Do you know how wide the email view window is for each of your email subscribers? With a dedicated email reader on a desktop computer, it is likely to be between 500 to 1,000 pixels wide, depending on screen width and window expansion. Web mail readers are slightly narrower on average. Mobile email readers are of course much smaller, with the better devices still under 500 pixels and most mobile email readers operating in the 320-pixel range.
Convention has it that an email should be designed at a fixed width around 600 to 650 pixels. Most all marketing emails and newsletters are in fact designed exactly to that specification. But as the popularity of reading email on mobile devices and the smaller screens of netbooks and tablets prevail, the number of subscribers reading email with a view pane of less than 600 pixels is only going to increase.
Now might be a good time to rethink the fixed-width template wisdom. This is clearly a convention born out of Web design best practices, but at odds with the way email was designed to work. Just compare the newsletter and marketing emails in your inbox to the correspondence emails from your contacts. If you are on a mobile device, the difference is obvious. If not, just narrow your window and compare. See how most of the correspondence emails nicely adjust to the change in width, while the others do not.
If you would like your emails to be elastic and adapt to the window width, the solution is simple: just replace the fixed widths in tables and other structural elements with an elastic 100% width. Your designers may have to do some tweaking to make the other elements adjust, and you will need to sell the idea to your boss or clients, but in the end most, if not all, of your subscribers will be much happier. Those that keep their email pane widths around 700 pixels won't see a difference. Those with mobile devices, on the other hand, will save valuable time not having to stretch, scroll, and squint to read your emails. Even those subscribers with wide desktop screens get something, as they can finally make use of all that extra space around the borders of your fixed width emails.
The fact is, if you continue to use a fixed width template, a big and growing chunk or your subscriber base will have extra work to do to get your message -- and the extra effort they come to expect from your emails, may also be keeping them from reading your emails in the first place.
Still unsure about going elastic? Ask yourself one question: Are you really expecting your subscribers to read your email like a mini Web page? Or do you just want them to efficiently get the message and take the actions you want them to take? For most cases, I think the answer should be obvious.
Switching to an elastic template is a win-win for all -- except for all those ESPs with large collections of fixed width email templates. Time to send those old templates to the scrap pile. Once email senders put the subscriber in front, the old non-elastic conventions will be an anachronism from the days when email design goals focused on cramming a web page into an email, rather than delivering a message to a subscriber.