Getting your email signature right when email platforms get it so wrong

4 min read

You’re working on your company’s new email signature and want to place your logo in it.

You open a Word document, pick fonts and colors, and drag and drop a JPG of your logo below your name and title. Tweak this, tweak that, get it approved, and you’re ready to roll out this branded signature to your entire team.

Seems simple, right? … Maybe in theory.

But in email tests, the logo is blurry. The font you picked changes to a suboptimal default. And in some inboxes, the logo isn’t displaying at all. What is going on?!

After receiving another PLEASE HELP plea from a client for email signature woes, we decided we’d share some insights for taming your email signature.

For some, email correspondence is the first touchpoint with a customer or client. And what does an improperly displayed email signature communicate? Maybe nothing, maybe confusion, maybe disenchantment. Whatever it is, it’s usually not something warm and fuzzy.

Imagine your email signature as a digital business card, and it suddenly holds a little more weight than a pixelated signoff. We get the importance of putting your best foot forward with a clean email signature.

So why does it have to be so complicated?

Email client quirks

You may wonder why it’s possible to display brand images and fonts on company websites but not in “simple” email signatures. Essentially, a website respects the CSS styling applied to it. Email? Not so much.

Some email platforms, or email clients, ignore CSS styling entirely, meaning that whatever beautiful arrangement you may have been able to create in your web browser just won’t come through the way it should over email. Outlook is especially notorious for this.

But each email client has its own rendering quirks. Gmail will underline your links and turn them bright blue, even if you tell it not to. And the Gmail mobile app on an iPhone 6 can display differently than Gmail opened in Firefox on desktop.

The peculiarities of email. Sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense.

Before you wave your white flag, give us a chance to help.

We’ve designed and coded hundreds of emails with all sorts of email signature needs. We understand the nuances of email marketing, and we know what it takes to make your email signature the best it can be.

Below are a few solutions to dealing with images in email signatures.

Resolving blurry images in email signatures

While copying an email signature design from Microsoft Word may be convenient and display well for some recipients — especially colleagues who share a font library — it can cause other issues, like blurry or broken images and lost styling.

Recently, we were asked to help with a new email signature that showcased a company’s rebranded logo. Even though they’d saved a high-resolution PNG, the logo image — once pasted into Outlook email — appeared fuzzy around the edges.


Turns out, although the PNG should display sharply for web, Outlook was misinterpreting the image resolution.

We sized the image appropriately and used our email development expertise to code an email signature that would be more widely accepted by various email clients.

When re-tested, the company’s logo appeared sharper than any other variation.

Two ways to include images

Images can be added to your email signatures as linked or embedded images. Each has its pros and cons, but linked images have proven to be the more successful of the two.

Linked images access an image URL on a public server, typically on your own website. Basically, these images are downloaded to a recipient’s email every time the email is viewed. Linked images are space savers, and most email clients accept them.

Embedded images don’t link to external images but are part of emails themselves. Originally sent as hidden attachments, they can fail quickly, breaking or becoming actual email attachments in replies and forwards.

Because linked images maintain access to their links, they hold more stable than embedded images.

For a complete list of email clients that support linked and embedded images, check out this resource.

Dealing with image blocking

As inconvenient as it sounds, you can’t control the way recipients view images in emails. Image blocking shows no favoritism. Whether you use linked or embedded images, email clients with image blocking enabled are ready to shut you down.

For recipients who enabled image blocking, consider how you will communicate the image information, like your company name, if your image doesn’t show.

We can apply limited styling to alt text to maintain a sliver of brand flavor if images don’t display for certain email clients. The same is true if a link is broken in delivery.

If we used our logo in our email signatures, our alt text might display in cyan with bold Arial letters:

That gives it a liiittle hint of us without relying on the default:

We always recommend including alt text. It’s a handy backup, and it improves device accessibility.

What’s next?

You might be thinking, Well, none of these options are completely ideal. Where’s a solution that makes my image display in my email signature everywhere? Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect, foolproof solution yet, unless you opt for an all-text email signature. (In our current email signatures, we use only text so our information comes through every time.)

The best option is to figure out which email clients your recipients use most. That can be very hard to discover, and if you’re really not sure, we’d recommend a linked image as the most successful route.

Lucky for you, we specialize in email marketing. If you’re running into trouble that you can’t alleviate after reading this post, send us an email or give us a call. We really enjoy solving problems, and we’d love to help you with yours.

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Posted on: February 13th, 2019 by Laura Uber


4 ways we hold ourselves to a higher standard
(so you don’t have to)

2 min read

Around here, we encourage strong attention to details. We work efficiently, yet carefully, making sure our work meets the expectations of our high standard.

We review and re-review. Then we’ll probably review again. It’s not because we’re crazy, but because we care about doing it right. We sweat the small stuff because it matters to us.

Find out 4 ways we ensure high-quality work for our clients:

1. Understand the brand

The quality of the work we do is directly influenced by how much we care. With clients, that care manifests itself in long-term client partnerships, which, in turn, lead to a level of brand knowledge that few agencies achieve. The happy result of these solid, productive partnerships is a proactive focus on propelling our clients forward. We know these brands inside and out. We study their industries. We stalk their competitors. We are curious and driven. We become advocates for them. We care.

2. Develop original concepts

Technology has revolutionized how we design, how we create, and even how we ideate. Graphic design was once created only by hand, and results weren’t instantaneous. (Catch a glimpse in this video.)

Whether it involves group collaboration or sketches, our process allows us to generate solutions specific to client needs. We still put pen to paper to scribble a web of thoughts or quickly illustrate concepts. This workflow also lets us share ideas with our clients, so we don’t prematurely finesse a design that might miss the mark.

3. Perfect typography

Refining typography takes a little longer, but we take good typography seriously. Most people don’t understand the difference between an en dash and an em dash. Heck, people often use a hyphen when a specific dash is appropriate. (If you are one of these people, check out our typography infographic.)

We custom-kern type, fix typos, and point out inconsistencies to our clients. We believe these finishing touches not only strengthen a brand but also increase legibility and reduce visual obstacles for readers. Plus, it just looks better.

4. Pay attention to production

Our files are clean. When we send final art to the printer, we optimize files, remove extraneous elements, and anticipate problem areas. When we code on the web, we organize information and delete inactive snippets. With only a little additional time, these cleanups eliminate confusion and allow outside users to navigate files intuitively. In fact, it saves time on the back end when there’s no filtering through unnecessary pieces.

We keep our programs up-to-date to ensure we have the latest advancements. (Learn more about our experience with our creative software.)

Since 1994, TCD has promised to answer business challenges with strategic, creative solutions. To this day, we continue to offer clients the highest quality partnerships and the highest quality results. If you need a full-service strategic design company to help you achieve your goals, send us a note. We love solving problems.

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Posted on: January 29th, 2019 by Laura Uber


Ask the right questions to unearth authentic pain points

4 min read

Anyone in our industry will tell you marketers are all about solving problems. And a problem can’t be solved without understanding, truly understanding, the root of an issue, what caused it, how it impacts a key audience, and the circumstances that made it a problem in the first place.

There are no real shortcuts to marketing solutions that work. At The Creative Department, we don’t actually feel we’ve gotten to the core of a client’s issues until we can honestly say, “We feel your pain.” Since our success depends on the success of our clients, it’s incumbent upon us to dig in until we get to the real issues, and to work together with them to map out actionable solutions. The same is true of marketers working with an internal communications team, creative folks gathering input for a project, or agency staff getting to know a brand and its issues for the first time.

Teamwork makes the dream work

At the risk of sounding like a private investigator interrogating a witness, it’s smart to ask as many questions as it takes to help you get a grip on a marketing problem. Don’t assume you know. Don’t think it’s probably the same as it was last year. Don’t hesitate to ask for evidence you might be able to find elsewhere. Just don’t. At the outset of a large project or an annual planning session, schedule a face-to-face meeting, and ask away. Chances are, the team will appreciate both your curiosity and your preparation. More often than not, questions lead people to think about issues from different perspectives, resulting in new insights.

Preparation. preparation. preparation.

Before the questions start, make sure you’re properly prepared.

  • Know the situation. Are you up-to-date on what’s been happening in the marketplace? Are you familiar with the plight of key competitors?
  • Assemble the players. Do you have the right people in the room? Are key stakeholders represented? Do you know who will make the final decision? Who is empowered to take action when action is prescribed?
  • Gather your assets. Have you asked the appropriate people to provide research, trend analyses, or internal documentation that will help illustrate specific problems? Do you have an agenda?
  • Don’t forget the preamble. Be ready to give a brief intro summarizing key points as you know them, as well as the purpose for the meeting. Emphasize that the ultimate solution will emerge from the work you do now. Encourage everyone to dig in and open up.

Then, let the questioning begin. Of course, this shouldn’t be an accusatory cross-examination. We’re all working to solve the same problems. The goal — for everyone — is to get the most complete information possible in order to formulate effective solutions. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

What’s changed since the last time we met?

Questions about industry, economy, competitors, customers, key personnel, new product or service offerings, etc.

Is there a new audience we should explore?

Has the target changed? Are there new perspectives or challenges we should consider? What’s hurting? What’s helping?

Let’s talk about measurable goals for this project (or year, or plan, or whatever).

What’s feasible? What’s a reach? How do we measure success? What’s keeping you from meeting those goals? What baseline information do we have to get started?

When things go wrong (in the sales funnel, for instance), what causes that?

Where, in the customer journey, do you typically lose a customer? Why? What tools or insights are missing? Put some numbers to the churn. Show me what it looks like.

What solutions have you tried?

What’s working? What’s not? Why?

What concerns you?

What is your boss worried about? What keeps you up at night? Where could we fail? How can we succeed?

Have we explored alternatives?

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Even if some solutions are awful, put them on the table. Sort through them and land on the BEST idea.

What sort of constraints do we have?

Start with deadlines, budgets, and personnel; then work to understand what is driving those decisions. A lack of resources, itself, can be a pain point.

No pain, no gain

At the end of an intense question-and-answer period, you should have some idea where to focus your collective resources and energy and what it will take to deliver a powerful solution. Without pain points, it would be impossible to produce ideas that are truly built to solve problems. The same holds true for the creative process: without doing the critical work upfront, any marketing project is doomed to underperform for lack of accurate and actionable information. Don’t fall into the trap of rushing to solve problems based on what you think you know or what you hope to be true.


Need our help identifying and solving those pesky pain points? Give us a call or email us today.

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Posted on: January 15th, 2019 by Angela Michka


3 min read

A new year instigates moments of introspection — a look back at the passing year and a designated fresh start.

Let’s call out a few new and different projects we accomplished with our clients in 2018:

  • An in-depth branding guide for a top 50 consumer research firm housed invaluable resources to support brand consistency and important company communications.
  • Kansas City’s annual state of entrepreneurship report showcased a vibrant ecosystem and connected us with our community.
  • A marketing strategy helped an engineering and manufacturing company achieve its business goals and generate exponential revenue, thanks to a collaborative partnership.

As we reflect on 2018, our highlights include 6 lessons we learned along the way, followed by 6 goals we’d like to implement in 2019.

6 lessons learned in 2018

1. Offer our expertise as full-service consultants.

We’re not just designers executing projects; we are here to help clients develop effective business strategies.

2. Always work to be more efficient.

We’ve created tools, including social sharing content grids and proposal and presentation templates, to enable our clients and streamline our work as a team. We constantly evaluate how we operate and the tools we provide so we can all be more efficient.

3. Record our processes to improve productivity.

We’ve prioritized our process documentation, taking time to establish and annotate our processes. This helps us jump right into recurring or related projects, without wondering, How did we do that last time?

4. Leave room for creativity without reinventing the wheel.

Lessons 2 and 3 help us channel our energies into generating new ideas and strategies. We can rely on our already-generated resources and maintain brand consistency.

5. Meet face-to-face, with our clients and with our team.

While this isn’t a new lesson, it’s an ever-present reminder. Customer service builds a stronger network and better client partnerships.

6. Motivate and empower brands that are stuck or complacent.

Businesses, large and small, can miss opportunities to grow if they are set in their ways. When an engineering and manufacturing firm trusted our marketing communications solutions this year, a measurable impact in sales was felt almost immediately.

6 goals for 2019

1. Always work to be more efficient.

Sound familiar? Well, we don’t consider this a one-and-done solution. We will keep improving our processes to serve clients better.

2. Enhance our client and prospect communications plans.

Now this doesn’t mean we’re going to bombard everyone we know 24/7. We just believe additional communication helps manage expectations (and deadlines) and builds transparency within a partnership. This goal also includes sharing insights, experiences, and success stories we gain.

3. Expand our team.

We are a small but mighty team. We have a strong wheelhouse of talent, plus a network of trusted and talented external resources that increase our manpower. We’re looking to expand our in-house team to more effectively serve our clients.

4. Prepare for emerging marketing trends.

We’ve delved more into animation and hope to support clients even more with video, an ever-growing content marketing tool.

5. Elevate our event and app development offerings.

We are ready to build on our extensive portfolio of event branding work, from concepting and themes to staging and swag. We also plan to extend our app development offerings to build on our solid platform of digital publishing and corporate communications to help our clients reach their more active and mobile customers.

6. Enrich Kansas City and our team through new community involvement activities.

We’ve been working for nonprofits and various causes in the city for almost 20 years. We pledge to be more intentional in our efforts and enlist the interests and talents of our staff to make more of an impact in 2019.

Looking forward to 2019 with you!

Interested in how we can help your business this year? Give us a call or email us today.

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Posted on: January 4th, 2019 by Laura Uber


(Really, we’re just trying to make your life easier. And ours.)

3 min read

At The Creative Department, we often design and build long-format documents, in Adobe InDesign, for clients to use in house. This could be a proposal document, annual report, publication, general collateral — we’ve strategically designed and developed custom branded print pieces of all types for our clients.

When wrapping up one of these templated documents for a client, we ALWAYS run through a spell check. Misspelled words mean BIG trouble in the work we do. We take this stuff seriously.

A lifetime with spell check

When using standard spell check, we realized InDesign was constantly catching words that our clients frequently used and wanted to keep. Spell checking was taking so long, it was tempting to bail on the process altogether. We had to closely review every abbreviation, industry-specific term, last name, and even more modern terms that you THINK would be in a dictionary (we’re looking at you ... “Wi-Fi” and “email”). Overall, this process took 10–15 minutes — at least. As you can imagine, it would be utter torture to endure this process multiple times throughout the life of a project.

Efficiency is top of mind for us at The Creative Department. We value craftsmanship, detail-oriented work, and going the extra mile if it means a high-quality product for our clients. If our client is using this template as the basis for hundreds of documents, how much time could we save them by addressing this annoying spell check process?

Enter: custom user dictionaries

Could it be? A light at the end of the eternally long and drawn out spell check tunnel? YES! IT IS! Now introducing: custom user dictionaries for InDesign.

Alongside InDesign’s standard user dictionary, it’s possible to create a list of unique words for spell check to ignore. It’s also possible to save this list as a new dictionary that complements the user’s standard dictionary.

Do you know what this means?

About 80% of the words that spell check historically flagged were correctly used, per client standards, just not recognized in a standard dictionary. If our spell check process took 10 minutes for one run, our use of a custom dictionary could save 80% OF THE OVERALL TIME it takes to spell check. Multiply that by 100 documents built off an original template, and that is an extra Friday you could spend on a beach somewhere instead of spell checking.

A custom dictionary could save 80% of the overall time it takes to spell check.

About custom user dictionaries

Individually, user dictionaries can be created and maintained by one user. While the “dictionary keeper” edits and updates the custom dictionary, everyone (using a shared server) can access the dictionary as a read-only file. The file can be loaded into each user’s InDesign program, and once the new dictionary is linked, it will update (contingent on relaunching the program or “refreshing” all text, using Command+Option+/ keyboard shortcut).

Already have a word bank of company lingo? We can quickly generate a new dictionary with that list. Starting from scratch? That works too. Bonus: Once the new dictionary is established, it’s easy to export. That means you can import it into other applications, like Microsoft Word.

The real win

What it really comes down to, is that one small consideration for our clients led to a high-quality, more efficient work product. A spell check process on a long-format document might seem like a tiny, insignificant detail. But little efficiencies can add up in big ways. And it’s our pleasure to work with our clients in the biggest and littlest of ways to produce effective work that makes us all proud.

Curious how we can work efficiently for you? Give us a call or email us today. We can talk about incorporating strategies, like custom user dictionaries, into your unique company documents.

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Posted on: December 13th, 2018 by Laura Uber

The Creative Department is a proud sustaining member of AIGA.

We follow AIGA's Standards of Professional Practice and adhere to its principles of integrity that demonstrate respect for the profession, for colleagues, clients, audiences or consumers, and society as a whole. We utilize AIGA's Basic Terms & Conditions and Intellectual Property Provisions to maintain the professional practices of the design industry.