But that isn't the best email practice, it's the worst...
August 9, 2020 3:47 AM   Subscribe

We have an internal email list at my organisation. My boss insisted we send an email where the entire email was one JPG. Literally, text and images were laid out on a single JPG image, and that image was hyperlinked to the destination URL we wanted people to go to. Help me strangle this travesty at birth.

She said seriously "we have to be the best at this" and this was her solution. I was so shocked that anyone thought this was a thing in 2020 that I just let it go by because I was completely unprepared to explain why this was a terrible idea.

I'd like a link or links that authoritatively explains why this is a garbage practice and is in fact the worst, not the best. Relying heavily on the core accessibility issue will not be successful; please give me more than that!
posted by DarlingBri to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure it's authoritative exactly, but this article outlines some of the problems with image-only emails.

One extra point I would add is that on phones, where many people are likely to view their emails, the image will likely have text that's too small to read without zooming in.
posted by pipeski at 4:17 AM on August 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

I suspect if you're in a situation where "the core accessibility issue will not be successful" then not much is going to work? Possible other arguments to leverage might include:

1) some email clients just plain don't display images or render html email for that matter (this is an accessibility issue)

2) potentially higher bandwidth usage (probably not significant in this day and age)

3) greater likelihood of being misidentified as spam since some spam messages do this to avoid filtering based on word analysis (presumably if it's an internal list then all recipients could be reasonably expected to have whitelisted the sender)

4) layout wonkiness as a static image isn't going to be responsive to the device on which it is viewed (this is partially an accessibility issue though maybe you could make the appeal on aesthetic grounds)

on preview, what pipeski said
posted by juv3nal at 4:21 AM on August 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Here’s another couple 5 Reasons not to use image-only emails, Avoiding Image-only Emails.

Both point out that it makes you look like a spammer, and may actually lead your email to be filtered out.
posted by scorbet at 4:22 AM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

My work blocks all images by default, and many workplaces do. If he's expecting responses from other organizations, or even internally, this may fail spectacularly badly.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:28 AM on August 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

this is an internal email? Even if the spam and related reasons fall flat, what is the internal backend email system, and can it index search words on the text image? I look for old emails all the time, if someone is sending me stuff that is either not indexed, or only partially indexed (looks like GMail & O365 at least partially do some OCR), I am just going to delete what you are sending me.
posted by kellyblah at 5:38 AM on August 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

The biggest problem IMHO is that it renders the text un-searchable, so it really sheds any chains of thought or communication.
posted by ashy_sock at 7:23 AM on August 9, 2020 [14 favorites]

I recommend others' tack to show your boss articles from authoritative, third-party resources. Here's another one, one from Mail Chimp which you can point out is one of the largest email marketing companies in the US. It specifically advises against one big image.

Common HTML Mistakes
posted by Leontine at 7:34 AM on August 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Why does the boss think this is the best way? If you get hard evidence that the JPG approach does not deliver that outcome you'll have greater sway. The easiest way to demonstrate this is through show rather than tell: screenshot what this version looks like when users try to view it in the circumstances discussed above.

To really hammer the point home you might also need to show what happens with a properly constructed version of the email in the same circumstances. Call it a prototype so boss doesn't get spooked...

Also - don't present this as 'see how you were wrong', more 'what do think about this approach that might achieve most of what you want but for a wider audience'. Let boss own some of the solution in order to accept the problem.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:58 AM on August 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

My company does this for events that are not Outlook meetings as a way to bypass the "suggested meetings" flag that accompanies any email with a date/time, which creates a lot of inadvertent chaos. It's fine.
posted by acidic at 8:23 AM on August 9, 2020

Accessibility is a factor for anyone who uses text-to-speech for comprehending email, which is not exclusive to, but includes, some people with disabilities.
posted by childofTethys at 8:39 AM on August 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

At least use a lossless format like PNG.
posted by coberh at 9:00 AM on August 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If the core accessibility issue will not be successful, how about the "An employee could sue us for not providing legible messages" approach. One of the key details common to many countries' disability access laws is that the use of an assistive device and/or having a disclosed disability is confidential between that employee, their immediate manager and HR. You don't — and can't, typically — know if there are screen reader users in the company. Excluding those users through poor content choices creates a hostile work environment.
posted by scruss at 9:18 AM on August 9, 2020 [14 favorites]

Can you get your manager to be more specific about what the image is the best at? Possibly not, she might not know, but maybe you could lead her to value snazzy layout and then point out that there are better alternatives ?
posted by clew at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

To scruss' point, even if your boss doesn't care about accessibility from a moral standpoint, she probably cares about your company not having to deal with lawsuits from users about inaccessibility. The Domino's example is one of many such lawsuits that have been brought and won, and is probably the highest-profile one.

Not all these lawsuits are successful, but lawsuits are always a pain to deal with even if you don't lose.

As others have also said, an image-only email is much more likely to a) not be seen by users, since many popular email services allow image-blocking, and b) be marked as spam, compromising your company's ability to get not just this, but other emails out to your customers--because once you're on a spam-blocker list, it takes heroic efforts to get off it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:25 PM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is there any downside to malicious compliance in this situation?

Just start doing it with your emails to the boss, or implement with a small test group. Then sit back and let the natural consequences take their course.
posted by dum spiro spero at 3:38 PM on August 9, 2020

Just one more thought to add to the awesome advice above - I'm honestly a bit unclear on why your boss is looking to do this. What outcome are they hoping for, what conveniences/pros do they see this format having above other formats. I'm an executive assistant so that's my usual go-to method when I disagree - understand the outcome the leader is looking for and find another answer to get there in a way that is more successful and effective. I love the suggestion that an image-only email is not accessible/inclusive.
posted by belau at 4:11 PM on August 9, 2020

I also realize that saying "This sounds like a Dilbert cartoon strip" will only get you in deep trouble. But seriously, I was told once at a prior company many years ago (when our department was being taken over by one of *those* big consulting firms) that we should not use email, only voice mail, because it is impossible to search and usually gets deleted relatively quickly. My mouth was left hanging open. It almost sounds like what this person is trying to do.
posted by forthright at 7:37 PM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wow, lots of negativity here. There is a way to do engaging image emails that are mobile-friendly, load quickly, and fail more gracefully.

1) Use PNG.
2) Use the Slice tool in Photoshop to generate smaller pieces -- a single large image is more likely to break. Use display:block; style to make sure the images display seamlessly. Only use horizontal slices, you will cause a lot of pain with varying vertical slices.
3) Ensure your alt text contains all relevant information.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:16 PM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Accessibility shouldn't involve any kind of failing, gracefully or otherwise.

This is an internal e-mail, so the company very likely knows it's all going to the same (Outlook) e-mail client, that everyone has the same set of fonts and a fair idea of what mobile devices it has to render on. So it will appear in an expected manner and be accessible.
posted by scruss at 7:07 AM on August 19, 2020

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