When I open my email inbox on an average day, I see a wide variety of messages. Like many of you, I sort through a lot of emails from companies offering me the latest and greatest deals on the Internet. As email designers and marketers, many of us at Rare Bird can’t fight the urge to critique messages making their way into our inboxes. In fact, we keep an eye out for emails that make for interesting conversation around the office.

I recently received an email from Columbia Sportswear. As a subscriber to their email promotions, I have often admired the design and creativity of their messages. I thought it might be fun to play “The Email Game” and give everyone a sneak peak at what runs through our minds as we receive these email offerings. So I went around the office and asked some of our team members what they thought about this most recent email I received from Columbia:

(Click the image to view the full scale email.)

The responses were varied, but quite interesting.

Troy Chandler, Design Director: Troy was quick to notice the cool lake design that extends horizontally at the top of the message. While this was a great visual design element in our Apple Mail client, Troy’s experience in email design reminded him that this background image technique does not work in many mail clients (i.e. most versions of Outlook.) In many other mail programs, the header performs what we might call an ‘elegant failure’ and looks like this:

Ben Rothe, Programming Director/Information Architect: Besides the fact that the naked people holding up the jackets reminded him of Teletubbies, Ben pointed out a weak call to action. Below the really  large type face reading, “OMNI-HEAT: 20% WARMER ACCORDING TO SCIENTISTS AND COLD PEOPLE” is the call to action in considerably smaller type face. This primary call to action, “Your heat has arrived. Omni-Heat products are now available for purchase in-store and online.” should be displayed in a more prominent way.

Jim Cota, President/Creative Director: Jim appreciates the power of first impressions, and this email design makes a good one. But Jim’s approach is often more focused on the business case: “I looked at this product design and immediately thought, ‘foil doesn’t breath.’ My impression was that if you put this coat on anywhere south of the Arctic Circle you’ll be sweating like crazy in minutes. While the product looks warmer (hot, in fact), I think they should do more to reassure me that it’s also comfortable.” Jim also agreed with Ben that the call to action was a little soft. “I realize that many of these may be intended to drive consumers into any store that sells Columbia products, but they could cross check the recipients address and show area stores.”

It’s always interesting for us to see the work of others and, overall, Columbia’s email is pretty good. When it comes to the email we design, the Rare Bird team plays “The Email Game” to ensure our clients deliver GREAT messages. Our team encompasses a wide variety of experience, bringing different perspectives to the table. Developing great email can be a difficult task and it takes a team to make sure our clients deliver engaging messages.