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The Basics of Email Design: What Every Marketer Needs to Know

May 29, 2018
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Email marketing and design can be a tricky and frustrating channel. With the growing investment in email, a large variety of email service providers (ESPs) have strived to make it easy to design stunning email campaigns that convert. We’d like to take it one step further with a list of basic email design tips that will help bring out the best of your marketing efforts.


Above all else, content is the most important aspect of your email. Your email design should cater to the message you are attempting to get across to your viewers.

Keep it simple. You’re most likely working with a 15 second attention span when you send an email, so the message needs to be very clear as soon as the email is opened.

The subject line should be designed to entice someone to click on your email amongst the clutter, but we recommend to steer clear of clickbait or #fakenews. You will lose attention and most likely trust if you push your subject lines too far.

Simplicity & Clarity

Some of the most effective emails stick to a single message and make it very clear from start to finish. Are you announcing a sale? Promoting a new release? Discussing important news? If so, then make that clear in your subject line, hero copy, and body content.

Not only do you want to make the message clear, but you also want to make it concise. Try to use your headlines, imagery, and layout to your advantage while cutting down on the amount of body copy. Large chunks of copy will likely reduce read rates and steer people away from actually taking the time to digest it all. Like we said before, attention spans aren’t the strongest attribute in people nowadays, so simplifying your content will play to your advantage and often save you time.


Use headlines to break up content into smaller sections that are easy to digest in a short period of time. Use your headline as the main message and body content as a few supporting sentences to get your point across. This technique works really well when you have coinciding imagery as well.

Related: MailChimp vs. Constant Contact: Comparing the Options

Hero Message

You have a few options when it comes to your hero message. They can be straightforward and get the point across (often the safe route) or be witty and fun in order to entertain your reader enough to give you a nod of respect. It all depends on your brand and how you want to be perceived by your readers. However, it doesn’t hurt to let your hair down and have a little fun with your messaging every now and then.

The hero image is crucial for getting your message across in a matter of 2 seconds. Having an effective hero image and messaging can be the deciding factor of whether or not a user will stick around to view the remaining content.

CTAs & Buttons

CTAs are an easy win:

  • Inspire action. Keep them short and clear so your readers aren’t confused. CTAs are usually a few words and can be as simple as “Buy Here” or “Sign Up”.
  • Make them obvious. This can be done using your brand accent colors to stand out against a neutral text color, varying sizes based on importance, or positioning them throughout your design in ways that make them hard to miss.
  • Don’t overuse them. If they are clear, readers will know where to look


The industry standard for some time now has been 600px wide & open-ended on height (depending on your content and intention) for the sake of cross-ESP compatibility. Easy tools such as Litmus will show you how your design looks across different ESPs, but our advice would be to stick to the 600px width to be safe, and always staying under 650px if you need to extend beyond.


Prioritize your content and imagery from top to bottom. You want to aim for a layout that is designed for quick reading and easy digestion of information. Since you are most likely not trying to stuff an enormous amount of content into your email, front load the top half with your main message or goal, and use the lower half to include additional offers or information that are relevant and may spark additional interest to drive more avenues for click-throughs.

Using consistent alignment throughout the entire email is another best practice. If you do not have a lot of content consider center-alignment throughout. If you are on the more content-heavy side, left-aligning will make everything more legible.


Be sure to include your company logo in the header of all of your email templates. Regardless of how you are displaying the logo, having it visible from the moment that any email is opened creates immediate recognition. Obviously there is room for exceptions in specific cases, but you should definitely include the logo somewhere in all emails.


You should choose a simple color palette that is reflective of your brand and won’t distract your viewers from the core message. The most practical use of color can be choosing a neutral color for your copy, and brand colors as an accent for things like Headers, CTAs, and icons.


The use of photography throughout your design can be very effective in guiding a viewer’s eyes through the path of content. The use of brand imagery is key for recognition and convincing purposes, but the use of stock photography can be effective for the inexperience (and experienced) user. It is all too easy to find free professional photography through websites like Pexels, Pixabay, Unsplash, and many others (Hint: Google “free stock photography”).

Background (Image): If you are looking to get creative with the overall look and feel of your email design, background images are a great way to catch the attention of your viewers, while not having to sacrifice the visibility of your content. This is key for desktop and mobile compatibility.

Background images have become really popular in 2017 as companies look to find ways to capture your attention in unique ways.


Choose Email-Friendly Fonts. Yes, you heard that right, if you are designing templates outside of your campaign builder, be sure to double check that the fonts you use are compatible with most email service providers. If you’d like to use custom fonts, you can easily include all of your copy within your designs, save them as images, and implement into your templates. However, make sure you are strategic about this and test what does and does not work as you can run into visibility problems on mobile using this technique.

See a list of email friendly fonts here

Wrapping Up

Keep it simple, concise, and engaging!

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