05 09/2007Damien Buckley Why we need standards support in HTML email

A good friend and colleague of ours, David Greiner from Campaign Monitor posted an article this morning resulting from an ensuing debate over the application of web standards in html email.

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time now. I’ve been delaying it purely because I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to write with Zeldman-like virtue on why email, just like the web, needs to pay attention to web standards. Sadly, in the time between the idea for this post and actually getting it published, web standards support in email has gone seriously downhill. I can’t delay it any longer.
My role at Campaign Monitor has given me a great opportunity over the years to research and speak to other designers at length about the standards issue. Each time the topic comes up the result is always the same – getting an email to display consistently in all of the popular email clients is by far the most frustrating part of the job. It’s a painful and always moving target that’s getting harder instead of easier. There’s really no justification for it and it’s about time something was done.

It is absolutely time that something was done and its encouraging to see someone as influential as DG taking it up. I’m sick & tired of hearing the knockers complaining about html email – if you don’t want it, unsubscribe. I’m in the class of designer who didn’t learn to use tables (thank God) and have read, studied and worked damn hard to design and build clean, semantic, standards compliant websites. We’ve been working with CM from almost as early as we started designing websites and I started out building emails in the exact same way I do websites.

There’s really no sense whatsoever in what Microsoft have done reverting back to the Word rendering engine but to be fair, when did they ever do anything for web designers and the standards movement? I think its testament to the fact that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing that the IE7 team could do such a great job in getting the world’s most widely used browser up to date – and then another team completely ignore it and roll back to 1980 on the email front????? Does anyone else find this completely bizarre?

In addition to this article I’ve also read elsewhere that there are some industry big-hitters working hard to silence and run the standards people out of town in the HTML5 working groups also and so it seems that its not only html email under attack but we could be in for a whole new era of non-standards stupidity in browser development to further the big boys’ causes.

I was extremely disappointed with Zeldman’s post that set some of this issue on fire in the first place though relieved to see a semi-retraction follow it. That said, he’s done a lot already and as he rightly points out, we can’t wait around for him to take up a fight based on something he’s not really involved in.

I’m completely behind DG on this one and agree that this is a fight we have to take up ourselves. Sign me up.

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