in Android’s native email app on the right shows that where responsive design is supported, it can be much easier on the eyes.

Three cheers for responsive design! But wait… did we not just see that sometimes it doesn’t work?

It’s true. The plethora of devices and apps out there means that responsive design, although very useful, is not always the right choice. For more on optimisation issues, read ‘Part II: Too Much’ of the Goldilocks series. We also give advice on how to be “best in class” in mobile optimisation in ‘Part III: Just right.’

Research and Content by Pearl Ho & Lisett Luik

Author Image

About Dale Langley

As a consultant to Return Path’s clients helping them adopt the latest email best practices, Dale's background in mailbox provider system development led to his specialization in mailbox provider start-ups, infrastructure, and subscriber engagement. He can be found regularly presenting seminars, talking about the latest trends in email marketing and de-mystifying the murky world of deliverability. Find him at and @Email_dale on Twitter.

Author Archive