A comprehensive guide to email designing

Email design is essentially the process of designing and creating an email tailored to engage with your subscribers. This involves creating designs and content aligned with your brand aesthetics and grabbing the readers’ attention by making it engaging. 90% of B2B marketers tracked email engagement as their top metric, even higher than their website traffic. Emails are the most used form of marketing, so if you have a winning email design that works for your customers, you can achieve a lot. Here's a guide for all that you need to know while designing your emails.

Why is email design important?

Your subscribers only take a second to decide if they’re going to read your email or abandon it. It's because of this very reason that brands spend time perfecting their email design to ensure it’s organized and readable, aligned with the brands’ design ethos, and eye-catching to make sure subscribers stay till the end of the newsletter. Implementing good email design is crucial because you’re using this marketing communication either for conversion or to build long-term relationships with them. For this reason, you must spend time and effort creating a design that works to meet the subscribers’ needs and the specific marketing goal you have in mind.  

Creating a great email design is no easy task, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing emails that work. You have to keep experimenting and finding ways to optimize the design as per the engagement rate of your subscribers, and over time you can even improve your open rate.

Principles of email design

Like any email marketing campaign, there is no foolproof way of creating campaigns that always convert. As a marketer, you should experiment with different designs to see what your subscribers enjoy, and what they don’t spend time at all. There are some essential principles of email design, though, that will help you create the foundation of your email, and push for more conversions. Verify that your emails follow these principles:

Grasp attention

Always ensure that the emails you send to your subscribers grab their attention. The most critical components of your email - CTA button, link, etc., basically the objective of sending the email, should be distinctive. A smartly designed email automatically guides the subscriber to navigate through the email and click on the button.

Give context

Your email content addresses your customers’ expectations and convinces them to click on the CTA to learn more about what you’re offering. Your subscriber will only click on the CTA you’re signaling to if you’ve given them enough contexts to know what to expect. Look at your email to ensure that the subscriber will get complete information about the CTA.

Be clear

Every email you send to your subscribers must have clarity about why you’re reaching out to them. Explain to the subscriber what is unique about the email campaign and why it’s worth their time. Ensure that the audience you send this email to would be equipped to understand what you have to offer.

Ensure congruence

Every element of your email - the copy, design, call-to-action button/link, and the landing page your CTA takes subscribers to must all be aligned to the same mission. Every email should focus on a common goal, and all the different elements of the page should resonate with each other. In fact, even the subject line needs to work with the email to impact your open rate.

Build credibility

Trust plays a vital role in ensuring your subscribers take you and your emails seriously. You can build your credibility online by showcasing verifiable reviews and testimonials. If you’re genuine about your product and service, and good reviews from others, customers are likely to trust you.

Continue engaging

By analyzing how many of your subscribers have not clicked on your CTA, continue to reach out to them in ways that would interest them and add more value to the email. Create automated customer journeys that trigger a different version of the email to the subscribers who haven’t opened your previous one yet.

How to design an email? 

Good email design plays a crucial role in engaging and converting customers. The different aspects of an email design like the layout, content, colors, call-to-actions are all used in a specific combination that you know will work with your customers and engage with them. Let’s look at some of the aspects that make a good email design.

Decide the email width

Before you start designing your email, you need to be sure about the email width. The recommended width for emails is between 550 to 600px, to ensure your subscribers don’t have to struggle with a two-way scroll. Ensure that your emails are mobile responsive, so it has a better chance of being read. Most people find it cumbersome to scroll vertically and horizontally, which is why sticking to the recommended width helps with a better customer experience.

Choose your email type - HTML or plain-text?

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language and is used to code a document that allows browsers to render specific types of information like color, style, images, GIFs, videos, etc. HTML gives you the creative freedom to let you design your emails and ensure they're aligned with your brand. HTML emails are visually more engaging and let you use elements that can grab the attention of your subscribers. This is the most commonly used format of email design, while plain text emails are the exact opposite of HTML emails. Plain text emails display their message in a way that makes it more personal and not automated, and it also reduces the problems of browsers blocking certain types of multimedia. Although plain text emails lack visual appeal, they are a fail-proof way of communicating with your subscribers.

Pick an email layout that works

Visual hierarchy is one of the ways you can strengthen your email design or derail it. There’re several templates and layouts to choose from, but stick to one that you’ve tried with your subscribers and know works for them. There are three common ways of showcasing your content in email design:

  • Inverted pyramid - An Inverted Pyramid design is an effective way to draw the attention of your subscribers to what’s most important, usually a CTA. This design involves having a strong headline that effectively communicates your message, clear content, and images, reinforcing what you’re trying to say. The email content is placed approximately like an inverted pyramid and leads the subscriber's focus to the CTA. 
  • Single section - A single section design is most suited if your subscribers are more likely to view your emails on their mobile phones than on the desktop. A single section layout is easy on the eyes for your readers and helps them navigate the email without boring them. 
  • Zigzag - This layout divides the email into different blocks or sections using images or colors, making the content more readable and visually appealing. By sectioning the email into smaller chunks of content, you guide the reader and simplify reading the email. 

Note: The content guides the design and not the other way around. Make sure you know exactly what content you want to put into your email and plan to design it accordingly.

Pay extra attention to your email content

You only have a fraction of a second to grab the attention of your subscriber. Therefore, you must make sure your content is interesting enough to get them until the end of the email. Your message should be clear and concise; your subscribers' chances of exiting your mail mid-way increase drastically if you have a messy and unorganized design. Keep your text minimal, so it doesn’t look like spam, and choose high-resolution images or designs to make it more appealing. Don’t be boring, or you risk being unsubscribed.


Wrap things up with a footer that links to your social profiles, your company information, and a link to unsubscribe. This allows your subscribers to stay in touch with you and connect with you.

Examples of email newsletters

There are so many brands that are acing their email marketing designs and sending out newsletters with beautiful interactive designs. We looked at a lot of emails closely over the years, and here are some of our favorites:


1. Starbucks

Here’s a creative email from Starbucks that highlights its current offer. This is interesting because the brand has a great understanding of its customers’ everyday routine. From their analysis, they know that most people pick up a Starbucks on their way to college or work (i.e., before 2 PM), and Starbucks decided to leverage these consumers for the second time in a day. They slashed the prices of iced coffee purchases after 2 PM for every person who buys a coffee in the morning, thus, running a successful loyalty program. They've designed this newsletter to grab the reader's attention, clearly mentions the purpose, and effectively delivers its message with minimal copy and some great shots of their iced drinks.

2. Everlane 

Everlane is an online-only clothing brand which is known for its transparent, aesthetic, and relevant newsletters. It has a minimalist and straightforward approach to email marketing and uses data to send highly-targeted campaigns. As a female subscriber, you will never receive any male-focused campaigns and vice-versa. This email is a classic example of what an inverted pipeline email should look like. The email newsletter's design, content, and flow guide the subscriber to the single CTA button, making receivers more likely to click. In this newsletter, they're announcing a sale, and since they focus on being transparent, they've chosen to explain the reason for the sale, even when not required.


3. Adobe 

Adobe is all about creativity, and its email newsletter designs show that in a great way. All the newsletters are loaded with simple and informative content and illustrations that can be created using their software. Adobe has a clean and straightforward approach to its email marketing campaigns, and every email is mobile optimized. Here's an email that Adobe sent to existing customers, pushing them to discover more with their tools. This is an excellent example of the zigzag layout, where every point is clearly compartmentalized in different sections, with its visuals. This way, readers can easily navigate the content.


4. Skillshare

It's very important to stay as relevant as you can - and this includes running campaigns around the world's current affairs. An eLearning platform - Skillshare, did this the perfect way. Skillshare has a broad base of learners and teachers, and it used its subscription list to shine a light on some of its black teachers while honoring Liberation day (also known as Juneteenth). They brought the focus on the topic with a stunning newsletter with interviews paired with visuals and distinctive CTA's. Storytelling, which adds value to the reader is a great way to keep your customers engaged.


5. Lego

Most of our childhood has been built on Lego models, and Lego uses that well. While other websites used posing humans, Lego's use their lego-men. Here's a brilliant cart abandonment email, that can bring most people back to finish the purchase. Designed in the company palette's 'yellow', this email captures everything in just a few words. It's minimal in content, yet gets the point through.

6. Spotify

If we are talking about engaging emails with great designs, we cannot forget Spotify. Spotify uses data to create extremely personalized experiences, which are one of a kind. Spotify creates a yearly summary of the music you listened to, to give you insight about behaviors and patterns that you probably didn’t know yourself. Let’s look at this newsletter from 2018 - where colors and font sizes are used to make important details pop. This is another example of the inverted pyramid layout, which helps readers navigate to the button easily.

7. Invision

Invision is one of the best product design platforms, known for collaboration. Its email design is so distinctive that you’d know it’s from them even from a distance. Their emails are minimal, yet cover so much information, that every designer scrolls through it. Invision ensures that the subscriber gets value out of every email. Let’s look at this email which talks about their feature - Freehand. The illustration perfectly captures what the feature does, that even without reading the content, you know you can click on the CTA.

8. Netflix 

Another excellent example of a brand that takes personalization seriously is - Netflix. In a few years, Netflix has become a part of routines, and they leverage your interests and likes to recommend other content that you'd enjoy. Here's an email newsletter from Netflix, which with minimal content, conveys everything. For every person who has watched stranger things, Netflix created witty categories like - 'Get your hands pounding' that creates curiosity. This is an example of a well-structured email, despite the number of CTAs (every image is a link).

9. Google

Let's take a look at a kind of brand that sends incredible newsletters and updates - Google. They have different newsletters for every individual product, following the same palette and type of design. Here's a newsletter for 'Google Console' users to summarize the month's performance for the users' website. It includes important information from their performance reports like clicks, impressions, and top-performing pages.

10. Headspace

Aesthetically pleasing emails always leave a good impression on the readers. One such brand - Headspace is known for its visually appealing application. Headspace simplifies meditation and sleep, and the colors they use also create a positive psychological experience. Here’s a newsletter about their newest addition in mindfulness, which follows the inverted pyramid layout, effortlessly guiding subscribers to the CTA.

Advantages of Freshmarketer

Freshmarketer (formerly Freshworks CRM) is a next-generation marketing automation software built for fast-paced teams. We believe in saving as much of your time while creating brilliant newsletters. Once you have your basics clear, principles in place, and color palette in mind, you can create a stunning email design within minutes.

Create your email template from scratch, choose from hundreds of ready-to-use templates, or get it designed by your inhouse team and upload your own HTML code.

Drag and drop elements

No need to create things with the help of designers. Just drag and drop different elements - header, footer, images, text, etc., and start designing your beautiful email.

Personalize your communication

Maximize your conversion by experimenting with designs, and add merge tags to your emails and subject lines to personalize every email.

Optimize for different devices

After creating your email, you can see whether it is optimized for desktop, mobile, tabs, and other devices. Ensure that the email is accessible for all kinds of subscribers.

Automate your emails

Never miss an opportunity to engage with your ever-expanding audience. Create smart segments, and build your unique customer journey to deliver the right message to the right person, at the right time.

Keep improving your emails with analytics 

Freshmarketer gives you in-depth details of your email campaigns’ performance. Keep a tab on what’s working and what isn’t with email metrics, and optimize your email campaigns to create more engagement.


If designed the right way, good emails are an easy way to convert and engage with your customers. All you have to remember are that the email design involves three main sections:

By keeping these three elements in mind, you can change the ROI from emails.