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Email Design for the Non-Designer [Recap]

What makes a good email? That was the question we were discussing last week at the KCDMA event, “Email Design for the Non-Designer”. Presented by Justine Jordan of Litmus, we looked at email marketing strategy, design and process.

So what does make a good email (in terms of design and otherwise)? A good email should be innovative, useful, understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, through and aesthetic. These design principles were put together originally by Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer, way back in the 1980s… yet they still apply very much to today.


When you begin crafting your email, the first question you should ask yourself is: Who is your audience? Think about the strategy behind the email. Then follow that up by asking: What do you want them to do? Here are a few tactics we discussed that can help you build a good email campaign:

  • Alignment – Creates order and organization, it’s the scaffolding for your email. Stick to left alignment in most cases since Western languages read right to left. Center alignment can be used sparingly. Also, picture an imaginary grid on your email and ensure your content lines up nicely in blocks.
  • Proximity – Creates relationships and groups between elements. Makes things easier for the reader. When you want texts and images to correlate, make them close in proximity to one another.
  • White space – This is the breathing room in your email, so it really can be any color. White space can also help set the tone of your message. When used properly, it can give a ‘luxurious’ feel to your creative, along with improving legibility and comprehension for your audience. You should use it everywhere in your email, between graphics, copy and buttons.
  • Hierarchy – The order, number and scale of the elements in your message. It might seem obvious, but put the important stuff first in your email — don’t bury it! Research has shown the your audience only spends about 8 seconds skimming your email before they take action (and you hope it’s not sending it to the trash). Make sure you get your point across early! You could also consider reducing your CTAs to just one to simplify your email and potentially increase your click-thrus.
  • Color – Color can create different emotions with your audience. For example, many CTA buttons are yellow because yellow can make people feel anxious which leads them to click the button thinking they need to ‘act now’.
  • Images – Over 50% of our brains are dedicated to processing images. Use engaging images in your email, but be sure you have a well-balance text-to-image ratio!

The key takeaway from this discussion? If you think you’re not a designer, think again! Everyone designs in some way, because designing at it’s core it really about problem solving.  Applying these basic design principles to email marketing can help you craft more effective email campaigns. 

To learn more about email design, check out the slides from this presentation below and read our other blog posts about email. Also, be sure to follow Justine (@meladorri) and Litmus (@litmusapp) on Twitter!

Why do I work at AWG? “I love helping local businesses grow and compete at the next level. I also think it’s exciting to take grocery shopping, something everyone does, and make it a very personal experience through new digital marketing tactics.” – Jason