Your subscribers are bombarded with thousands of messages across various channels and it’s harder than ever to make your brand stand out. One way to cut through the noise? Impress them with really good email design.
In this webinar, we took a look at email design trends through the years. How did email look in the early 2000s? Which trends joined the winners’ circle in 2019? And what’s gonna be huge in 2020—or even 2030? The Really Good Emails team joined us for a trip down email design memory lane and helped us make predictions on what comes next.
Didn’t have a chance to watch the webinar live? Don’t worry. You can access the full recording at any time and read the Q&A below.
A big thank you to everyone who chimed in during the webinar with a question! Here’s a recap of our answers to the most popular questions, along with our take on some of the questions we didn’t get to during the live webinar. Have any additional questions? Please leave them in the comments.
How do these email design trends differ between B2C and B2B?
Mike Nelson: These trends are consistent across B2B, B2C, & Non-Profit. Just because you are in one vertical doesn’t mean you can’t use the design ideas of another. The only vertical that seems to have its own kind of feel is government emails, which are typically extremely text heavy.
What’s the best way to use white space, now that Dark Mode tends to make it harder?
Mike: Seems a little confusing to call it “white space” when it really just means blank space. In that context, it doesn’t matter if it is white or dark—you just want to give some room for each element.
Lily Worth: I think the term white space is often regarded as negative space, which is handy as it’s not color specific.
Any tips for ways to include more thoughtful visual design elements in plain-text styled emails?
Jason Rodriguez: For plain-text styled emails, it really comes down to hierarchy, so it’s not just one long blob of text that your subscribers will probably not look at. If you can create scannability by creating sections with different headings—and using either different weights or differently styled text to make those headings stand out—that helps, too.
Mike: Unless you are writing a longform article and using email as the medium, try to limit your paragraphs to just a couple or few sentences. Use bullet points where you can to summarize ideas. Use special characters such as “#################” to create visual breaks between ideas. We have some good examples of text and letter style emails in this collection on RGE.
Lily: I agree with Jason. Using different font sizes and weights—and maybe a couple of different font styles to create some hierarchy—will help to make an email scannable and digestible. You can certainly be creative with typography; there are some nice examples of text-only emails towards the bottom of our blog post on bold typography.
Is there a way to make animation and animated GIFs accessible?
Lily: An animation should play a supporting role, therefore the key messaging and call-to-action should exist within the written content. If an animation does hold any separate and important information, then this should be represented in an ALT tag.
For the animation itself, content flashing rates between 2 Hz and 55 Hz can harm users with photosensitive epilepsy. Plus, users who are visually impaired may have difficulty reading or reviewing content on a GIF before the animation changes. Make sure your animated GIFs either have smooth transitions or don’t animate from one frame to the next at a high rate.
Jason: GIFs are very decorative in nature for most campaigns. But if that GIF doesn’t load, if it’s not there when your subscribers open their email, then does your message still make sense? If someone’s using a screen reader to read your email, will they be able to understand your message? Like Lily said, if the GIF provides non-repetitive value, then make sure to put that message in an ALT tag so all subscribers have access to that information.
Are there any tools you would suggest to create animations and GIFs?
Matt Helbig: We are still seeing brands use tools like Adobe Photoshop or After Effects. Adding some CSS animations or hover effects may be a good way to add motion to your email with a few lines of code.
Lily: To create the animations we feature in Litmus emails, we use Adobe Animate. This software allows us to create GIF, PNG and HTML5 animations—those who have worked with Flash in the past will find this software familiar.
Whitney Rudeseal Peet: If you’re looking to implement animated PNGs (APNGs), it’s not currently possible to save animations out as APNGs with Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Animate. When we include APNGs in our emails, we use Adobe Animate to create the animation—but we export each frame as a single PNG. In order to convert all of those individual PNGs into an APNG, you can use a tool like PNG Animator or this free alternative from ezgif.com.
Are custom illustrations used across B2B and B2C audiences, or mainly B2C?
Mike: They are about even. The examples we used in the webinar may have looked more consumer style, but they were all by B2B companies: Mailchimp (selling email services to other companies), HelpScout (selling customer service technology to businesses), and Bulb (selling energy to businesses).
Jason: Like everything in email, it depends on your brand and your audience—and what your goal is for each campaigns. So if you’re in one of those industries where things like custom illustrations might be perceived as less serious, then don’t use them. But keep in mind there are also opportunities to disrupt the industry. Brands like Simple or Stripe in the finance industry do embrace some newer design trends because they can represent abstract concepts more clearly and give a little bit of personality to their brands. So never say never.
Are there still challenges with interactive features rendering across email clients?
Whitney: For many companies, inconsistent and limited inbox provider support is the main reason they don’t send more interactive emails. Unfortunately, that’s still the case for features like hover effects and interactive image carousels. With that in mind, if you still want to implement interactivity, you don’t have to fear limited support if you have a fallback in place. Check out our blog post all about fallbacks for interactive email to get started.
What about Dark Mode provides a better accessibility experience?
Mike: There’s still a lot of research going on in this space. Saying that “Dark Mode” is easier on the eyes as a blanket statement is not correct, but it does help some—and alternatively, may be worse for others like those with severe astigmatisms. For those who have trouble sleeping, using Dark Mode in the evenings has been shown to be more helpful than brighter screens, which may impact your circadian rhythms. Dark Mode is also commonly seen as less distracting and used to help people focus. But, if the contrast is too strong—true black background and true white text, for example—it’s more difficult to read for people with dyslexia. This can be mitigated by still using a dark background, but using something like dark grey with a cream color for the font.
How do you think these design trends might work with an older audience, 65+?
Mike: We didn’t cover this specifically, but the emails we showed off on the webinar and are seeing on Really Good Emails are significantly increasing their font size compared to just a few years ago. This is something that older demographics embrace. There is also familiarity in where the trends are headed with Bauhaus and Swiss design.
Lily: As Mike suggests, the retro styles tipped to be popular in 2020 are likely to be nostalgic for an older demographic. Simplification is also likely to be helpful to your audience as emails become even less cluttered, making the message and call-to-action much easier to read and understand.
While typography is a great way to stand out, it’s hard to justify when many fonts aren’t supported across email clients. Do you think this will change soon?
Lily: Unfortunately, it’s not possible to know whether more support will be rolled out for web fonts, but we certainly would like that to happen. This handy tool may help you to find the right fallback to use with your web font, in the meantime.
How do you think personalization will evolve when it comes to some of these new trends?
Matt: We are expecting to see more brands personalize each section of an email. Customers will exchange data for a better experience. Easy-to-understand reports, unique offers, and acknowledgements make customers feel VIP. Email marketers should turn customer data into what’s most useful and relevant to subscribers.
Plus, here are all of the Really Good Emails collections for the trends we covered in the webinar:
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