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Email design basics

Email design basics

Why email design is important?

In the current competitive world, you only have one shot with your recipients. So it’s whether you leave a good impression and encourage them to presume opening your emails or abandon you for forever. And high quality content is just a part of the game, compelling design is the other half. The email design process begins in the inbox before or even in the notification previewing that you’ve got mail.It’s not about colors and fonts only, it also takes the subject line and from field in order to craft a remarkable email experience.

A good design is also critical for communicating your brand identity. It doesn't necessarily have to be a carbon copy of your website or App but it should convey the same look and feel. Your emails can tell more than you think about who you’re and position you in different place compared to your competitors which will give you better conversion chance.

Due to the fact that mobile is taking over the scene and email opens are a mobile device are always up to 50%, designing for mobile - and multiple device usage in general - is becoming more critical. More and more people are becoming more comfortable with checking their inboxes on phone and that’s why the need for an email responsive design showed up in 2012 -according to google trends- in order to enhance the user’s experience by providing adaptive designs that go along with the viewport size and display content accordingly.Responsive design is also important if you’re looking for a faster way to build high performance emails that people don’t opt-out from.

So the next time you design for email, think of it as if you’re taking recipients to a picnic and create the environment in which they would like to interact with you, get to know you better in a comfortable and easy way.

Email templates

Creating an email from scratch every time is an exhausting process. So Why reinventing the wheel while the possibility of starting from a prototype is available?. Templates allow you to customize the formatting, content, images and layout in order to quickly and easily create your own unique version of email campaigns. It can be produced internally by a team of developers and designers or by an external party such as ESP. 

Using an email template will reduce the possibility of errors and better communicate the brand voice and ensure brand consistency in visulas, code and the writing style. And after a while, you will be aware of what templates generate best results and the suitable ones for every situation which will affect your conversion rates positively. 

It’s the smartest solution for repetitive email communication such as customer care emails and seasonal promotions. Note that you can always customize a template so sending the same template with a personalized twist to many recipients will facilitate the communication and enable you of hitting the target while saving time and increasing productivity.

The time saved from coding and design will be directed towards creating a compelling content that engages recipients and better addresses their needs and wants.

Tips and tricks

In order to select or create a convenient email template, you need to outline to whom this email is directed and its purpose. Are you promoting a new project, winning an old customer back or following up with your current customers?. Whatever your purpose is, it your only solid starting point and will certainly affect your design decisions. Later on you can proceed with the design and content writing using the following points as a baseline.Keep in mind that the trick is not in doing different things, it’s all about doing the same things in a different way.

  • Your email design starts from the preview page, if you’re using unreal content or fake names change that into a more transparent text that resonates with your customers. 
  • If you’re going to have text links embedded into your email body, make it obvious and clickable by changing its color or making any type of contrasting.keep in mind that most of emails are opened first on mobile so the principles of designing for small spaces should be taken into consideration.
  • Don’t chunk much information inside your email this might push your customers away rather than bringing them closer. Remember that the primary objective is leading your customers to your website or to take a certain action so there is no point of making them stuck in the email due to huge and heavy content.
  • Don’t exhaust your email recipients, keep it simple, clear and to the point. This goes along with the design as well, making the paragraphs clear and headlines obvious for readers to scan is the magical recipe. Yes some businesses have to send larger parts of content to their readers and the later enjoys them but people usually check their emails in hurry.. So you can provide big content but later.

Tips and tricks
  • Place your most important content in the first section of the email. This includes your Call to action which should be focused on one thing in particular. This one thing should be outlined by the design through using colors and leaving enough white space around this element. However, if your email is long and full of information , maybe in the format of a newsletter, make sure to include your Call to action again in the bottom of the email so users can see it.
  • Go minimal.As you’ve done with your content, assess your design and remove unnecessary parts that might be a sort of distraction to your readers.This includes giving too many choices that might cause analysis paralysis to your users making them unable to decide which link to click or what call to action top presume leaving them without doing anything.Offer only the minimum requirements in email design and don't overload your readers with too much to think of.
  • White spaces are also essential in differentiating between things that have similar sizes and weights as they draw they eye towards things that matters like important offer or CTA.
  • While designing your emails, make the unsubscription button visible to your users. This will make you avoid spam complaints by anger users who couldn’t find it.
  • Avoid having too many vertical divisions. They will neither give you a good look and feel nor make your customers readability higher. The only thing that will happen by adding many vertical divisions is increasing eye distraction.
Tips and tricks

  • Make your design responsive in order to suit all devices and keep your design under 600 pixels so users won't have to scroll horizontally.
  • Design emails that have a space for edits. Sometimes there will be a need for adding extra lines of content or removing some. This shouldn’t be a disaster for you as a designer unless designed a  solid email layout.
  • Use the lean methodology in designing.Start from a template and then iterate until you reach the required final version.
  • Consider the overall experience of the email. Users may disable texts or open your email with a client that doesn’t support your content so It’s always prefered to include a plain-text version of your mail. Stay away from putting your main message in image is risky thing to do. Also consider using alt-tags that support your images in case they are not viewed.
  • Test for color blindness in your design as 10% of users suffer from vision deficiency. In some programs like photoshop this is already built in advance.
  • Make sure that you link everything so that users can click anywhere and still be converted to to the desired destination.

Email anatomy

There are billions of email layouts and designs in the world. The existence of many competitive ESPs and email templates creation websites made it harder to choose or even create a new template design without feeling that it's not good enough. And you have to deal with it, your template or design might not be the best ever as there are no secret ingredients for a good email design. BUT certainly there are basic components that form the skeleton of any email design. These components doesn’t necessarily have to be internal like the email CTA, it could also be exteral like the email preview.

1. The envelope

Email anatomy

From name

We're living in an era where two-way communication is essential between brands and its targeted audience. Your "from" name is a big part of your identity. From names vary. Some companies rely on human names in their communication, whether it’s the CEO name or a member of the specialized team. And although it’s recommended to to use human names in most cases to build trust and be more recognizable, some companies still use emails like "" or to direct their brand communication towards the address that can process. What's certain is that a " no-reply" from mail will not only annoy your recipients, but also will send a message that this mail is useless. It’s always recommended to humanize the relationship.

Subject line

Your email subject line is the first content your readers consume when they open their inbox. It should be encouraging enough to obtain a click. This attractiveness will come from relevancy and personalization. You also need to be brief and put the important-catchy information first. For examples, Former President Obama’s subject line for one of the charity dinner invitation was ‘Hey’ and it helped raise $ 690 million.Think of it as a second headline for your mail where you can test more freely.

Subject line

Preview text

It's the part of the mail that is used to preview an extract text from the mail body. Review text can capture your subscriber’s attention, encouraging them to open. And it can also influence get subscribers to scroll and click specific articles mentioned in the text.

Preview text

2. The content

The Header

When writing a book, writers give special attention to the title and brainstorm many ideas before finally choosing one that best expresses the book benefits and at the same time doesn’t reveal everything. Considering email as your book, be careful of how your create your header and what elements you're going to include from: logo, color scheme..etc. not just because it’s the first actual piece of content in your body but also because the header is displayed in the preview pane, making it extra important to make it both recognizable and enticing.

Email Body

This is where the essence of your message lies. Whether it’s a sales email with one topic or a newsletter containing multiple stories, this is where you can interact with readers and show your personality. You need to make sure that the value proposition of your offer is best conveyed through the email body and that users can relate to it. If you have multiple messages to send, try breaking them up into a series of emails.

There are many ways for communicating your message by using statistics, facts or even telling a story you can. Don’t be afraid to whatever you want as long as it suits your brand identity.

Using a single column layout to work consistently in both desktop and mobile, bullet points and headings and short sentences for better reading experience will show how much you understand online readers behavior - scanning and skimming- and respect your readers mind and time.


Each sales driven email should contain one or more offers. Your product, service, content or other desired action. An offer can be spiced up when including a deal or special discount. The fit and attractiveness of the offer have a huge impact on the results of your email marketing message.

Hero shot and Images

Images are used to strengthen or even convey the main message of the email. Especially in industries that are very visually orientated like fashion and retail, images (of products) play a big role. Many email clients however, do not display images by default. Making smart email marketers craft their messages to also render well when images are off.

Call to action (CTA)

No email is complete without a compelling Call to Action.A good Call to Action stands out from the message with enough contrast.More descriptive Call to Actions often tend to trump those simple CTAs in number of clickthroughs they generate.

To start, you should first select a primary, focused call-to-action for your email then optimize the language you are going to use to be clear and action-oriented like “ download or register “. when writing keep your CTA Short, use active language and create a sense of urgency. And when designing note that the larger your CTAs are, the more important they’ll feel to the reader.

3. The footer

The finale or the last part of your email that your readers are going to see. It typically includes the unsubscribe link, links to a preference center and a disclaimer text. But a well thought through footer can do so much more and actually help realize to your company's’ sales or communication goals.

Social media links and call outs

Your recipients are people interested in your business and looking to learn more about it. Including your active social media channels could be a rewarding thing for them and part of the anatomy of your most effective emails. You could use icons or buttons to link directly to your company social media pages. This will broaden your opportunity to generate new leads and reach more people.


Well, first of all, it’s actually illegal not to include an unsubscribe link in your email sends. you also want your readers to want to hear from you. If they’re not interested in getting your emails, don’t force them to be on your list. Give them an unsubscribe option.

This will make your open rates and click-through rates more accurate as well, since you’re only looking at the people who want to be on your list in the first place.Make it easy enough to find your unsubscribe link. unsubscribe page with personality.

If possible, try to entice your reader to stay on your list or at least engage with you through social channels or some other means.

Contact information

In some countries, including your company contact information is a must and doing this is considered as a rules breaking activity. So in such cases, you need to include your organization’s name, address and check that the reply-to address is working. Letting the recipient know how to contact you not only an act of respect but it also reinforces trust in your brand.

Why you’re receiving this mail?

Recipients forget that’s the truth. They might subscribe in your list today and mark you as a spam tomorrow so you need to remind them of who you are, why they’re receiving this email and what are the next steps.

Why you’re receiving this mail?

Graphic elements

Now that you understand the anatomy of the email, you need to know the basic components of what goes into effective design to gain insight into what's involved in the creation process and what encourages positive action and evokes emotions.


The shape and size of your design is called composition. In email marketing design, it’s best to keep your emails within the range of 550-600 pixels wide. The height of your email design will be determined by how much content you have but keep in mind that your content needs to breathe and white spaces are essential.However, it’s important to know that many recipients scan their emails in an email preview pane before they decide if they want to open it so make sure to include any important pieces of your email in this area.

Typefaces / fonts

For an email with good readability, mailchimp recommend setting the body text size within the 14-16px range, with 14px text appropriate for longer emails and 16px best for short ones (two or three sentences). However you can always break the rules as long as you’re providing a decent experience for your readers. Selecting the font should be based upon your brand identity, but don’t use more than two fonts per design to keep the harmony and consistency through the whole design.


A good design should show balance between its different elements and create a sense of harmony that visually attracts the recipient. Using a grid approach can help you create this sense of balance, as it acts like a guide for positioning text and images and gives your design order


Using the psychological effects of colors can highly impact your conversions. According to a study by kissmetrics, performable changes its CTA button color from red to green resulting in a 21% increase in conversion. So according to mailchimp advice “Choose just one or two colors for your emails. The fewer colors you use, the cleaner your design will look, which means the reader won’t be distracted from your message. Pick colors that your brand uses elsewhere.”


Images communicate better than words in designs.For emails, aligning them with your identity and avoiding stocks will better help in showcasing your essence and empathize on your message. Make sure your images are sized correctly to avoid squishing or stretching.

Email legal requirements

Good design is not an excuse for being spammy. After all, the spam detectors won’t look at your mail look and. According to each country spam rules and regulations, they will browse looking for violations and annoying commercial emails. There are number of different laws that guide the use of email marketing for commercial purposes in each country and if you’re sending mails to these destinations you need to comply with each country rules.

Email legal requirements


Before sending any email make sure you have a permission. This is applied to all the countries expect US CAN-SPAM under which you can send anything to your subscribers as long as you give them the opportunity to log out.

The unsubscribe process

While each country has certain rules around the unsubscription process there are some common guidelines suggested by litmus:

  • Don’t charge a fee.
  • Don’t ask for login
  • Don’t ask for more information than an email.
  • Don’t ask subscribers to visit more than one page

Following these steps is part of the solution, the other half relies on how fast you process the opt-out. If you don’t process or take an action quickly enough, you will be fined according to each country regulations. And keep in mind that governments may give you time to opt-out while users won’t.

The unsubscribe process

Email trends

According to The Radicati Group, more than 3.7 billion people use email around the world as of January 2017. And it’s expected to grow by 3% (or surpass 3.8 billion) by 2018.Email is rapidly evolving and with each passing year new trends and designs come to the light. Some of them impose better functionality and answer readers’ needs while others pay more attention to the look and feel. In 2017 and according to really good emails, designs are going more bold and remarkable than ever!


Say goodbye to gmail white background and welcome colors era. The existence of variety of colors in the world made sticking to white unfair. Designers reinvented the background transforming it from a boring space into a highlight. We’ve seen gradient, pastel colors, images and even dazzling animations like Uber. Brands were competing on which will impose more edgy designs leaving customers with beautiful and exciting inboxes.

Email trends


We’ve witnessed fonts madness in everything during 2017. Starting from web and app design extra large serif fonts transferred to email design to make it bolder than ever!

18 is now the minimum start . However, some brands preferred staying with the normal as it better communicate their identity but still used classic beautifully styled fonts.

Icons and emojis

Moving from subject lines into the body of the email. Emojis and icons added a more friendly texture to the overall style of the design and even some businesses started designing their own icons to have a homogeneous with their brand identity.

Icons and emojis

Interactive Emails

According to litmus more than 27% of marketers believe interactive emails to make a big impact in email marketing as user love interacting with emails that include image galleries, sliders, buttons, quizzes, search bars, and surveys. This trend will surely continue on in 2018 as markets will be better capitalize on it.

Interactive Emails

AI-Powered Email Marketing

Tech companies are already investing billions of dollars in developing new technologies that use AI to make our everyday lives easier and emails are certainly one the things that evolved with AI. Adobe is one of the many companies that has already invested in AI-powered campaigns and developed features like the ability to suggest users the best subject lines for an email.


Chapter: 6