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Newsletter design: create the best email design for 2021

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Karolina Petraškienė
Content Marketing Manager
Reading Time: 14 minutes

We receive emails of all kinds every single day. They can be long and detailed, containing lots of images and content, or short and concise with just a simple call-to-action. Some emails are interesting and important, others boring and irrelevant. 

How do you think your subscribers feel about your emails? Do you follow your industry’s newsletter best practices to make them as relevant as possible?

Promotional newsletters require well-designed newsletter templates to make them aesthetically pleasing. Otherwise, they end up being an eye-sore.

And let’s be honest, this happens more often than you’d think.

Gif - My eyes

That being said, the main role of promotional emails is to drive results. No brand wants emails that look nice but don’t go anywhere. They want emails that will convert their customers, drive traffic, and engage their audience.

The best newsletter designs combine attractive looks with compelling, functional content. That’s why it’s important to take a holistic approach when designing and planning your newsletter

Keep reading to learn exactly how to design a newsletter that drives conversions, including the main elements to consider, some key email newsletter design guidelines, and the biggest trends for 2021.

What is newsletter design?

Newsletter design is the entirety of textual and visual components of your email message. Starting from the best subject line and newsletter template layout, ending with your brand logo, fonts, and decent spacing. 

All these elements matter when we talk about beautiful and effective ways to design an email newsletter.

The main components that make a difference

Ideally, your newsletter’s design should serve the main purpose of your HTML email. Some of the most popular things that businesses seek with their email messages are the following:

  • Maintain consistent email branding (you want your email to be immediately recognizable by your customer).
  • Inform about a sale and highlight the offer (all eyes on the central figure – the punchy promotional offer)
  • Introduce new collections with a listing of new arrivals
  • Fuel customer engagement by telling the brand story, showing appreciation, introducing loyalty programs, and social highlights.
  • Provide with necessary information (mostly transactional emails)

Defining your purpose will help you to figure out how to design your newsletter. These are the main variables that you can change when designing newsletters:

  • View in the inbox feed: your sender name, subject line, and an email preheader
  • Email layout
  • Your brand logo
  • Call-to-action buttons
  • Images and colors
  • Copy and fonts
  • Spacing
  • Email background
  • Email and your brand design integrity
  • Email newsletter size

Now, how can you make all of these elements work together for the best newsletter design?

12 Newsletter design best practices to make your emails beautiful yet effective

Taking into account the huge competitive struggle in your customer’s inbox, the best newsletter design needs to capture the customer’s attention at first glance to avoid being deleted and never seen again. Moreover, how you design your email campaigns will influence your click rate as well as sales.

Follow these guidelines while building your newsletters and enjoy beautiful yet effective email marketing campaigns (plus a few of the best newsletter designs and great email newsletter examples for inspiration)!

1. Be in line with your brand

A solid brand style means that your social media channels, website, emails, and other means of communication contain the same or coherent fonts, design elements, colors, tone of voice, etc. 

Professional marketing agencies call it “the brand book.”

If you are consistent with your brand style, it will be easier for your customers to identify you and build loyalty. Especially in email marketing, customers want to know exactly who is approaching them. They have greater trust for email marketing designs that look familiar.

Consistency is also applicable to your sender’s name and subject lines. You can test what works better, but don’t betray your brand voice. For example, you can consider designing newsletters with fun or playful emojis in subject lines if they fit your brand.

Look how AWAY keeps its brand style solid.

example of email newsletter design -away brand integrity
“Away” brand integrity

However, if you think that investing in a brand book pro version is too advanced for your business, create a simple brand style guide and follow it while creating emails, posts for social media, flyers, and other kinds of material. 

Make a list of fonts that already have been used on your website, right down to the color code of your brand, and include any logo variations that can be used in your company’s material. Trust me, it will help you keep the consistency of your brand’s digital appearance.

2. Keep the layout simple: less is better

The type of content you want to include in your email marketing design will dictate the overall layout. A single-column layout is best for more focused messages; for example, the final reminder for a Black Friday sale.

But a multi-column newsletter design size is better to show a variety of content; for example, items from a new collection.

One way or another, your email layout must be mobile-friendly. And by saying that I mean both: email responsiveness as well as considered email newsletter dimensions for size, length, and width to read it on mobile.

When building your email marketing design, imagine that it is a table with columns and rows and think about how they will move while responding to different screen sizes.

Remember that:

  • A simple newsletter design size of up to three columns will look good on mobile devices.
  • Don’t use too much content because in the mobile version all the images and other content blocks will shrink down into one narrow column and your newsletter will be endless. No one likes that.
  • If your newsletter highlights different types of content, clearly define sections by using proper spacing and lines.
  • Consider the alignment of well-defined sections and symmetry to avoid visual noise.
  • One of the most common mistakes is including product descriptions of different lengths. Make sure they take the same number of lines to avoid newsletter design size disorder.

3. Use high-end visuals

The quality of your company logo, as well as the images you use in your email communication, is crucial for branding. These have a massive effect on the visual attractiveness of your email newsletter design and have a direct impact on conversion rates. Just think about it: while shopping online, it’s only the image and the description that convince a customer to click the “BUY” button.

So make sure you cover the basics:

  • Your logo is of good quality with a transparent background. If you want to look professional, you should have a good quality company logo.
  • If you use product listing, use the same size and the same style images. They cannot be blurred, too dark, or of different sizes. Besides that, you can use filters to align all images and get a cohesive result.

At Omnisend, you can find a built-in Image Editor that helps you adjust your images while building your email marketing design.

Quick tips to make your emails look good:

TIP 1: We see that emails that have a “hero” image with the key message always look the most attractive. Make sure that the main message is above the fold.

example of email newsletter design - welcome to avenue 32

TIP 2: Consider doing some photo shoots with people wearing/using your products. According to semiotic surveys, for marketing purposes, images containing people work better than images with objects, landscapes, etc.

TIP 3: When you use photos, try paring down the color in the surrounding design to make the images the central focus.

example of email newsletter design - Rahyma

TIP 4: Consider using typography for the “hero” part of the email. It can replace the image or supplement it very well. By the way, 3D typography is one of the biggest trending elements this year.

TIP 5: Always look at different galleries of emails for inspiration. There is nothing wrong with looking at other newsletter examples. You will find wonderful ideas and color schemes that you will be able to implement to get great results.

example of email newsletter design with blue color scheme

4. Highlight a call-to-action button

If you send a promotional email to your subscribers, you want them to do something. This is a call to action (CTA). Show it clearly. Ask them to do something: visit your store, read more, follow you on social media, etc. 

For this, you can link images, buttons, or text lines. Use whatever fits your purpose. But be aware of the following:

  • People tend to click more either on buttons or images, not the text links.
  • The CTA should be concise. Use active language, e.g. buy now, get yours, etc.
  • There shouldn’t be too many CTA buttons in your email. Ideally, the biggest CTA should be for the key message and a few more for collateral content blocks.
  • The first CTA button should be above the fold, so the readers can see it when they open the email.
  • Make your buttons obvious by using a different color and don’t forget to leave some space around your button so it will definitely stand out.
  • If your email is more extended, repeat your CTA at the end of the email. Don’t force your reader to scroll all the way back to the top of the newsletter.

5. Make an easy-to-scan email

Many studies have shown that people do not read every word of an email from the beginning to the end. They scan the content starting from the top left corner and stop at the subject lines and images. Only then, if bold text or images capture their attention, will they read the rest. This is the so-called “F” reading pattern described by Jakob Nielsen.

picture showing how users read emails

Nielsen’s study found that web users skip over the small-letter content, resulting in an F-shaped reading pattern. Relevant words and images on the left side of the screen tend to get more attention than things on the right, so consider putting the keywords to the left side of the email.

Also, if using text with images, place the images to the left to get more attention.

Adding titles and spacing around them also helps you build a visual hierarchy and draw customers’ attention to the products you want the most.

See an example of Pelican Coolers: the email design naturally leads the reader to the main copy and CTA.

example of email newsletter design with CTA

6. Start right with email header

One of the newsletter design best practices is placing your brand logo at the top of the email. That’s the spot noticed immediately after the subscriber opens your message.

There are many design tools that can make a newsletter header design more accessible and save you time. One good example is Bannersnack.

This part of the email and the footer (which we will discuss later) should be the most stable and consistent parts of your email messages. They are like your signature, a prerequisite for your reliability as a brand.

The following components in the header may vary. Some brands include the menu bar, with others featuring small, not too intrusive lines with shipping information or free returns (it depends on what you can offer). There is also a place for social icons. You can try to include all of them or test a few different variations.

Currently trending DTC brands seem to be minimalistic and use very few elements next to the logo. This makes the logo stand out.

1. Brooklinen

example of email newsletter design - Brooklinen

2. Soylent

example of email newsletter design - Soylent

7. Finalize right with email footer

Usually, email footers are more functional than beautiful. Promotional newsletters need to include things like legal information and an unsubscribe button. On top of this, brands also include links to Terms and Conditions, Privacy and Returns Policy, FAQs, etc.

Usually, this information is neatly packed in the email footer and doesn’t bother subscribers unless they look for it. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t think about the aesthetics of this part.

Check out some great newsletter examples to inspire you to design a beautiful yet functional footer for your emails.

1. Harry’s

example of email newsletter design and email footer

2. Ritology

example of email newsletter design with Omnisend email footer

3. Bellroy

example of email newsletter design - Bellroy

4. Stitch Fix

example of email newsletter design - Stitch Fix

8. Optimize your newsletter for image blocking (applicable for B2B emails)

Almost every major email client has images enabled by default – especially now that the majority of emails are opened on mobile devices. So if your audience uses Gmail, Yahoo, and other leading email clients, you don’t have to worry much about images in your emails.

However, some business email clients (mostly applicable for B2B business communication) have images disabled by default and their internal spam filtering may not look favorably on all image emails.

To avoid this, you should use design techniques like ALT text that can be seen instead of blocked images, bulletproof buttons (Omnisend takes care of that), and a proper balance of images and text to address image blocking. 

At Omnisend, we suggest this ratio: 40% of visuals and 60% of the text.

example of email newsletter design optimization

9. Use the proper fonts

By proper, I mean the size and the email safe font type.

The optimal font size for the email body is within 14-16 px. 14px text is better for longer paragraphs and 16px for a sentence or two. The headings should be bigger—within 22-42 px.

An email has a list of fonts that are considered to be safe to use. This means that by using them all your subscribers from different email clients will see your text the same way. The most popular email-safe fonts are Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, Georgia, Tahoma, Lucida, Trebuchet, and Times.

You can learn more about fonts in my previous article Email Safe Fonts vs. Custom Fonts: What You Need To Know About Them.

Below, you can find a complete table of fonts supported on Omnisend with a comprehensive list of fallback fonts, so you would know what to expect.

10. Use background images carefully

When looking for email design inspiration, you’ll find a lot of beautiful emails with themed backgrounds. Indeed, they look fancy and posh. But bear in mind that not all users will be able to see the newsletter background as you want them to.

Since the 2007 version, Outlook does not support background images. Neither do some other major email clients. To avoid awkward design metamorphoses, always use a solid background color as a fallback and make sure no crucial information or imagery exists solely in the background image.

11. Test before sending

Don’t forget to send a test email to your inbox. Open it on a desktop and a mobile phone. More than 50% of all customers open emails on their mobile devices, so it’s crucial for emails to look good on the small screen. 

Omnisend users can use email preview on desktop and mobile devices in the Campaign Editor. Don’t forget to check!

How to create your own email newsletter templates

If you have an engaging email newsletter that works, why not repeat that success with the rest of your emails?

Creating your own email newsletter template is a relatively simple process once you know what template best suits your customers and your store. Here are a few tips for how to create your own newsletter template.

Start from what you know—your current newsletter data

Do you have an email newsletter that performed particularly well? If your email service provider offers a click map for your emails (and they should), look at the way your customers engage—not only with the entire newsletter but also how they’re engaging with certain pieces of content. 

Beg, borrow, and steal what you can to garner inspiration for your newsletter template.

For example, at Omnisend, we found that an image CTA (call-to-action) worked well in our email newsletters. However, we noticed that many subscribers didn’t scroll past the introductory text. We decided to put links in that text towards the things that were the most important and most valuable to our customers—and voilà. We improved our click-through rate for email newsletters with a simple fix that’s now part of our regular newsletter template.

Save content blocks for future email newsletters

Let’s say you recently designed a well-performing email newsletter, and there were a few content blocks that you wanted to replicate in another email. Getting the formatting right might take a lot of time (and probably two computer screens).

Luckily, you don’t have to be an HTML wizard to create amazing email newsletter templates. Great email service providers will often let you save certain blocks of your newsletter content. 

This way, you can simply drag and drop the saved content block when you design your email, saving your time and energy for a beautiful email design.

Pull what you can from other newsletter examples

If you’re in the ecommerce industry, chances are, you’re also an avid ecommerce customer receiving tons of newsletter examples in your inbox every day. Use these newsletters to your advantage—even use your competitors as an email newsletter example.

There are even sites that offer email newsletter examples that you can use for your newsletter templates. For example, there are Really Good Emails, which will even let you look at the HTML code of the emails for inspiration for your own newsletter design best practices.

Once you have the elements that you want in your newsletter template, you can build it in a visual drag-and-drop email builder. When you design your email, create your newsletter template, and you should be able to save that template for future use.

If, for some reason, your email service provider doesn’t allow you to create and save your newsletter template, simply segment your own email address out and send the campaign to just yourself. That way, you can just duplicate the campaign at a later date.

Be sure to design email newsletter templates for various needs. While you might send some emails less often than others, you’ll definitely want to do the leg work now to save time later.

The brightest email design trends for 2021

As with anything, email design trends go in and out of fashion over the years.

Your message may look classic, but at the same time, have too much of a traditional feel and cause you to lose engagement.

Sometimes small tweaks can fix this which will allow you to design email newsletters that look great again. So what are the latest email trends you should take into account when designing your emails?

Check out the following trends for when you design email newsletters, with a few effective newsletter examples to help you get started.

1. Interactive elements and gamification

Interactive elements in the email boost customer engagement. That’s a fact.

Videos, moving .gif images into emails, new technologies like APNG images, and AMP dynamic content are all extremely trendy in 2021.

At the beginning of 2019, Gmail introduced its AMP: dynamic content— functionality to amplify the interactivity of emails. Some email service providers have already adopted it and allow their customers to include carousels, images galleries, and add-to-cart functionality into their emails.

Unfortunately, Apple Mail/iPhone/iPad OS doesn’t support this functionality yet. So a significant part of the ecommerce audience still isn’t able to have this user experience.

However, step by step we are getting there and the year of 2021 might just be the year of interactivity.

At Omnisend, you can find some interactive elements (a Scratch Card and a Gift Box) that are different by nature. They have two big benefits:

  1. Full support by email clients.
  2. The potential to double and sometimes even triple the click rate.
Omnisend gift box

2. Bold colors vs. minimalistic “clean” design

This year is still favorable for minimalistic designs. You can’t go wrong with simple lines, a lot of spacing, and sans-serif fonts.

However, bold design solutions and bright colors have just kicked in. Dark background, contrasting colors are becoming more and more common to attract attention to the main CTA.

example of email newsletter design - Adobe

3. 3D and futuristic illustrations

Last year, many fashion brands were using motifs from the ‘90s.

In 2021, we see this tendency fading out in email marketing design and a new one emerging. More and more brands are using futuristic motifs and 3D effects. You can definitely try these out for some occasional email campaigns and see how your audience accepts this new trend.

example of email newsletter design - Olive + Pepper

Follow the link to learn more about upcoming email design trends.

4. A full checklist of effective newsletter design elements

There are tons of differentl newsletter designs you can test out in your store, and you can use these guidelines as a beacon for the best elements to include. Following the newsletter design best practices above, you’ll improve your newsletter design as well as your conversions.

Here’s a handy checklist you can use with your next newsletter:

  • The logo looks top-notch
  • The main message is catchy and punchy
  • The CTA is actionable
  • All images look sharp, are not blurred or stretched
  • All headlines are the same size and consistent
  • Spacing and email formatting are consistent
  • All images, product headlines, and buttons are hyperlinked and lead to your site
  • Social icons are in place
  • The legal sentence, the physical company address as well unsubscribe button are in the footer
  • A test email is sent to your inbox

Inspired now that you know how to design a newsletter? Start using Omnisend and discover ready-made Omnisend newsletter templates for your email campaigns.

Start using Omnisend and discover ready-made Omnisend newsletter templates for your email campaigns.
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Karolina Petraškienė

Karolina is a writer, content marketer, and email enthusiast at Omnisend. When she's not curating articles, you can find her in the woods challenging herself in hiking boots or off-roading her bike.