If you use an absurd signature, I might end up sending it back to you


Despite my previous rant, absurdly elaborate email signatures are still common at Microsoft, and I'm not just talking about the ones that contain information that may be required by department policy. I'm talking about signatures that use bright colors, large fonts, maybe a bitmap or two, sometimes even a photo of the sender! I will sometimes mention in my reply, "Please consider making your signature less eye-catching. It distracts from the text of your message." But other times, I just incorporate it in to the reply more directly:

From: John Doe

Blah blah blah question blah blah blah.

John Doe
Technical Liaison

telephone: 425-555-1212
mobile: [available upon request]
Make sure to visit my blog! http://www.example.com/

My reply might go like this:

To: John Doe

Hi, John Doe.

Blah blah blah answer blah blah blah.

Comments (38)
  1. Karellen says:

    I just set my mail client to display messages as plain text by default.

    For the rare message that has useful HTML (e.g. inline images where the order and position of each is important, such as when showing a progression of UI states) then I’ll view that particular message as HTML.

    I find it just makes email nicer to read. The content (or lack thereof) stands out more.

  2. John says:

    It could be worse; at least you don’t have to deal with animated gifs (yet).

    Speaking of which, check out the favicon on this website: http://www.monacome.com/2008/08/download-google-chrome-browser-review.html

  3. nathan_works says:

    Funnily, my last job "required" such signatures, by some high up corporate dictum, including the logo. Never did get around to it.

    Funny though that folks with a kibo like sig can easily turn it on/off (evidenced in their replies, usually), so they must know.

  4. carl says:

    Our company actually has a sane signature policy, so when I see people with outrageous fonts I call them out. Interestingly, I usually get the response "but the larger font is easier for me to read." And then they fail to understand how increasing the font size that they write in will not increase the font size of their received messages.

  5. Mantas says:

    posts[8935310].agree();

    I hate flashy sigs. I have a nice 3-line ASCII .signature, with a "– " before it. And it’s even named "~/.signature".

    I hate HTML messages. I use PGP (GnuPG actually) for most of my email, and it doesn’t play nice with HTML.

    (I agree, this comment was a little pointless.)

  6. Gene says:

    If I received a message from you about making my signature less distracting, I’d just make sure to make it more distracting for the next time.

    God forbid there be any style to anything.

    And this is why people don’t trust developers to design attractive GUIs… But given this sort of attitude being so prevalent, it is reasonable in most cases, I guess.

  7. Tim says:

    @Gene

    God forbid we prefer function to go along with form…

    Distracting signatures provide negative utility. The "pretty" factor does NOT make up for that. You can have "pretty" ones that are not distracting and those are not the ones to which Raymond is referring.

  8. Bryce says:

    I always understand that your signature size is inversely related to your importance, just like numbers after your email address are inversely correlated to your coolness.

    Funny though that folks with a kibo like sig can easily turn it on/off (evidenced in their replies, usually), so they must know.

    That’s a default Outlook setting, iirc.

  9. David Brooks says:

    A long time ago, my Usenet signature was the conventional four lines long, and consisted of my handwritten signature rendered in Postscript (as well as the name and org in plain text). I was pretty proud of that. Until someone offered to use it to forge checks.

  10. Eric W says:

    <i>Despite my previous rant, absurdly elaborate email signatures are still common at Microsoft…</i>

    Did you expect that to change just because you mentioned it?  

  11. Ulric says:

    It could be worse; at least you don’t have to >deal with animated gifs (yet).

    I’ve had those years ago at our company using Outlook. Perhaps it wasn’t an animated gif.. it might have been a script that changed the image.  Anyway, annoying: it was a rotating logo of the company.

    I don’t understand why people use large signatures that declare the company they work for .. for internal emails.  I already know which company you work for!  For people in sales I could understand, but this was developers, testers, secretaries, etc.  

    One signature outbreak started when the marketing team published a signature template.  Thankfully, it’s been 3 years now and 99% of people have removed them… but the first two years, it was hell, and all of our inbox were getting filled with the logo.pnp of our company..

  12. Ulric says:

    And how about those people who not only have a large signature, but have it included in every reply?  A signature should only be necessary for new mails, not dozens of times in a mail thread.

  13. Ulric says:

    Another signature story.

    Our company’s 90s product shipped with a custom Windows font, used to print the company name.

    You know what comes next.  Many people were using it in their signature.  On other people’s machine, it simply same up as unreadable garbage showing up with the Winding font.  I must have sent two dozen mails about that.  People were sending mail to clients, mailing lists, etc, with that garbage at the end.

  14. This reminds me a the good old NNTP signature debates.  Anyone not using a signature conforming to the exact specified guidelines was ruthlessly flamed.

    Lets see how much I can remember

    • Must start with a specified delimeter, two dashes, a space followed by return

    • Must be 100% ASCII

    • Must be no longer than 4 lines

  15. semi-random-number-54 says:

    My personal annoyance is the 500×200 images that some artists and customer service co-workers use whereby all the text is in the image!

    Blech!!!

  16. Raymond says:

    I’ve received HTML email with backgrounds that look like the wallpaper in my kitchen.  I like to respond to those with backgrounds that look like the old Windows hotdog color scheme.  What goes around, comes around.  I don’t mention anything, but usually don’t receive a second message from them with the same horrible background.

    It’s email, not poetry.

  17. pne says:

    Jared: I’ve heard that referred to as "McQuary" (‘s Guideline? ‘s Rule? I don’t remember).

    Don’t forget: no more than 79 characters per line (since some user-agents would wrap a line if it had exactly the number of characters that would fit on the screen, which was often 80 back then).

  18. @pne,

    Ah, I forgot the all important 79 character rule.  Good thing this isn’t NNTP.  Looks like there’s actually a Wikipedia entry covering this

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signature_block

  19. JenK says:

    My company actually has the design team create 2 signatures for everyone. The full one (4 lines) is for new messages, and the short one for replies.

    Which means the dorks using 16-pt Comic Sans for their signatures are violating company policy. :)

  20. Michael Ratanapintha says:

    Carl> they fail to understand how increasing the font size that they write in will not increase the font size of their received messages.

    Does your company also mandate that all email be written in plain-text only?  Most people read HTML messages as HTML, so if your message was composed as HTML, your reader *would* see the font size changes.

  21. David Larsen says:

    I just filter any HTML email into the trash.  Should I not have done that?  Oopsie.

  22. I got into a huge email fight^Wdiscussion with a very senior Microsoft employee over the benefits of HTML vs. plaintext in email.

    We agreed to disagree; I still use plaintext as much as I can.  One major benefit of sticking to plaintext is that you can copy/paste emails into bug reports and no information is lost.

  23. Marc says:

    I agree with Raymond. However, I do find random funny quotes in a  signature (text only) a nice touch.

    I don’t mind HTML either, as long as it’s a readable font. Indeed I often embed hyperlinks or use italics to make my point. Yes I *know* that HTML isn’t needed, but in business you can’t _always_ get away with that.

    On the topic of Windows. Vista just popped up the restart window, just as I was typing. Yes, had it not been for the unsaved word document I have open I would have restarted by accident!

  24. James says:

    Sadly, my own mother went one better (not her fault): every e-mail I receive from her work system has a 123 word, 773 byte legalese disclaimer attached – *above* the actual message. Scrolling through that on my cellphone earlier (I checked for messages at lunch, and read the one from her) was quite irritating, since it filled an entire screen on my phone.

    Ulric: I have a similar problem: our university crest is distributed as a Windows font (nasty hack to get an approximation to working vector graphics) – which works fine, on *some* printers. Open a Word document containing this, and the crest may or may not appear, depending on what your current printer is. Infuriating.

  25. money_fuel says:

    nice ray, nothing like a bit of passive aggression

  26. Julio says:

    Non-standard fonts? What’s the problem? J J J J

  27. d.l says:

    Lets see how much I can remember

    • Must start with a specified delimeter, two dashes, a space followed by return
    • Must be 100% ASCII

    • Must be no longer than 4 lines

    There is no camel.

  28. I’ve found that the size of the signature roughly equates to the size of the senders ego……

  29. liam says:

    I can live with signatures in emails which are obnoxious as I just use plain text; yet what really annoys me is top posting in email conversations (just like mail lists).

  30. ender says:

    I prefer plain-text e-mails to HTML e-mails for a simple reason: my colour scheme is light text on dark background. Around 3/4 of HTML e-mails I receive specify white background, but don’t specify the text colour, so the client uses Windows defaults for that – making the text really hard to read.

  31. Phylyp says:

    I’ve found that the size of the signature roughly equates to the size of the senders ego……

    And inversely proportional to usefulness of the content

  32. xampl says:

    The last place I worked at had a 150mb mailbox size limit (this went along with a strict retention policy).  There was a senior VP who sent out emails that had his scanned signature as an attachment — 2 megabytes for that lovely piece of eye candy.

    It’d have been especially ironic if he was the one in charge of setting up the retention policy, but sadly, no, he was just insensitive to his readers.

  33. Rich says:

    You must realize by now that the gesture is probably lost on the recipient.  If they didn’t figure it out by now, they’re not going to figure it out.  They don’t care.

  34. Jay Bazuzi says:

    Right on, Raymond.

    By the time I left Microsoft, I had shrunk my signature down to just this:

    -J

  35. SuperKoko says:

    "

    Most people read HTML messages as HTML, so if your message was composed as HTML, your reader *would* see the font size changes.

    "

    Yes, and that’s usually annoying. Everybody should simply assume that font-size:100% is the most readable text, and should be used for the main text body. Depending on the screen resolution, screen-to-eyes distance, eye-sight, age, and preference of the end user, he changes his browser and mailer settings accordingly.

    Assuming that nobody knows how to change the font size, and that font-size:150% or font-size:80% "is better for everybody" is just plain stupid.

  36. Ziv Caspi says:

    J, Raymond’s signature is actually this:

  37. Josh says:

    One better, I worked for a company in NZ that used to deal with NZ Yellowpages quite a bit and at the time (4 or 5 years ago now) the standard Yellowpages signature involved marquee text (implemented with Javascript, not the marquee tag) and was also trying to do soemething that caused an Internet Explorer security exception dialog to be displayed every time you opened an email from them. I don’t know if it was the Javascript for the scrolling or something else (the code was no eye candy worth analysing more than to discover the marquee effect was Javascript based) but that caused me to switch to a plain text view in Outlook.

  38. steveg says:

    Somewhat related. One of the places I work just added "Please consider the environment before printing this email" in green to the bottom of the already lengthy legal crap.

    One less line on the first page. Therefore there will be an increase in emails requiring two pieces of paper.

    Green ink costs more than black.

    Oh, the irony…

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content