Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thinking Critically: When to use GIFs in Email

As we come to a new age of online communication, we have to take into account all the things we used to do. Gone are the days of the geocities website, and in are the days of responsive & adaptive design, HTML5, and CSS3. But, with so many tools at our disposal, what about our tools of yesterday? Let’s take a moment to examine one such tool- the animated GIF.

city (1)

GIF Credit: http://annstreetstudio.com/

Back in the Wild West days of the Internet, the flashing GIF was king, and the Internet landscape was filled with these flashy, attention-grabbers. However, as time marched on, our styles progressed and the popularity of the GIF began to wane. However, outside of blogs and comedy sites, there is one area where GIFs still remain- the email. Here, the animated GIF can range from wonderful to terrifying, so when I need to use animated content in emails, I tend to ask myself these questions:

What email clients will people be using?

Right now, animated GIFs are supported by most of the major email clients except Outlook 2007, 2010 and Windows Mobile 7, so it’s important that you consider your audience. If you know that everyone in the company still uses Outlook 2010, you may not want to use animations. However, if your audience includes a wide variety of users, then I’d say animations are still a viable option. If you use them, just be sure that the first frame of the GIF is pertinent to your message, since that may be all a user will see!

What benefit does this animation provide the user?

User satisfaction is always first and foremost when it comes to deciding what needs to be included on a page, and the same holds true for email. An email needs to be short and to the point, so don’t add extraneous elements that detract from your message! If an animation is not going to provide a benefit to the user, think critically about whether it needs to be included in the message.

Does this type of animation integrate well with my brand?

When sending email, you always want the look and feel of the content to be congruent with your brand. If your brand is all about visuals and panache, an animation may serve to further draw your readers in. However, if animated content might seem out of place for your company, you may want to consider using static imagery.

Will animating this content detract or enhance the story I’m trying to tell?

If the animation serves a purpose, such as showing how one uses a product or highlighting the brand, then that is a valid reason for including it within the email. But, if the animation would detract from the message, such as pulling focus away from the call to action, a well-designed static image may serve your content needs better.

Unfortunately, there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to animations and email, but asking yourself these questions and giving honest answers can help make the decision for you and your clients a little easier.