Communication is among the most important aspects of our client relationships. Much depends on our ability to effectively explain concepts and reach a common understanding. It is almost impossible to create positive project results without it.
But many web designers are stuck using the most impersonal form of communication: email. This creates barriers that can slow the design and development process to a crawl.
At the same time, there is immediate convenience with email. We don’t always have the time to engage in remote meetings – let alone an in-person meeting. And while there are many collaboration tools available, they often have their own set-up and cost barriers.
To that end, it’s about taking advantage of the medium we use most often. Let’s explore some ideas for improving client email communications. I hope it will lead to everyone getting on the same page!
Start with the Basics of Accessibility
Accessibility is not just for websites. The emails we write should follow best practices in this area. This is a key step, as communication becomes more difficult when a message is not legible.
And since messages rely heavily on text, typography plays a huge role. Choose a font that works on multiple platforms and is easy to read at a relatively small size (10 – 14pt). If your email app allows for custom inline spacing, it’s worth changing it to ensure long paragraphs don’t get strung together.
Color contrast is just as important in email as it is on the web. Use color combinations that meet WCAG AA standards.
To further simplify the look, avoid using textured backgrounds or fancy themes. Even if they look fine on a desktop, they may be too complicated for mobile users.
Take advantage of HTML Formatting Options
Gone are the days of sending plain text emails. That’s a good thing, because support for HTML provides a variety of formatting options. This can help readers better absorb the content of your message.
Modern email apps include many basics. That should be more than enough to make your content easy to follow. It’s not much different than using your favorite word processor.
The same rules apply. Use headings to create visual separation between new content. Ordered and unordered lists can be used to outline instructions or related ideas on a topic. Long URLs may be pasted instead of adding relevant text links.
And the ability to add inline images can be handy too. Images add context and make instructions easier to follow. They are great for showing clients where to click, what to look for, or reporting bugs.
Images can be unwieldy, however. So, try to keep them minimal in terms of dimensions and file size. Oh, and don’t forget the ALT text!
Keep Content Focused and Relevant
Is there a hard limit to how long an email can be? Probably not. Should you try to find out? Please don’t.
Keeping emails short and to the point can be challenging. This is especially so for something as deep as a web project. There are so many technical and design details. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to leave.
Our best advice is to think about why you are writing the message. For example, let’s pretend you’re troubleshooting an error message. How can you ask the right questions without overwhelming your client?
Let the initial goal guide you. Try to stick to the basic facts of the matter. You may want to ask about the specific error message they received. From there, move on to where they saw it and what they were doing at the time.
Feel free to leave any additional comments about PHP or how a recent software upgrade has become buggy. These items may be somewhat relevant, but they may also take the focus away from the information you are hoping to gather.
It is also important to create a friendly atmosphere. Small talk can be an effective way to achieve this. But it’s best reserved for more casual conversation. Use your best judgment here.
Understand When Email Is Not Effective
As we mentioned, email often feels impersonal. And the context of the message is not always clear. Therefore, there are situations where it is not the best way to communicate on a certain topic.
A great example is basic misunderstandings. When one party can’t get their point across, long email threads often result. And continuing down this path is more likely to be a waste of time.
In addition, the resulting level of frustration can damage a relationship. Not to mention the impact it could have on your project. Poor communication can snowball into an equally bad outcome.
Instead of pushing the issue, look for another method of communication. A phone call or video call may just be what is needed. Otherwise, real-time text chat could improve understanding.
In the end, it’s about finding the best way to do business. Email is not always the answer.
Effective Emails = Happy Designers & Clients
Imperfect as it is, email is part of our daily rituals. Because of all the shortcomings, it would be hard to imagine going back to the days of phone calls and snail mail for communication.
And since we spend so much time with e-mail, it makes sense to exploit its potential to the fullest extent possible. It starts with writing messages that are accessible, easy to read, and concise.
That covers web designers – but what about clients? Well, not everyone considers these things when writing an email. As they say, it takes all kinds of people to make a world.
But by following the tips above, you’ll keep your end of the bargain. And you might influence your clients to do the same.