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Creative design tips for e-mail signatures

Jay J. Nelson, | May 11, 2011
Do you want your e-mail signature to pop, especially when printed? Jay Nelson walks us through the process of designing eye-catching e-mail identities.

If you consider yourself creative, you've likely considered designing a fancy signature line for your e-mail messages. It's a terrific opportunity to express a bit of your personality without requiring any additional work when composing your message—and without adding extra file size to your e-mail. (Your recipients will appreciate that!) Plus, it makes the e-mail more distinctive, acting almost as a business card, if your recipient wants to print it out.

The trick is to know a little about how e-mail works in general, and how to use text formatting to express your identity.

E-mail was originally a text-only medium, and some older e-mail programs have limited ability to display pictures, colors, or even specific fonts. In addition, some users have their e-mail client set to display e-mail as text-only. And by text only, I mean black, 12-point type in one standard font from their operating system.

This is important to remember when creating your e-mail signature. While most people will be able to view anything you throw at them, many will not. Not everyone has high-speed Internet access, and many people turn off their e-mail client's ability to automatically download graphics. This means that if you use a graphic for your signature (say, a scan of your actual signature), a certain percentage of your recipients will never see it. Instead, they'll see the text that surrounds it—which of course is not what you intended.

There are several other important reasons for using text for your signature line. For example, Apple's Mail application and TextEdit are both able to automatically recognize e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and mailing addresses, to help you add them to your Address Book. If you use a graphic for that information, you lose this helpful ability that Apple provides.

Therefore, I strongly recommend not including any essential information in graphic-only form. Not only will your message not be received properly, the file size of graphics can make low-speed Internet users angry.

The good news is that you can be hugely creative by simply formatting the text of your signature with different fonts, font sizes, spacing, and colors. You can also use symbols from any font to create decorative dividing lines and simple graphic treatments.

Here's an excellent example of a very simple but effective signature that uses size, color, tracking, and special characters.

Susan wisely chose Verdana for the font, since Verdana is included on both Mac OS X and Windows. I suggest using only the basic cross-platform system fonts for your signatures, to increase the likelihood that your recipient will see exactly what you created. Good examples include Verdana, Arial, and Times New Roman. (Here is a complete list of common cross-platform fonts.)


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