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How to create a good Email Signature
by Bob Mortensen | Share +

Case Study: The Sign Factory Website RedesignEmail signatures are so easy to do well, that it's really a shame how often they're done poorly. Many people want their signature to reflect their personality, provide pertinent information and more, but they can easily go overboard. Why are email signatures important? They may be boring and the last item on your list of things to get right, but they affect the tone of every email you write.

Email signatures contain alternative contact details, pertinent job titles and company names, which help the recipient get in touch when emails are not responded to. Sometimes, they give the recipient an idea of who wrote the email in case it has been a while since they have been in touch. They are also professional: like a letterhead, they show that you run a business (in some countries, you're required to do so). Here are some tips on how to create a tasteful signature that works.

Be Concise

First and foremost, the sender's header (the "From" field) should have a name, and you should use a company email address if you can. If someone sees bobbys2011@gmail.com, they'll suspect it's spam. If the sender's header reads, "Bob Mortensen – The Image Department" <bob@theimagedepartment.com>, they'll know it's a professional email from Bob, their trusted designer.

Start by making your website a link. Many email clients convert email addresses and websites into links automatically, but not always. When you're creating the HTML for an email, make sure the link will appear by adding writing it in HTML. And instead of linking text like "My website," type out the URL, which will be useful for those who want to copy and paste the address.

An email signature shouldn't double the email's length, so make it as short as possible (three lines is usually enough). Don't get into your life story here. The purpose of a signature is to let them see who you are and how to get in touch with you.
Make Sure to Include…

  • Your name
  • Your company and position
  • How to get in touch with you

No need to include 10 different ways to get in touch with you. As in website design, less is more; and then they'll know which way you prefer to be contacted. Go to two or three lines, with a maximum of 72 character per line (many email applications have a maximum width of 80 characters, so limit the length to avoid unsightly wrapping). An optional fourth line could be your company address, but use caution if you work from home.

Bob Mortensen, Web Designer
www.theimagedepartment.com | bob@theimagedepartment.com

Images and Logos

Let's get this out of the way now: your entire signature shouldn't be an image. Sure, it will look exactly how you want, but it is completely impractical. Not only does an image increase the email's file size, but it will likely be blocked before being opened. And how does someone copy information from an image?

Any images should be used with care and attention. If you do use one, make it small in both dimensions and size, and make it fit in aesthetically with the rest of the signature. 50 x 50 pixels should be plenty big for any logo. If you want to be taken seriously as a business person, do not make it an animated picture, dancing dog or shooting rainbow!

Most email clients store images as attachments or block them by default. So, if you present your signature as an image, your correspondents will have a hard time guessing when you've sent a genuine attachment.

The best way to include an image is to host it on a server somewhere and then use the absolute URL to insert the logo. For example, upload the logo to http://www.example.com/uploads/logo.gif. And then, in your email signature's HTML, insert the image like so:

<img src="http://www.example.com/uploads/logo.gif" width="300" height="250" alt="example's logo" />

Don't Be A Fancy Pants

Use vCards With Caution
While vCards are a great, convenient way to share contact information, in emails they add bytes and appear as attachments. It is often said that you shouldn't use a vCard for your email signature, because as helpful as it might be the first time you correspond with someone, receiving it every time after that gets annoying. Besides, the average email user won't know what it is.

If you do want to provide a vCard, just include a link to a remote copy.

What About Confidentiality Clauses?

If your emails include confidential information, you may need to include a non-disclosure agreement to prevent information leaks. However, good practice is never to send sensitive information as plain text in emails because the information could be extracted by third parties or forwarded by recipients to other people. Thus, including a non-disclosure agreement doesn't make much sense if you do not send sensitive information anyway.

Keep in mind, too, that the longer a confidentiality clause is, the more unlikely someone will actually read it. Again, check your country's privacy laws. Some big companies require a disclosure with every email, but if you're at a small company or are a freelancer and don't really require it, then don't put it in. The length of such clauses can be annoying, especially in short emails.
---
Warm Regards & Stay Creative!
Bob Mortensen (Designer)
-------------------------------------------
The Image Department
The Small Business Design Firm
web . http://www.theimagedepartment.com
twi . http://twitter.com/theimagedepartment
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely
for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have
received this email in error please notify the sender. This message contains
confidential information and is intended only for the individual named. If you
are not the named addressee you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this
email. Please notify the sender immediately by email if you have received this
email by mistake and delete this email from your system. If you are not the
intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or
taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly
prohibited.

Don't Be Afraid to Show Some Personality

Although your email signature should be concise and memorable, it doesn't have to be boring. Feel free to make your email signature stand out by polishing it with your creative design ideas or your personal touch. Using a warm greeting, adding a cheeky key as Dan Rubin does or encouraging people to "stalk" you as Paddy Donnelly does, all show personality behind simple text.
The key to a simple, memorable and beautiful email signature lies in balancing personal data and your contact details. In fact, some designers have quite original email signatures; most of the time, simple ASCII is enough.

HTML?

If you can, stay away from HTML formatting. Every Web designer knows the pain of HTML newsletters, and while HTML is supported for email signatures, you'll likely have problems with images and divider lines in different email clients. Some nice ASCII formatting may work in some cases.

Of course, if you're really keen to use HTML, keep it simple:

  • Make sure it still looks good in plain text.
  • Use black and standard-sized fonts, and stay away from big, tiny and rainbow-colored fonts.
  • Don't use CSS. Inline HTML formatting is universally accepted.
  • Use common Web fonts.
  • Including a logo? Make sure the signature looks nice even when the logo doesn't load or is blocked.
  • Check how it looks when forwarded. Do all the lines wrap correctly?
  • You may want to load your company image as your gravatar from Gravatar.com as Joost de Valk does.
  • Feel free to experiemnt with your e-mail signature: Jan Diblík uses a signature with dynamicaly changed promo image.

Separate Signature From Content

Your signature should clearly be a separate entity. Wikipedia explains the correct way to separate the signature:

"The formatting of the sig block is prescribed somewhat more firmly: it should be displayed as plain text in a fixed-width font (no HTML, images, or other rich text), and must be delimited from the body of the message by a single line consisting of exactly two hyphens, followed by a space, followed by the end of line (i.e., "– \n"). This … allows software to automatically mark or remove the sig block as the receiver desires."

There are other less standard ways to separate your signature. While not automatic formatting, a line of —–, ======, or _______ or even just a few spaces will visually separate your signature from your email.
--
----------------------------------
Bob Mortensen (designer)
.net magazine (www.theimagedepartment.com)
----------------------------------
Twitter: bobmortensen
Email: bob@theimagedepartment.com
Phone: 01234 56789
----------------------------------
Address for deliveries:
Somewhere Street,
Anywhere, WA, 12345
----------------------------------

Wrestling With Your Email Client

Offering general advice on signatures is easy, sure. But anyone who has tried to implement automatic signatures in Outlook, Gmail or Yahoo knows it's not always that simple. Here are some resources to help you get yours right every time.

Outlook
Changing Outlook's signature is a real pain, but here's a guide that teaches you a few things. If you use Outlook 2003, here's another tutorial on custom signatures.

Entourage
Microsoft's mail for mac works differently. Here's a tutorial on how to set it up.

Gmail
Want just one basic signature? Here's how to change the text. You'd think Google would allow you multiple signatures, links and a bit of formatting. If you're looking for something a little more designed or wish to choose between multiple signatures, here are five ways to do it in Firefox.

Hotmail
Tips on custom images and more for Hotmail (Oh my!) can be found here. If you use Windows Live, here is a tutorial on adding images and HTML. The detail is helpful, even if the images are awful.

Yahoo
After a bit of research, I found that Yahoo used to support HTML signatures, but no longer. Here's how to change your signature using rich text.

Apple Mail
Here is a pretty decent tutorial, with some inline HTML for formatting. It then explains how to implement it in the application. You even get some hints on how it will look on the iPhone.

Palm Pre
Learn how to customize your message on your Palm Pre here.

iPhone
Customize your "Sent from my iPhone" message here.

BlackBerry
Some information on how to change your message on BlackBerry smartphones here.

Resources

The 4 Personalities of Poor Email Signatures
20 Tips for Creating an Effective Email Signature
About the Signature Block on Wikipedia
Email Signature Etiquette

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