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Email Design Guide: How to Design Emails Like a Pro

Good email design can make or break your email marketing campaign. Learn how to design an amazing email experience for your subscribers with this trusty guide.

Posted 17 Sep 2021
Email design guide

Clean or cluttered, multi-colored or monochromatic, serious or fun-filled – the design of your email marketing campaigns can have a huge impact on subscriber engagement and conversion rates. The average person has around 200 emails in their inbox at any one time – which means there are 199 other brands and businesses that you’re competing with. If you want to stand out in your customers’ inboxes, it’s important to invest in professional, eye-catching email design. 

Before you get started with any email design project, there are a variety of questions you should ask yourself: Are you following email design best practices? Do you know your target audience? Are you designing emails that leave a lasting impression and demonstrate brand trust?

If you’re not sure of the answers to these questions just yet, never fear – our email design guide is here! This collection of tried and tested email design tips are sure to help you to craft and create emails that grab peoples’ attention when scanning their inbox and lead them to convert.

What Is Email Design?

Email design is the process of creating a look, feel and structure for your emails that resonates with your subscribers. It can apply to promotional emails, newsletters and transactional emails.

People tend to scan emails, so your email design should present your content in a way that’s attention grabbing and easy to understand. If your subject line and preheader are catchy enough that the recipient opens your message, you have less than three seconds to deliver value so they continue reading. Your email design is fundamental to this – it needs to present your message quickly and effectively. This includes Calls to Action (CTAs) – strategically placed elements that encourage your recipients to take action whether it’s to ‘download’ or ‘learn more’. 

Why Is Email Marketing Important?

Unlike social media and paid advertising, email is a direct way to connect with your target audience. Subscribers are already invested in your company and part of your marketing funnel. They’ve entrusted you to provide them with relevant, valuable content by handing over their email address. 

Studies have shown that the ROI of email marketing is on the up, standing at an astounding $42 for every dollar spent. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that 89% of marketers use email as their primary channel for generating leads.

Too many email marketers give little thought to email design, but this is your opportunity to make a strong, positive impression on your subscribers. 

8 Email Design Tips for Nailing Your Emails

So without further ado, here are the top email design tips and design best practices to consider when creating your emails. And don’t forget, nothing is set in stone! Have fun and try out different design elements with A/B testing to find out what works best for your audience.

1. Be Consistent With Your Brand

This is a no-brainer, but your email design should be consistent with the rest of your brand. It should align with all your designs across channels. When a subscriber opens your email, they should instantly recognize who you are and make the connection between the content and your brand. 

Not only is this a professional approach, but maintaining design consistency also reinforces a feeling of trust and familiarity in the brain of the user – and as we know, familiarity breeds fondness. If your brand is recognizable the moment a recipient opens your email, you’ll hopefully trigger a positive response, and they’ll happily take the time to read your email. 

On a basic level, consistent branding should include using your brand’s color scheme, fonts, and style of imagery, as well as your logo and links to your website and social media

Once you get to the meat of the email – the copy – it should be in the same style and tone and voice that you use across all communications. Different channels sometimes call for alternate language or levels of formality, but generally, all marketing materials should be consistent. 

GymShark is a great example of a brand that keeps their email designs consistent without their aesthetic ever going stagnant. They’ve included a logo right at the top of the email, which is noticeable enough to make an impact but doesn’t take away from the overall message. 

Be Consistent With Your Brand - GymShark Email

2. Use A Clear, Easily Scannable Structure

Does clutter make you shudder? Us too. Messy and unorganized emails are likely to turn subscribers off.  

Structuring your email in a way that’s clean and easy on the eyes enables subscribers to quickly get the gist of your message without becoming lost in a sea of text or images. It also improves the user experience by making it easy for them to navigate your email to complete an action, such as a click-through to your website.

As a guide, try to stick to the 80/20 rule. 80% text and 20% images. For more visual email marketing campaigns, go up to 60% text and 40% images, but make sure that images are always relevant and never without purpose. Use modular layouts that are responsive to mobile, and use the one-column, multiple-column, or zig zag structure. 

Types of Email Design Layouts

For special offers, new product releases, or other types of promotional emails, try the inverted pyramid layout. This consists of a headline, description and CTA button.

In this example from Abercrombie & Fitch, the brand has used the inverted pyramid layout, with a catchy title that includes the product name, a brief description telling us what’s great about it, and a simple CTA to guide the reader towards conversion.

Use A Clear, Easily Scannable Structure - Abercrombie & Fitch Example

3. Design Emails With Copy In Mind

Since emails need to be scannable, logic suggests that keeping the copy short ‘n’ sweet is the best way to go. But sometimes, more text is needed to get your message across. 

To keep readers engaged and encourage them to read longer chunks of text, you need to design your emails with copy in mind. This means selecting layouts and design elements that break up the text and make it easy to scan and read. Not only will it ensure your emails are more digestible, but you’ll also avoid scaring away subscribers!

Tips for designing emails with longer copy:

  • Try to split text into short, easily digestible paragraphs.
  • Use bullet points to highlight important points and make them easily scannable.
  • Put the most important information at the top.
  • Use images to break up the text—but only where they support the content.
  • Split sections with content boxes or color blocking to make it easier for subscribers to find the content they care about.

Another important thing to consider is how we typically scan emails. We try to take in as much information as quickly as possible, so we usually scan emails in a zig-zag pattern. Take advantage of this by alternating your copy from left to right.

Below is an example of the zig zag layout used by online beauty retailer, Look Fantastic. Because they’re sharing numerous offers and products, the zig zag pattern makes it much easier to scan.

Design Emails With Copy In Mind - Look Fantastic Email

4. Use Images Effectively

Of all the information transmitted to the brain, 90% is visual, so the images you include in your emails should have a purpose. 

Your images should support your message, and help to deliver it in a way that makes subscribers understand it, resonate with it, and feel motivated to take action. GIFs are a great way to demonstrate action as well as display multiple images without taking up too much space. 

If you can create your own imagery, you can add an element of uniqueness to your emails. But if that’s not an option, stock images are a good alternative – just be selective about the type of images you use so that they fit in with your brand persona. Check out Envato’s library of stock photos to browse a huge range of incredible images. 

A few technical design elements to keep in mind:

  • Alt text: Some people have images switched off in their email client, so using alt text will allow them to better understand your message.
  • File size: You want your email images to load quickly, especially when on mobile. Keep image file size below 100kb.
  • Image dimensions: Emails typically have a width of 600px to 640px. For crisp images on higher resolution screens, you should use images at double this and use CSS to adjust to fit each device as needed. 

The images in this example from Paperchase fits in with everything we know and love about the brand. It inspires a sense of creativity and helps to emphasize the message. Not to mention it’s beautiful to look at!

Use Images Effectively - Paperchase Email

5. Be Frugal With Fonts

Sometimes we want to dress up and feel fancy, and the same goes for our choice of font. But there are a couple of reasons why sticking to simpler, more standard fonts can be best practice. 

Some fonts are not compatible with certain email service providers. If you use one that’s incompatible, the ESP will display a default font or one of the compatible backup fonts you have specified. This could throw off the whole design of your email.

Sans Serif fonts are easier to read, and are the go-to fonts for most websites and applications. The most common Sans Serif font is Arial, and Times New Roman is the most common Serif font

Use a Web Safe Font wherever possible and if you choose a Web Font, set a Web Safe Font as a backup. Try not to use more than two fonts – less is more! You can create contrast and make text stand out by playing with color, weight, italics and size instead. 

Adobe sticks to a single Sans Serif font in this example, and uses color, size and weight to give significance to the text. The result is a simple yet effective design in which the text and imagery works together harmoniously to promote their products. 

Be Frugal With Fonts - Adobe Email

6. Choose Colors Wisely

As a general rule, you should stick to colors that match your branding. You can use additional colors, but be sure to develop a color palette that’s balanced and coordinated, or risk your email looking like a Crayola advert gone wrong. 

Color-blocking is a great way to structure your email content and give prominence to certain sections. It’s a simple way to design emails that helps to make them more readable. 

Some ways you can use color-blocking include:

  • 50/50: An elegant and simple way to use color-blocking. Choose two colors and have the top of your email one color, and the rest the other. 
  • Alternating: For emails with more sections that you want to separate, choose two colors and alternate them between each section. 
  • Abstract: When your design calls for more creativity, abstract color blocking is a simple yet effective solution. In particular, think about using different shapes rather than the typical square or rectangle, and how these color blocks can be used to highlight your content. 

Be careful with your background color-text color combos to avoid contrasts that make text hard to read or cause eye strain. And think about how you can use images to create harmony with your email color selection. 

This example from beauty ecommerce brand Pixi shows how a simple alternating color block style can help to structure and email, and the clever use of color palette ensures that the design isn’t overbearing.

Choose Colors Wisely - Pixi Email

In this other great ecommerce email example from Gymshark, they’ve used a more abstract color blocking design to emphasize their color range and mix ‘n’ match product concept.

Choose Colors Wisely - GymShark Email

7. Designing For CTAs

Calls-to-action (or CTAs) are the elements of your emails that encourage subscribers to complete a particular action and convert. Whether you want recipients to view a new project, make a purchase, or check out your latest blog post, your CTA needs to stand out. 

Where you place your CTA and the colors you use for buttons are crucial to how well your email converts. You want your readers’ eyes to naturally land on your CTA, and you can do this by structuring your content so that it leads there, and using contrasting colors to grab their attention.

Buttons tend to stand out better than links, and often help your design to look more professional. Use a button color that fits your email color palette, but stands out against its surroundings. And think about your use of white space around the call-to-action button; having sufficient space helps draw the reader’s attention to the CTA.

In this simple example from Google, our eye is drawn to the CTA, with the heading and content leading down to the button. They’ve used a bold blue which stands out against the white background and text of the email. 

Designing For CTAs - Google Email

8. Make Email Designs Responsive

Responsive email designs make for an improved user experience by allowing recipients to read your email on a variety of devices, no matter the size of their screen. 

Studies have shown that 61.9% of emails are read on mobile devices. In cases where the email is not displayed correctly, 70% of the time it’s deleted within three seconds. That’s a whole lot of subscribers you could be losing if your emails aren’t responsive. 

There are best practices you should follow – check out this guide on responsive email design to get started. If building a responsive email design sounds tricky, use responsive email templates, so all you need to do is customize the content. 

In the example below, Dr. Martens uses a responsive design that cuts down the number of images displayed. They’ve also switched out the CTA for a color that stands out against the white background.

Make Email Designs Responsive - Doc Martens Email
Make Email Designs Responsive - Doc Martens Email

Tools to Help You Design Emails Like a Pro

Including everything from stock images, graphics and illustrations to icons, templates, email marketing software, here’s our guide to some of the best email design tools and resources on the market…

1. Envato Elements

Envato Elements - creative subscription

Envato Elements is the unlimited creative subscriptions for marketers, designers and creators. It’s supported by an online community of professionals, offering creative assets, tools, resources and more. It’s a great source of inspiration, designs, templates, and knowledge. Choose from thousands of templates and design elements including videos, social posts, graphics, website themes and more. 

2. MailerLite

MailerLite

MailerLite’s email marketing software lets you create professionally designed emails in minutes with easily customizable, responsive templates. With an intuitive drag and drop email builder, you can add text, images, videos, surveys, dynamic content, social media and more. It also includes various tools and options to manage your campaigns, including audience segmentation for enhanced personalization. 

3. Placeit

Placeit

Placeit makes it easy to create all kinds of graphics for beautiful emails. There are thousands of templates available for you to customize and you can easily add your own logo and branding so that your designs look professional.

4. Twenty20

Twenty20

When in need of stock imagery, Twenty20 – available with an Envato Elements subscription – offers an extensive library of high resolution photography that goes against the grain of typical stock photos. With thousands of photos, and dozens of categories, there’s something for every industry. 

5. Reshot

Reshot

Reshot has tons of free icons, vector illustrations and stock photos that you can use for your newsletter designs. Even better, icons are available in sets so you can use matching styles to keep all the icons you use consistent. 

6. Subtle Patterns

Subtle Patterns is a library of free background patterns you can use to zhuzh up your design without being distracting.

7. COLOURLovers

Remember what we said about creating an impactful color scheme? If you’re looking for inspo, COLOURLovers is a great resource offering up literally millions of color palettes for you to work with.

8. TinyJPG/PNG 

TinyJPG and TinyPNG are free online image compression tools you can use to get your images down to a more manageable size.

Ready, Set, Design!

You’re now ready to start creating beautiful, attention grabbing, professional email designs. Let’s blow those other 199 emails out of the water!

Understanding the way your customers consume emails will help you optimize every element of your design for higher engagement and conversions. What’s more, you’ll be able to reinforce your brand messaging and nurture deeper relationships with subscribers, while more effectively delivering your message. 

While you’re at it, make sure to check out these ​​8 Exciting Email Design Trends for 2021, read up on 5 Ways to Make Your Email Subject Line More Clickable, or brush up on the most Clickworthy Email Marketing Trends for 2021!

Guest Author: Amy Elliot

Amy is a Content Writer at The Remote Company, focusing on email marketing for MailerLite. As a child, Amy dreamt about writing a book and practiced by tearing pages from an A4 notepad and binding them with sugar paper. The book is still pending but in the meantime, she’s found a passion for writing content that is both fun and helpful.

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