Guide to Email Design

  • Introduction

  • Subject Line

  • Humanisation

  • Layout

  • Images

  • White Space

  • Mobile Optimisation

  • CTAs

  • Copy

  • A/B Testing

  • Other Legalities and Essentials

  • Conclusion


Nailing your email design is absolutely essential.

You could have a perfectly interesting email newsletter that you know your target audience are going to be interested in; so why aren’t they?


You can’t just stop at interesting content - your email design needs to be engaging, eye-catching and attention grabbing


It can’t just be a large portion of text. You need to optimise your email design for an optimal amount of opens.

The more interesting an email looks, the more opens, clicks, and conversions will happen. This is why it’s absolutely necessary to have an email design that’s engaging, interactive and looks nice.

But, how do you do this?

Subject Line

This isn’t necessarily a design element, but, either way - it’s one of the most important parts to an email. A subject line is what will entice recipients to open your email. It’s no good designing a perfect email without being able to get people to read it.

You have to really think about what you want your subject line to say and what impression you want to give. It needs to give recipients an overview of what to expect inside, as well as being persuasive enough for them to want to open it.


How long should it be?

A subject line that’s too long holds the chance of not being fully read by the recipient. Make it short and sweet and straight to the point to enable recipients to glance at it and be aware of what’s for offer inside without having to read for a long time.

It’s also good to remember that most recipients will be looking at emails on their phones, and long subject lines will simply be cut off. If subject lines are cut off before the persuasive words, your recipients won’t see the attraction and won’t see why they should open the email. 

Most subject lines are between 41 and 50 characters.



A preheader is the inbox preview that you can customise. Preheaders are what add that little bit extra context to the email before the recipient has opened it.

Your preheader and subject line need to align. They need to work effectively together and add up to make a very persuasive email preview. Preheaders can range from 40 - 70 characters. However, just like subject lines, a preheader can be cut off depending on the device used by recipient. Always keep this in mind.



Emails that have personalised subjects lines are 26% more likely to be opened.

Try to personalise your subject lines as much as you possibly can. Personalisation doesn’t have to stop at using their first name. You can completely alter the email within to be based on that person’s information, e.g. company name, their last purchase, their pain points they shared with you, and so on. Any information you have on a person can be used to personalise their email and make them feel exclusively special. Talk to each subscriber personally.



This continues on from personalisation but is a completely different topic. This focuses on showing your brand as a humanised brand, rather than just a faceless selling corporation. Show your subscribers your human side and talk to them one on one; make it obvious that you’ve sent various emails out and that you want to interact with your subscribers individually. 


Humanising your brand allows people to begin to trust you and feel that you’re truly a realistic brand wanting to help them in their problems


This trust is essential in gaining sales. Without trust, your business will struggle to acquire clients.

Whilst you need to keep your brand values at bay; you also need to make your email efforts much more personable and human. Diverge away from the usual, promotional emails with no sense of realism.


Your email layout is obviously one of the most important elements to nailing your email design.

The layout of the email is what most people will look at when they first open the email. They’ll be looking if they can see separate sections, clearly marked important parts, image, a hierarchy, and so much more. It’s important to think like a recipient when designing the layout of your email. Consider what they’re looking for, and make it look good.


Inverted pyramid

The inverted pyramid model is a framework for structuring the elements so that recipients eventually get drawn to the bottom layer.

You need to draw recipients attentions in by having an eye-catching and attention grabbing header/image/any element you wish at the top. You should then guide readers further and further down until they reach the call to action at the bottom. Guiding readers down like this ensures they see each and every part of the email and are interested enough to click through.


Zig zag

The zig zag layout is simply guiding readers through angles creating by imagery, colour blocking, text, and any other form of content.

You’re essentially guiding the reader through a step by step guide included within your email. It creates a visually pleasing layout that’s simple to follow and ensures readers see the content just how you want them to see the content. Each section should be laid out in a simple way and it should be easy to follow and digest.


One column

A one column email layout is, essentially, how it sounds. It’s all about having just one column that enables readers to follow and read down one strip of content. It makes it easy to navigate with no added distractions. This one column design ensures that no reader is overwhelmed by an outstanding amount of images and text.





Images won’t be used in every email you send out. But, when they are used, it’s important to keep these factors in mind:


Dimension: most emails are 600 x 640px wide. To keep your image crisp on high resolution displays, a good practice is to make your image twice the size (1200 x 1280px)

File size: the bigger the email, the longer it’ll take for mobile users to view. This creates a negative experience straight away. Make sure your images are optimised and sized correctly

Alt text: alt text is what will be displayed if your image doesn’t load or breaks somewhere in the process of loading. That’s why it’s important to optimise your alt text and fully describe the image in subject


An image should add value


Making sure you tick all these boxes is essential in fully optimising emails you use images within.

White Space

White space is important in most things nowadays. It’s essential in showing readers what parts or sections are the most important.


White space, put simply, separates sections from others and assists readers in focussing on certain elements


If there’s a particular section you need or want your readers to focus on, it’s good practice to surround it with white space to enable readers to easily digest the information with no distractions. White space is also good for improving the readability of your email.

Mobile Optimisation

As mentioned before, most emails will be opened on mobile devices. That’s why is essential to optimise your emails for mobiles. You can do this by:


Using a mobile friendly layout

Keeping the subject line short

Remembering to use preheader text

Using minimal copy

Using a clear and easy to click CTA

Making sure your images aren’t too small or hard to see


It’s absolutely vital to make sure every email you send out complies with these few rules. This is because most of the opens that occur will occur on mobile, and if you’re disappointing the majority of your subscribers who are interested in your emails - your reputation will simply decrease.


A call to action is what gives readers access to something they wish to access. This might be a download, a sign up, a landing page, etc. Whatever it is, your readers wanted that offer and without a call to action they wouldn’t have received it.


Your call to action button needs to stand out and be enticing 


It needs to focus on the result or the reason, e.g. “Register now” to register for your website or service. It also needs to be placed in the correct place; a place that everyone will see once they’ve completed reading all the copy.

When creating your button you need to consider:


Size: they need to be big enough so readers can still click the CTA on their phone. This is typically around 50px tall

Colour: think about what colour will stand out, or what colour will compliment your brand colouring

Amount: how many CTAs are you including? It’s recommend to stick to one button so your readers know exactly what action to take


All your subscribers are going to enjoy different types of copy in terms of tone and so on. This is where testing comes into play. It’s important to test what tone your subscribers enjoy the most and which gains the most engagement and interaction.

Remember your copy needs to stay true to your branding and the message you want to convey about your business.



Your spelling and grammar needs to be perfect. If you fail to check your spelling and grammar and it’s obviously incorrect throughout, people will respond negatively to it as it gives the impression you put the email together quickly with no thought or care about it. If this is the impression your business is giving off, your subscribers will react badly as they may feel as though you don’t care and aren’t actually trying to help them.

You need to check for typos, grammatical errors and anything else that may be incorrect. All of your email needs to be correct and flow correctly; which means it needs to be error free.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is important in the process of acquiring what the perfect email to your subscribers is. Without A/B testing, you’re not going to know what works best and is most effective. It’s essential to A/B test overall emails as well as specific elements; you want to be able to form the best performing email to get the best results every time.


Email subject line

Your email subject line, as discussed, is one of the most important elements to an email. That’s why it can be a good idea to test the subject line and see what works best for you. Here are some things you can test…


Length: shorter vs longer, which is most effective?

Topic: test different topics to see which is most popular

Personalisation: test whether personalised subject lines make a difference

Promotion/offer: see what kind of promotions work best


Testing all of these gives you an insight into what will entice your subscribers into opening your emails. You, essentially, want as many opens as you can get and A/B testing your subject lines enables you to make data-driven decisions on what works best to gain these opens.  

Other Legalities and Essentials

There may be other legalities and essentials not mentioned fully within this, however they are essential.


Legalities such as: unsubscribe links, footers with address in, and so on


It’s absolutely vital you include these legalities to comply to the CAN-SPAM regulations; and to show your subscribers you are a legitimate business. You should also look into including terms and conditions, a privacy policy, etc. You must also include the address of your business as you’re the senders of the email. 

Other essentials can include elements such as social links. This means including your social icons within footers or somewhere within your email. This means that people who are interested in you can click through and follow your social media accounts to stay updated with what you’re doing.

It can also be a good idea to include any contact or support lines. This way, readers can contact you more personally if they so wish to. Failing to include ways of contact means that readers won’t have a clear way to reach out to you and they simply won’t. Show your readers you have a form of customer support and are willing to talk to them.


Designing the perfect email takes time. It takes expertise and it takes testing what your readers enjoy the most. Not every business that sends out emails is going to have the same results and same approach. This is why you need to A/B test what your audience want to see.


It’s important to have an email design that enables readers to follow the copy easily and understand what it’s about


It needs to be easy to digest. Another important aspect is making sure the reader knows what to do next if they wish to take further action; whether you include a call to action or you include a contact us button. What action you want them to take will more than likely change dependant on where they are within the buyer’s journey.

Remember to test everything. Do not settle for the first email design you come across. You need to find the layout that’s perfect for your subscribers. A layout that takes little to no time to understand and recognise is a good layout.

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