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Email Design Best Practices: 11 Key Things to Know

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Email design is one of the most important parts of your email marketing program. Whether you’re testing a new email template or trying to boost conversions through conversion-centered design (CCD), your emails should be both beautiful and actionable.

When it comes to email design, what are the best practices? We sat down with Litmus’ very own email designer, Hannah Tiner, to find out. (You may have seen their work in one of our newsletters!)

Hannah Tiner headshot (Litmus' Email Designer)

Hannah Tiner (she/they)

Email Design and Production Specialist, Litmus
Follow Hannah on LinkedIn and Twitter


In this post, we expand upon the topics covered in
Foundations of Email Design and explore email design best practices. We asked Hannah to share their top tips on:

Dive straight into Foundations of Email Design

Master the basics: learn the fundamental principles and best practices of email design in 5 easy-to-digest lessons.

 

What’s your approach to designing a new email framework?

Tip 1: Determine all the potential types of content

Tiner: Process-wise, I ask as many questions as possible to get the scope of the project, so I can understand what type of content is going to be in the email.

Especially if it’s something like a new newsletter, I want to make sure I’m asking for everything and the kitchen sink.

Specifically at Litmus, we use a modular email design system, so when designing a new framework, I’m trying to figure out all the potential types of content we would want to see in this email. This way, we can front load and build out modules and templates that can fit all of those different types of content.

Here are two of the questions I asked when designing our first-ever Product Pulse newsletter:

  • Are we going to need to show video content at some point? If so, let’s make sure we have a video testimonial block.
  • Do we anticipate wanting to add live polls? If so, let’s make sure we have a module designed for that.

In the early stages, I try to get a full breadth of what the email entails. That way, I can make a design I know is going to be airtight and future-proof so I’m able to pre-emptively solve problems that may arise.

Tip 2: Have a flexible framework

Tiner: Another email design best practice is to think about scale. Things should easily be able to come in or out of the design, whether that’s adding a small banner somewhere, or changing something small.

Overall, keep a flexible framework that takes change into account. (That way, change is built into it). This will allow you to scale up or down, easily. 

For example, Litmus Experience (our event newsletter) was designed so that we can easily add an additional event, if needed.

Tip 3: Think of constraints

Tiner: Consider what constraints you’ll need to have in place. Are there any notes or feedback you need to give to your content team or copywriters—like character counts, or the max number of content modules we can show?

For example, we try to include only three to five events in our Litmus Experience newsletter—so I may push back if we want to include more than five, or figure out a dynamic way to show it.

Tip 4: Content over design

Tiner: Always think about the content (rather than what you want it to look like) first.

The design can’t just look pretty; it needs to be functional. The content needs to shine. How are we getting the email content to the subscriber in the best possible, most engaging way, so it’s not just another newsletter in their inbox?

What guidelines should email designers always keep in mind?

Tip 5: Use UX design best practices to inform the email

Tiner: Something that’s always on my mind is using user experience (UX) design best practices to inform the email. The actual end-user experience is front and center in my mind.

As much as I can, I think about the experience of what using the newsletter is going to be—rather than just how it looks to me at a certain ratio. I’m thinking about where it’s going to break, and what it’s going to look like, in a bunch of the different previews in Litmus.

Tip 6: Respect the limitations of email design

Tiner: Email sits in this weird place between web design and almost poster/print design. It’s a very odd little duckling. 

Make sure your email design isn’t trying to do what the web can do, and respect the limitations of it.

Tip 7: Focus on the main call-to-action (CTA)

Tiner: Make sure the design is actually getting people to complete the goal, whether it’s clicking your CTA or reading your email—and make that process as smooth as possible. Your email design shouldn’t deter from that; it should be supporting it in every way.

Tip 8: Make progressive enhancements along the way

Tiner: This is one I internalize a lot: design with progressive enhancements in mind. Know where you can push boundaries and where you need to play it safe.

Focus on creating a minimal viable product (MVP) that looks clean, functional, and will get the job done. And know that it will render on even the most problematic of email rendering engines.

From there, design for “nice to haves.” Have those stages where you know you can add progressive moments of surprise and delight for your subscribers.

What are your top tips for those just getting started with email design?

Tip 9: Have really clear hierarchy 

Tiner: It’s important to have a really clear sense of hierarchy. Sometimes that can get lost in the email.

Ask yourself: what is the most important information to get across? Make sure you have a clear understanding of the goal of the email. Then, you can use design concepts that service it.

Tip 10: Reduce visual clutter

Tiner: Remember to have enough white space in your designs. You want to reduce visual clutter as much as possible, and make sure your email is clear to read and easy to scan.

Tip 11: Keep in mind overall consistency

Tiner: Make sure the experience of your email is consistent with your brand. Are the elements that you’re putting in your email matching your overall tone and style of your branding guide, while still respecting email?

For example:

  • If you’re creating a template, the experience should be the same for each iteration of the email.
  • If you’re using imagery, it should be consistent in style across all your emails.

Put it into practice

Now it’s time to put these best practices, into practice! We can’t wait to see what beautiful, actionable emails you design.

Master the basics of email design

Learn the fundamental principles and best practices of email design in 5 easy-to-digest lessons.