Mobile-Friendly vs. Responsive Email Design

Have you checked your email before getting out of bed in the morning? Quickly scanned through your inbox during a meeting break? Reading emails on a mobile device has become an everyday activity for most people. In fact, two-thirds of emails are read on smartphones and tablets.

As brands, we face multiple factors when developing effective email marketing campaigns. The right offer, time-of-day and call-to-action are just a few of the messaging decisions. In addition to these factors, we must now adjust our message content and design to accommodate mobile-size screens.
Think of how difficult it can be to read paragraphs of text and click small links on your phone. The email message itself isn’t the only component to a great mobile experience either. You need to consider the click-through actions from your email message as well. Additionally, is your landing page and website mobile-friendly?

Mobile users want to read emails that cater to small screens, fat fingers and shorter attention spans. There are two ways to build mobile messages: mobile-friendly (scalable) and responsive.



A mobile-friendly email design is also known as a “scalable design” because it is a scaled-down version of a desktop message. Employing this method, you would create one design that prioritizes the mobile reader’s needs.

When needing to create an email fast, a mobile-friendly design may be a better option because it requires less coding. Mobile-friendly designs are built on a basic grid system, which helps with size and layout proportions. It is a single column message, with larger fonts, larger buttons and fewer images. While a mobile-friendly version is easier to design, you have less customizable options than with a responsive design.


Responsive design means simply that: the design responds to the screen size of the device. Whether an email is read on a desktop, tablet or smartphone, the email design adjusts accordingly.

Responsive design uses “media queries” that help resize and adjust your message as needed for each screen size. The layout changes, which includes the font size, images and call-to-action buttons.

A responsive email design requires more time and coding to develop, but it delivers an experience that is customized to the reader.

Deciding Factors

Unfortunately, no mobile solution for email is perfect. There are pros and cons to both design practices. Working with Proximity Marketing means having a team of experts to guide you toward a solution best for your business.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Not all smartphones support responsive web design.
  • Responsive design has more complex coding, but gives more options for clearly-defined next steps and call-to-actions.
  • Not all mobile-friendly emails are responsive, but all responsive emails are mobile-friendly.
  • For either option, consider what your mobile audience sees:
    • Font sizes needs to be readable (16px suggested minimum)
    • Skimmable content so people can read while on-the-go and in-between tasks
    • Short subject lines so they fit on screen (for instance, an iPhone shows roughly 35 characters in portrait mode and 80 in landscape mode.)

When in doubt, test out different options and see what works best for you. Partnering with Proximity Marketing will also give you a resource of marketers who both craft content and email design.

Interested in knowing the difference between mobile-friendly and responsive web design? Check out our next Happy Hour blog on Jan. 26. Or sign up for our newsletter and it’ll appear right in your inbox.


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About the Author

Beth Kereszturi

Beth is our VP of Digital Marketing Strategy who, besides drinking a ridiculous amount of coffee, helps clients generate more business. Whether they’ve partnered with Proximity Marketing for a decade or just joined the family, Beth helps clients achieve success and achieve measurable results.