News Byte: Responding to the Limits of Responsive Design

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Responsive design is not 100% responsive.
Responsive design is not 100% responsive.

Email marketers: Think long and hard about what are the most essential elements of each email you dispatch, because you are going to want to ensure those elements appear in every permutation of that email that will pop up on all the various devices upon which it may land. And that goes for the small percentage of you who have incorporated responsive design. It's not a magic transformation machine.

That's one of the key lessons in a new study on responsive design released this week by Bronto. Only 8% of the 100-plus companies whose emails were studied by the company employed responsive design, and the display quality of their emails showed inconsistent results depending on devices and ISPs, ranging from subtle modifications to significant changes.

Bronto—which monitored the app and web browser versions of Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and the device's default app—found that results varied not only among ISPs but within different formats at the same ISP. The study presents examples of how a web version of Gmail on an Android phone did not scale the test email or process the responsive code. This is not something controllable, even by emailers using responsive design, since ISPs constantly update how content is rendered, the study said.

In one test email monitored by Bronto, Gmail was not responsive in its Android Web application and Yahoo failed in its Android app format.

“Responsive design is a worthwhile tool for marketers, but they have to have a realistic expectation going in that it doesn't just recode something and everything works perfectly,” says Bronto Manager of Marketing Research Jim Davidson, who directed the study. “It can change placement of content elements like calls to action. The potential variations are limitless and can be overwhelming.”

Davidson's counsel to marketers is to boil down email content to the most essential elements. “If you have 10 tabs, you should maybe think about six,” he says. “Maybe you can do without ‘clearance' or ‘promotions.'"

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