Browsed by
Tag: email design conference

Can you put a hedgehog in an email?

Can you put a hedgehog in an email?

Taking the classic question all email geeks will be familiar with. “Can I put a video in an email?”, I decided to replace the word ‘video’ with first word that sprung to mind at that moment, ‘hedgehog’. (That is not true)

*I feel at this point I should point out that this is purely an experiment and not a real email, this is all part of personal research project, I’ll be receiving no financial recompense. It’s just for me and the #emailgeeks.*

I’ve been on a bit of a mission recently trying to explore “gaming” in email, and it ties in somewhat to some of the things I was looking at when I created the Interactive Tree. I feel that “gaming” in it’s true sense can obviously be limiting. For example what if the situation arose where we try and promote an actual game… could we do that justice with interactive email? (like Sonic The Hedgehog for example) how far could you realistically go with it? and what could be a good way to do it?

We’ve already seen some innovation in gaming emails in the past with Mike Ragan’s Transformers Pixel-art. But other than that I don’t recall seeing much worthy of remembering.

I started to think about HTML banners, CSS animations, and those interactive/animated adverts you get here and there, and how perhaps a simplistic nod to the game might work, and began to sketch out ideas. I chose Sonic largely because as a boy I was Mega Drive kid, and loved Sonic 2. I also felt that the platform simplistic nature of the early versions would work (it really could have been anything though… Mario, Dizzy, Chuckie Egg. I must again stress that in no way have SEGA or Sonic The Hedgehog been involved in this, I used the theme of Sonic purely for experimental purposes).

So first up, I made a list of key Sonic traits and these were. Running, jumping, rolling, spinning, and moving fast, collecting rings, landing on spikes, drowning, quirky 8-bit music. Awesome. I then started sketching some VERY rough ideas. Below are some of the later sketches.
Beautiful right?! (and a textbook mug of tea stain)

sketches

 

I then went on the hunt for assets. Thankfully there are loads of sprites out there for this sort of thing, so I found one suitable and easy to work with and then went on the lookout for assets to create the setting/background.

The first thing I had to do was to start setting up sprites, choosing sizes, this was all pretty easy, but creating the backgrounds for Sonics “Green Hill Zone” was one of the most time-consuming parts of all this. Sonic’s worlds are not flat, and I wanted it to be flat/level more for my own ease, and to keep things simpler, so I began slicing up sections and trying my best to merge them together to create a flat version. Here’s part of it.

green_hill

 

I went in to this knowing full-well I’d be targeting Webkit and using Absolute position in this which if something like this were sent it would give Samsung Native apps some problems, but I can target that, so didn’t hold back.. But obviously being an experiment it wasn’t a problem.

I decided to initially break what I had planned in to three parts, and build each section individually – and then try to connect them up in one html afterwards. So I made the first section. The Entrance, and this would largely create the settings for the rest as well.

diagram

 

Entrance


The Entrance

For this section I wanted Sonic to enter the frame from off-set, as you can see above I still have the initial sketch I did for planning the layout for the whole thing, (I’ve gone over the key bits for the first frame in Pen). It was all largely straight forward. The key was having the Sonic animation, and the container around Sonic. So then each element could be controlled individually. The container moves to it’s position from off-set and the background sprite plays while it happens.

The main thing to be aware of here was really with the title. From what I can tell you can’t go from “Display:none” to “block” and vice-versa in a keyframe timeline. So I got around this with the title by setting it’s height and width to zero, and then changing that in the keyframe.

Once I’d done this I was a little torn with what to do from here, as it would take me in a direction. I didn’t want to try to define controls and have him move around at the users will. I felt this although quite a cool option, this would fail in the expectations of the user. I’d considered it for a while but in the end I stuck with my initial plan.

The Entrance section didn’t change from my first version.

 

Original Run Sequence

Run

From here it was largely straight forward…. Press run, hide the ‘entrance’ stuff, show the ‘run’ stuff. Key difference is Sonic’s container no longer moves, but the background moves instead, and the new sprite plays. I then created the sign to drop down in the keyframe timeline and programmed a jump button to appear, where the “run” button was previously.

 

Jump

Jump

Again this was similar to the ‘Run’, I swapped the background to one with spikes, and the key difference is in the timeline is getting the sprite set-up correctly was a bit fiddly, I even remade the background and moved the spikes around a few times as I worked it out. And then making Sonic’s Container move up and down, along with the sprite animation to jump over the spikes. It was largely lots of back and forth.

Not Jump 

So this is where I had to rethink things and go back. Throughout the process so far I’d been using  ” #foo:checked ~ * .foo{” (so when the box is checked, make this happen).
My plan for “if they don’t press jump” seemed simple enough, ” #foo:not (:checked) ~ * .foo{“. (Seems obvious now)
I didn’t pre-empt that during the entire animation that the “Jump” checkbox would not be checked, and as I started to bring all the pieces together I quickly realised this, and that things like the the sprite of  Sonic running in to the spikes would be showing throughout. I tried to find a way around it, but nothing was working well enough.

I know the obvious thing to from the start would be to have a long-timeline in which you press run, and eventually at the end of it Sonic would run in to the spikes if you didn’t press jump. This is what the final thing ended up being. But I was aware this was going to have to utilise a lot of images (the ratio and weight, goes against my better judgement). This method mean’t I’d need “a big old background” for the run section.

final_run

Rebuild the Run Section.

So the Run section was rebuilt and slotted back in, and became a long section, and the background image was much longer and bigger.
I knew this would have an affect on load up time, on the press of “run” so I added them in to the body of the email and covered them over with flat colour so they start loading up from the start. Which seemed to help, in a similar way to a pre-loader. I also lowered the quality a little and ran them through optimisation a few more times than I would have liked.

gameover

Ending signs

This is pretty simple. They are images that are the size of the frame, set inline as “a tags” with IDs, and in the embedded style for the control of them. They are both set on a timeline to drop down over the frame after a certain amount of time. In the case of ‘Game Over’, it will drop down after 11 seconds after pressing the run button, and in the case of the ‘Play Sonic on your phone’ it drops down 4 seconds after the jump button is pressed, and if jump is pressed the ‘Game Over’ doesn’t happen.

The plan would be to link “Game Over” to the online version of the email, and link “Play Sonic on your Phone” to the app store.

Conclusions and other things

There is still plenty to do with it, but as it’s just an experiment I’ll gradually pick bits up here and there as I go along.

  1. It hasn’t felt as smooth as I initially had it and I guess that is largely  down to weight, and timelines, but some of that I can’t afford the time to fixing. I partially feel like I was as happiest with it when I had it at a point where it was really simple and Sonic just kept running until you jump… The whole thing worked well and although simple, it was quite nice.
  2. Mike Ragan, pointed out to me that the ending wasn’t right and that Sonic should Jump through the big golden hoop like he does in the game at the end of a level. This idea I really like, and now it annoys me a little that it doesn’t do this, however I couldn’t really spend too much more time on this and I could probably quite happily keep working on it forever if I had the chance. So I’ve left that out. (sorry Mike)
  3. I think one of my biggest frustrations with that I haven’t really sorted out yet is the ‘Jump’ button. Again because timeline doesn’t support transition between display:none and block. It’s always there, but the opacity changes. So I want to work out a better way of setting this up when I get chance, probably utilising the same height adjustment method I used previously.
  4. The other thing is, it’s pretty tiny outside of mobile and of course it’s largely all images. But as an experiment I’m pretty pleased with it. I like the fact it’s still an advert, and promotes the game. It doesn’t distract from that end purpose. Which in my research with the Tree and this, I think it’s a different approach to a similar idea.
  5. Oh and -MOZ- doesn’t support background animation in a keyframe as far as I’m aware… Obviously the build is for webkit. however for view online I’d have to have a look at the “jump countdown”  This could easily just be a .gif or change the messaging perhaps.

Give it a go. View it here 
(Open it in  Chrome or Safari)

So that’s really it, still a few bugs to work out but that’s about it. All it needs now is fallbacks, and any surround/fallback design, hacks putting in for Samsung Native Webkit and then it’s a functioning email.

We’ll be making more fun things, that we might send out so sign up to our emails here

Thanks for reading.

Kristian

@joon82

 

sonic_die

Background Images: Part 2 – Full Bleed Emails, VML, and OWA

Background Images: Part 2 – Full Bleed Emails, VML, and OWA

litmus

Following on from Part 1 of my blog post on background images, part 2 focusses largely on the considerations behind full-bleed backgrounds, and just finishing on a couple of other frustrations with VML and OWA you might want to be aware of.

Full Bleed Backgrounds

A simple method for adding more texture and depth to your designs, and break-away from the usual containers is to use a background image that spans the entire space of the viewing pane. I explained at #LitmusLive that my key considerations for this are:

  • Have as smaller image as possible in terms of weight.
  • Ensure that image is designed to repeat well if required.
  • Don’t base your entire design around this. Use it for enhancement.

Using backgrounds in this way becomes very simple, and doesn’t take long to implement. Much like the Litmus example above, which illustrates this point perfectly. There are a couple of quick ways to do this.

.bg {background: url('yourimage.png'),
     linear-gradient(-25deg, #262e45 0%, #222635 100%);
    }

The easiest way is to simply host the image, and add it to in the <style> of the <head> of your email. This has limited support, and won’t give you support on “Those Outlooks” and Gmail for example, but it’s a quick and easy way of providing an extra attack on the senses without having to spend too much time on it. Where the method is not supported it simply won’t appear and will gracefully degrade back to a flat background colour.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed that Kevin used a transparent PNG, and then applied a CSS gradient behind it, which also will fallback to flat colour where unsupported.

The inline method is somewhere which will offer you a little more support. You can use backgrounds.cm to set this up for ease, and this will save you the hassle, and will provide you with VML required to make it function in “Them Outlooks”

Keeping it Simple(r)

The reason I tend to stick to the 3 bullet points as rules, is to keep it simple(r) (and I have Outlook users to consider). I still believe for ideal user experience layout images (rather than content images), should still be used in this environment (unless you really know where your audience is going to open your email). This way you’re not chancing key pieces of content, key imagery, not displaying and affecting you’re overall build.

There are many fine examples of beautifully designed emails that feature a full-bleed content background images. But they are not without their issues, such as “Them Outlook versions” and “Those older Outlook Versions” squashing the images, or not rendering consistently on opening, or zooming in, or the image potentially adding significant amounts of weight to your email (if you’re not treating them right), as you’re likely to need something around 2000px wide.

If you’re looking for more my favourite approaches to full-bleed email background I’d suggest looking at Campaign Monitors and Taxi For Email’s newsletters. Key thing for me is they have chosen their images wisely. It provides them with flexibility.

The biggest issue you’ll find is in Outlook Web/365/.com (whatever it is right now).  The lack of support for “style” in background images in Outlook Web means you can’t control it, and depending on how the big/wide the viewing pane is, the content that sits on top will be in the wrong position (like below).

robot_owa

In my opinion if you are going to start diving in to full bleed emails with content; know your audience, plan ahead, think about the overall weight, but think about the overall user experience. How does it render in version of Outlook(s) at different sizes of viewing pane. You can’t just rely on your testing subscriptions for this, you need to do more thorough testing on devices and inboxes to be fully confident of their functionality. If it doesn’t render quite how it’s supposed to is the content still accessible.

You could however think about having an outlook fallback that is a restricted width. I have seen examples of this. (See the Taxi for Email Newsletter)

That being said if Outlook isn’t much of a consideration, or you have some flexibility that it doesn’t have to render perfectly to plan everywhere, then go for it.

Hopefully if the web versions of Outlook perhaps get some bugs fixed, this sort of issue will  start to go away and will be a significant step in the right direction.@litmusapp @caithartMSFT

Using ‘Cover’ and Full Bleed Backgrounds with content images

Other than some of the versions of Outlook, what else needs to be considered if you are to start thinking about using content images as full-bleed backgrounds.

Gmail

(please note that since writing this, Gmail has started supporting ‘background-position’ and ‘background-size’)

One thing I mentioned in part 1 of these blogs, was that Rémi Parmentier @HTeuMeuLeu discussed briefly at #litmuslive that background-size:cover was supported in gmail if it was set-up as shorthand.

The one thing I tend to stress with using ‘cover’, is that it will full the space and zoom-in/crop off the sides in order to fit the space (also mentioned in part 1). So depending on height of the space that it is filling, you’re going to need to still plan ahead with the images you use, and experiment back and forth to achieve the results you want. 

For this experiment I used an image that is 2000 pixels wide in a 600px hero section. You can see below that this methods works in Gmail app and the Yahoo Mail app.

robotcover

(Please remember that a non-gmail account on the gmail app will not render a background image).

<td bgcolor="#000001 " valign="top" background="yourimage.jpg"
height="auto" style="background: url(yourimage.jpg) 0 0 / cover; 
background-size:100%; max-width:600px; background-repeat:no-repeat !important; 
background-position:center top;">

Taking this to the next level and using the image as a 2000px full-bleed background, we have to change things a little. I’ve added what I did here, feel free to have a look at the code (it’s not the tidiest of code, lightweight code, or the most precise, it’s a bit over-coded, but I will go over the key parts).

The first thing is the set-up of the image itself. Again I’m sure I’ve probably over-coded this, but it’s just a dummy for testing.

<td class="yhoofx bg_cov owaoff" bgcolor="#000001" valign="top" background="http://kristianrobinson.co.uk/was-looking-mr-robot-fullw.jpg" 
height="auto" style="background: url(http://kristianrobinson.co.uk/was-looking-mr-robot-fullw.jpg) 0 0 / cover; background-size: 100%; 
background-repeat:no-repeat !important; background-position:center top;" >
<!--[if gte mso 9]>
<v:rect xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" fill="true" stroke="false" style="mso-width-percent:1000;background-size:cover;background-repeat:no-repeat;"padding:0px; margin:0px; display:block;" inset="0,0,0,0">
<v:fill type="frame" src="http://kristianrobinson.co.uk/was-looking-mr-robot-fullw.jpg" color="#000001" position="0,0" />
<v:textbox inset="0,0,0,0" style="mso-fit-shape-to-text:true;">
<![endif]-->
<div>
<div style="font-size: 0; line-height: 0px; mso-line-height-rule: exactly;">

 

Yahoo

As we know from the gmail test, the shorthand version of ‘cover’ works for the mobile app, but doesn’t for the desktop web browsers. Thankfully I didn’t have to do too much digging for this either as @ericlepetitsf and @stigm kindly mentioned the fix for it recently in a discussion (thanks for that guys, saved me a good chunk of time).

You’ll see in the class of the TD that ‘yhoofix’.

@media screen yahoo {
.yhoofx] {
background-size: cover !important;
background-position: center top !important;
}
}

 

(The ‘owaoff’ class is just to turn the background image off in OWA – it’s not necessary, but I thought I would share that hack for those that don’t have it)

OWA Style for Backgrounds. (lack of)

While we’re bringing up the subject of OWA/Outlook 365 not supporting background style this then means you can’t prevent repeating.
In the example below where the idea is that if content overflows beyond the background image size, the flat background colour (set to the match the very bottom of the gradient) colour expands beyond the space. (Which in theory should be a nice idea for self service templates). We can’t stop the image from repeating.

backgrepeat

What can you do for Outlook 365/.com/OWA?

The only solution I have managed to find for Outlook 365 using the [OWA] .foo hack are is to turn off the background. In this instance that isn’t such a big deal. But for the Mr.Robot full-bleed you are removing a content image.

Of all the Microsoft platforms, Outlook 365/OWA seems like something that Microsoft could be looking to fix quite easily and quickly.
So please submit the request for OWA to start supporting styles for backgrounds by emailing outlook@litmus.com
(remember to show example use cases of why background style needs support)

VML

Vile Malevolent Language* Or VML  as it’s more commonly known, is not exactly what anyone wants to be using, but in certain circumstances it is unavoidable.
If you have a heavy Outlook audience to consider I’m sure you’ll have had more dealings with VML than you care to remember and this might be something you’ll want to consider.

Sticking with the same theme, I had been working with VML where I wanted to use a background image, but wanted the height to be variable. With VML I had removed the height and instead used “mso-fit-shape-to-text:true;”.

The problem with not having a height in the VML is that in inboxes running on PC with Outlook using the VML, is that the preview pane truncates the content. This then resolves itself on opening the email an downloading the images.

The main issue is that I know many Outlook users will only ever use the preview pane to view their emails. I am one of them. I couldn’t find any way of resolving this other than adding the height back in, which I was concerned will ruin the flexibility. However if you keep a height in as well, you may need to adapt what the height setting is in testing the preview pane, but what I found is when you open the open the email, the “mso-fit-shape-to-text:true;” will sort it out for you.

*This is not what VML stands for.

trunacting

 

2013 extra spacing

If you find when using VML that you get extra space added on platforms such as Outlook 2013. You can reduce spacing like this by adding this extra ‘div’

extradiv

<!--[if gte mso 9]>
<v:rect xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" fill="true" 
stroke="false" style="width:600px; padding:0px; margin:0px; display:block;"
inset="0,0,0,0"><v:fill type="frame" src="yourimg.png"
color="#b4db0a" /><v:textbox style="mso-fit-shape-to-text:true;v-text-anchor:bottom;"
inset="0,0,0,0"><![endif]--> 
<div>
<div style="font-size:0;line-height: 0px;mso-line-height-rule: exactly;">

 

Follow me on twitter @joon82

Thanks for reading.

Kristian