7 Dos and Don'ts of Email Design

Designers appreciate creative freedom, but there are dos and don'ts for effective email design that will help your brand stand out in a crowded inbox.

Anita T is an award-winning marketing consultant with 15+ years of experience.

Email is no longer simply an engagement tool for marketers but a consumer expectation. Just made a purchase? You'll expect a confirmation email. Just signed up for a meeting? You'll expect an email reminder. Missed a bill? You'll expect a payment reminder. However, designing emails to stand out in a crowded inbox, that also jump the spam hurdles, can be a challenge. Here's some dos and don'ts of email marketing design, with examples, to inspire your email designs and keep you aligned with industry best practices.

The Dos and don'ts of Email Design

1. Use One Clear, Concise Message

People don't read email like a book, they read email like an email. For this reason, one of the most important factors to keep in mind when designing an email campaign is that people won't read your content for long, and probably just for a split second.

Do: Maximize a clear and concise message. Prioritize one message you want to convey to your subscribers and use concise language that is easy to understand.

  • Craft a strong subject line
  • If using an emoji, use it to replace a word, not as an extra word
  • Include Calls-To-Action
  • Maximise personalisation: talk to the individual, not as if you're writing to the whole list

One of the tricks email marketers like to use is the 'squint test'. Can you understand the email content when you're squinting at the content? If so, great, if not, you probably have cluttered the email with too much information.

Don't: Clutter your email with too many messages. Too much info risks overwhelming your subscribers, causing them to tune out.

2. Create a Visually Appealing, But Simple Layout

A visually appealing layout drives engagement, but a complex one will increase your load times and risks your email's deliverability. There's no point if it looks pretty but doesn't make the inbox, right?

Do: Make it visually appealing

  • Design for mobile as a priority
  • Use a clear hierarchy of information
  • Use contrasting colours and fonts (a nice background colour can help you cut back on imagery use)
  • Break up your text with optimised images and whitespace
  • Make it easy to navigate
  • Make copy your priority (some advaocate for a ratio of 80% copy, 20% imagery)

Trend alert: design with lines instead of colour

Don't: Over-do it

  • Overcomplicate your design by packing it with columns - it will increase load times which impacts spam filters
  • Write a novel... it's an email :-)
  • Make it look like a website... it's an email, not a website, and does not require as many pics as the Sistine Chapel. You can have more images on the landing page.

Example: This email from Dropbox is a great example of an optimised email layout.  The email uses a clear hierarchy of information, contrasting colors and fonts, and a simple complimentary image.

Dropbox Example Email Marketing Design
This Dropbox email is an example of an optimised email design.

The next point is really a given, but it has to be said as so many of us forget it:

3. Use Optimised Images

Do: Use high-quality, optimised images that are relevant to your message, and make sure they are optimized to support load times - that's max 200KB-1MB. Include alternate text for every image that concisely describes the purpose of the image.

Tip: use an image that’s twice the size of the space you’d like to insert your image so it looks great across devices. 72 DPI.

Don't: over-do it. Again, you are not painting the Sistine Chapel. It's an email. If you feel like you need lots of images, combining multiple can be a good option - for example, a collage. But don't add buttons into your images, that's a big 'no no'. (For details as to why try my handy email marketing checklist).

Heads up: Enterprise level businesses, like ecommerce store ASOS, will use delivery optimisation options or platforms to support their email image content.

ASOS Example Of Email Marketing
Ecommerce stores, like ASOS, like to use lots of images.

4. Set-up Your BIMI

Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) is a verified senders logo. It allows brands to pop their logo next to the subject line in the inbox. It's great for brand recognition and is improving deliverability for email marketers trying to get around spam filters.

Do: set-up your BIMI. Consumers are wary of spam, and worried about being caught out by scammers. Having a verified senders logo helps mitigate this in world that is dealing with an increase in fraud and brand impersonation.

Don't: forget to set it up. :) You can check to ensure your BIMI is working properly or see if you have a BIMI logo by using a BIMI inspector tool.

5. Design For Mobile-First

The majority of people receive their emails via mobile, so it makes sense to set it up with mobile design as your priority. You can check what devices the majority of your list is using with most email marketing tools, or even Google analytics.

Do: Use a responsive design that adapts to different screen sizes, and fonts that are easy to read on a small screen. Make sure your buttons are big enough for mobile use, with enough white space around them to make it easy to 'click through'.

Pro: Some surveys suggest up to 80% of people are using 'dark mode', so consider this in your email designs. Email clients like Outlook only partly render for 'dark mode', others will completely invert an email that's designed as 'dark'. Setting this up can get pretty comprehensive. If you'd prefer to have an email marketing expert do this for you, check out my email marketing services.

Don't: Use tiny text or imagery that is hard to read on email.

6. Consider Fonts

Do: Use email licensed fonts, that are easy to read on mobile devices. 14px minimum.

Don't: Use too many fonts. Using too many fonts can make your email not only look cluttered but drain server load times unnecessarily. Stick to two or three fonts, and use them consistently.

7. Make Your Links Easy To Click-On

Imagine, you open the email on mobile and the 'buy now' link is within a paragraph. It's hard to click on with your fingers, so you don't bother. If only that email marketer had crafted an email with a button fat enough for the standard finger, with a nice amount of white space around it. They'd have seen an increase in conversion rates.

Do:  Make sure your links are easy to click on, with enough white space around them to make it easy to 'click through'. This also goes for your unsubscribe link.

Don't: Make a skinny button. It's hard to 'click' on.

Designing engaging email campaigns whilst avoiding spam filters can be a challenge, but by following the dos and don'ts of email marketing design, businesses can create emails that stand out in a crowded inbox and cut through. By using clear and concise messaging, visually appealing layouts, optimised images and responsive design, you can create email campaigns that drive engagement and generate some pretty cool results.

You may also appreciate: Email Marketing Checklist For Marketers.


Don’t just grow—grow smarter.

Let's Grow Your Business
Arrow up