Outlook 2013: Still a Nightmare for Designers

Outlook 2013 has arrived and with it many email designers had hoped that Microsoft would reform some of their old layout breaking ways. The consensus is, unfortunately, that they have not moved in a particularly positive direction as far as rendering email is concerned. Microsoft is still using Word to render email and they continue to ignore many email rendering standards causing marketers and designers everywhere to pull out their hair.

We've been digging into the Outlook 2013 program and we're aware of quite a few issues that will affect email already. Below I'll list some of the major ones, but the hiccups probably aren't limited to what I've found. Our designers are working hard to find every issue, but testing, as usual, will be the only real way to know what your email will look like on the other end.

Lists are not allowed: If you've been designing email using lists, (html tags ul, ol) they will no longer appear correctly. You can achieve a similar effect now by using a "-" in front of a list item and then relying on traditional formatting to give each item their own line.

GIFs won't play: Outlook 2013 will only show the first frame of a GIF, it will not allow animation. If you want to use GIFs, make sure the first frame gets the point across without requiring the additional frames.

Links may be ugly: Outlook doesn't support text decoration styles and according to reports, links will ignore any attempts at formatting and appear in the standard bright blue and underlined style. This could be particularly annoying depending on the background colors you decide to use.

Problems viewing this email?: Outlook 2013 has included a "problems viewing this email" link to allow you to view messages in a web browser, probably because their own program does such a poor job of displaying HTML code. Curiously, it downloads the source HTML and displays it locally on your machine. Admail.net still includes our own "problems viewing" link which provides an archived version hosted on our servers.

No background images: If you ever wondered why you can't use background images, you can mostly blame Outlook. On the one hand it prevents some really nice design options, on the other hand it prevents 1992 style tiled backgrounds from appearing in email, so we're kind of torn on this one.

Outlook will ignore images with a 1x1 dimension: Unlikely to be a problem for most users, but if you're using an image as a spacer, we've heard reports that a 1x1 image will be ignored completely.

Table cells with a height less than 15px will be bumped up to 15px in height: A curious and potentially layout breaking issue, this can lead to major problems if ignored.

Outlook.com disables any 'mailto:' links: Mailto links, which are meant to be clicked on to conveniently compose a new email message, don't work in Outlook 2013. The program ignores the mailto code and won't take any action when a mailto link is clicked on.

Padding and margin issues: Padding in paragraph and div tags, as well as margin top and bottom styles, do not function.

Page breaks past 1600px: Email displayed in Outlook 2013 automatically inserts a page break at 1600px. This is apparently caused by being rendered in Word. If you plan to do a email that is taller than that, prepare yourself for an awkward break. At this time, there doesn't appear to be anything that can be done about it.

These are the standout issues we have come across in the 2013 iteration of Outlook so far. Our designers are probably finding more even as I write this. If you are worried about issues such as the ones listed above, please do testing of your email in multiple email clients before you send it out. It truly is the only way to know for sure. We will be keeping our eyes on the problems listed here, tracking down more, and looking for solutions so we can help you deal with them. Please contact us if you have any questions. We're here to help.

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