Jakob Nielsen has been one of the gurus of internet usability since the early days of the net. Even now, his websites sacrifice design flourishes for the sake of clarity, and look oddly simplistic. But they get the message across, and when Nielsen writes something, it’s normally worth reading. He’s just done a report on email messages, and although the $119 report might well be too in-depth for most of us, the summary article, Transactional Email and Confirmation Messages, on Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox is worth looking at.
Nielsen says that – especially when emails are text only – little thought is given to their “design”. Their layout is often a function of the software used to create them, and does not help them achieve the function they are designed for – in other words, to be opened, and to get a message across. Put the important message at the top, he argues. Get specific information into the subject line. And think about the “from” line too: people simply don’t open messages that don’t have recognizable sender information. We can all learn from this.