Email for All
In this first email summit celebrating diversity and accessibility, Paul, in his opening keynote, will tell how making email for all became his passion, right from the very start of his email career, and how this, eventually, led to his work on, and the advocation of, accessibility in email. He’ll outline what he means by making email for all, why we need to make email for all, and how we can go about making email for all.
About: Paul Airy
When it comes to email, there’s nothing Paul’s more passionate about, than delivering great email experiences. This has led him to challenge long-established email design and development practices, and introduce innovative techniques, to make email more recipient-friendly, and accessible. He’s the author of numerous articles, written to this end, including those published by Net magazine, Really Good Emails, EnvatoTuts+ and Litmus, in addition to his book, ‘A Type of Email: A handbook for working with HTML typography in email’. Paul is recognised as a lead advocate of accessibility in email, which, last year, led to his nomination for the 2019 Business Disability Awards, ‘Disability-Smart Influencer’ Award, alongside the BBC and Virgin Media.
Email for all, this is a challenge. At this email summit celebrating diversity and accessibility, it is our challenge. So how do we make that challenge? The first thing we do is we see our recipients as people. Let me take you back to the very start of my email career in November 2011.
And I remember it as though it was yesterday, the day, I sent my very first email, which is really exciting. I uploaded a carefully crafted HTML, and CSS, and images into Silverpop, the ESP, that we’ll be using at the time. And the moment came, when it was ready to send out into the big wide world really exciting.
And it went, the button was pressed. And it was time to wait, wait and see what was going to happen to this thing that I created. And remember, leaving for work that day, thinking about what would happen, and then excitedly arriving into work the next morning, logging into silverpop, to open up the reports and see the data. And what happened to this email. And what I discovered, astonish me, because what I saw was real people with real lives, and real feelings, had interacted with this email that I created. My mind was literally blown. And thing was, I couldn’t see who these people were. And I couldn’t hear what they had to say.
And I therefore couldn’t discriminate, nor would I want to discriminate against them. But something had happened. There’s been this connection between me the creator and sender of this email. And they the recipient of this email, an electric connection, actually like to think of email, electronic mail, not as electronic mail, actually, electric mail, because there is this connection between the sender and the recipient. You see, in my career, up until that point, previously, as a web designer, and before that a graphic designer, in no part of my career, had I come so close to the people that I was creating my work for.
It was revolutionary for me. And so at that point, I made it my aim to deliver the greatest best experience that I possibly could to these people who were taking the time, and invest in themselves in engaging and interacting with the emails that I was creating. In short, I was going to make email for all. So we see our recipients as people. So how do we make email for all? Well, we make it easy for those people to interact with us. I kind of hashtag subscriber first, and it’s been with me throughout my email career as a constant reminder, to put the subscriber at the very forefront of my thinking and decision making. Whether that’s been to do with strategy, or design, or development, or a combination of the three. And I recently revised that hashtag to be recipient first, because of course not all emails or subscriber base. transactional emails are for example, the received on the basis of a purchase of a service or product.
So I’ve constantly challenged myself on whether the decisions that I’ve made I’ve been decisions that made it harder or easier for people to interact with emails that I’ve been creating and sending to them. I recently came across a book, it’s been around for some time, you may even have a copy. It’s called, don’t make me think by Steve crook. And don’t make me think, he writes, is his first law of usability. And this really encapsulates what I’m talking about here. Don’t make them think. And I’ll go further than that. And say, don’t make them do. Don’t make the recipients do things that you can do for them in the design and development of the emails that you’re creating for them.
So I began to disregard practices that made it harder for people to interact with emails that I was creating for them. practices such as styling terms, and conditions, in small text, or small print. Because this is a practice that comes from the printing industry, when there are a lot of terms and conditions to display, and they need to be in a small font, so that they can all fit on. Of course, in email, you don’t need to have that there’s plenty of space at the bottom of an email. And the text can be displayed in a normal size. And I began to embrace an introduced practices that made it easier for people to interact with the emails I was creating, such as considering how an email would display across different devices, on a desktop on a tablet, on a mobile, and deciding whether it needed to be mobile first or desktop first, depending on the audience. So we make email for by making it easy for those people to interact with us.
So where do we start? Well, we start from where we are. And for me, that meant text. But it started my email career, I was working in the fashion industry, on emails that were very image heavy. And so I began to take text out of images. And what this meant was that text was crisper, it was clearer. It was easier to read also meant that tax will reflow on mobile devices. And that would mean that it wouldn’t be necessary to pinch and zoom to read an email also meant that cost of action were present in the email, regardless of whether images were switched off, or there was a poor connection. And of course, being more text and email, it meant that the emails are quicker to load, as well. And I wrote about some of these practices in my ebook, a type of email to help other designers and developers implement text into their emails. So we start from where we are. So what do we do next? Do we rest on our laurels? give ourselves a pat on the back and say, well done. We’ve now created an email that’s easier for people to interact with. And leave it at that. No, we take it to the next level. And for me, that meant accessibility.
I began to look at accessibility at a time when the email community was talking about it. But as far as I could see, nothing was being done about it. And so I did some research. And I looked at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. And what I discovered in those guidelines was that there was some things that were irrelevant for email. There were some things that were impractical for email. But there were some things that could be implemented into email. And I took those things. And I talked about them in my session, a type of accessibility up the email design conference in 2015, in London conference, which is now known as littmus. Live, of course. And it’s been great to see how the email community has embraced accessibility since that time. And indeed, this summit is a celebration of that. And so I’ve gone on to become an advocate for accessibility, which is the reason why I’m talking to you today. But even in that I’ve not rested on my laurels and I saw otherwise To make it easier for people to interrupt with emails I’ve been creating. So I designed and developed the accessibility switcher, which enables people to choose how they would like their emails to look. So they can change the font size, for example, and the background colour behind the text. So we take it to the next level.
You might say to me, Well, Paul, that’s all very well. But my subscribers, my recipients, only a tiny percentage of them, if any, a registered, disabled or have any accessibility requirement. My answer to you would be implement accessibility, regardless of what your data says. Because the truth is, your data won’t tell you what challenges your recipients have. Take me, for example, I subscribe to emails, and I receive emails on the basis of purchases I’ve made. But the data about me won’t be everything about that those companies have. Just like on the website for this summit, there’s some data about me. You’ll know, for example, that I’m the founder of beyond the envelope. And I’m also the email specialist at communities. But what will the website won’t tell you. And what those databases won’t tell you is that I’m diagnosed with epilepsy, and have been since I was a child. And this means that I receive emails with content like this, in which I can’t look up for more than a split second comfortably. or emails with content like this in which literally hasn’t been looking the other way. But the thing is, I don’t consider myself as disabled. I take medication, which keeps everything under control, thankfully.
But this does have a side effect. And it slows down my thinking. I didn’t mean, I’m forgetful at times. But if you were to ask me, Do I have any special accessibility requirements? Like I was in that you were when you registered for this summit? my default answer would be no. In the UK, 1% of the population are affected by epilepsy. That’s around 678,000 people. Every day 87 more people are being diagnosed with epilepsy. In the US, the percentage is 1.2, which amounts to 3.3 million people. Globally, that number is 65 million people. Next week is purple day, the 26th of March, a day to raise awareness for epilepsy. And all these different forms of epilepsy action is one of the charities that is involved in that I’ve written an article myself on how epilepsies affected me and how I’ve overcome it. And that’s just one condition, among many.
I have some friends who have dyslexia. And they consider dyslexia as some kind of creative superpower. They don’t see it as a disability. It’s something that enables them to think in a certain way that others can’t, and do things that others can’t. But if you were to create an email with centre text, they would struggle to read it because they struggle to find the beginning of each line, which is why I use align text left in an email. So we implement accessibility, regardless of what our data says. Next, we need to consider the diverse nature of our recipients. And this is probably the root of most of the descriptions and heated debates, certainly that I’ve had. We need to remember that we are not our recipients. And that there is more than one way for students to interact with the emails that we create for them. And too many times I hear this word spoken I in phrases like this, I can read it on an email with very small text. And that’d be fine if all the recipients had that person’s 2020 vision or phrases like this. I just pinch and zoom when being shown an email that’s not responsive on a mobile device. And that might be fine for the recipients had that person’s dexterity, or time and patience to navigate around an email that way.
Or this one, I think it looks fine on my phone. And that might be fine if all the recipients were that person, and all the recipients had the phone. And this one, which is probably the one that rubs me up the most, can’t they just change your setting here, do something there. We need to stop making the email experience the recipients responsibility. We need to challenge our own biases. We need to ask ourselves, are we making it easier or harder for people to interact with emails that we’re creating for them? And we need to ask other people for their insight. There may be people in your teams who have challenges. There’s been people that I’ve known in my teams have had dyslexia, for example. And I’ve asked them, How do they engage with that email? Is it difficult for them? Or is it easy for them? Can it be made better, and implementing things like that accessibility switcher, to enable people to enlarge the text, or change the contrast, or change the background colour so that we can disregard practices that make it harder for people and make it easier for people by introducing other practices. So we consider the diverse nature of our recipients. Finally, we recognise our brand is only as valuable as our recipients experience of it. I mean, why go to all this trouble? Well, clearly, the reason why you’re watching is because you think it’s the right thing to do. And it is, but it’s also the brand thing to do.
You see a brand is more than a logo. Even though as a graphic designer, I would say that logos are very important. And a brand is more than images. Even though as someone who deals with photography, I would say that images are very important. And a brand is more than fonts does a typographer, I would say fonts are very important. So your brand is all about the experience. Take McDonald’s is a globally recognised brand. It has its own logo, the golden arches, which is known throughout the world. His photography of his products, now even has its own font now speedy. Everything about McDonald’s is about fast, fast food. I recently took my daughter out to a youth club and had to take a straight from work, so I didn’t have time to eat. But I thought there’s a McDonald’s on the way.
So I’ll take it to the youth club. I’ll drop her off, go back to McDonald’s, get something to eat quickly. And then go and pick her up afterwards and take her home. So I went to the store walked in to see what was on offer. And I saw the grand Big Mac. And I thought Oh, that looks good. I’ll have one of those. So I went to the touchscreen, made my order waiting for the ticket to come out. It didn’t come out was a bit disappointed. But it was okay because I remembered the number. And then I want to queue and I waited. And I waited. And I waited. I waited. And I waited. And it was 10 minutes before I received my order wasn’t the fast food experience I was expecting. And then to add insult to injury, when I received the product and opened the box. It wasn’t the grand Big Mac that I was expecting. It certainly didn’t look like the photograph I’d seen. In fact, it was quite limp in the box.
A somewhat diluted experience of McDonald’s. You see experience is everything. So when we are creating and delivering emails, sending them to our recipients, we need to ensure the experience that we’re giving them is the best it can possibly be. Whether they’re using a desktop, a laptop, tablet or My mobile phone. So there’s a commercial aspect to this, because your competitors are doing the same thing. And if we’re truly want to be accessible to the diverse, then we need to make sure we’re doing all these things I’ve talked about today. We recognise our brand is only as valuable as our recipient experience of it. So, as you go into the rest of this summit, let me give you some takeaways from my talk today, to think about consider as you go to each of the sessions.
First of all, see your recipients as people and make it easy for those people to interact with you. Think about practices that you can disregard, and practices that you can embrace. To make email easy for those people. Start from where you are, think of one thing right now that you can put your hands on and work with when you get back to your daily work. And then when you’ve done that, don’t let it rest there. Take it to the next level.
Implement accessibility regardless of what your data says. And consider the diverse nature of your recipients remembering that you are not your recipients and then recognise your brand is only as valuable as your recipient experience of it. So go enjoy the summit and make some great email, email for all. Thank you