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Article first published January 2018, updated May 2019

With a new year here, it’s time to start making plans for the year ahead. But, first, you need to figure out what to focus on.

In the world of email marketing, this means learning about some of the top design trends and making notes on what you and your marketing team can improve on in 2018.

We reached out to some top email design experts to see what common trends and shifts they’re seeing in the email marketing world. Here’s what they had to say.

Trend 1: More use of images and emojis in email

In 2017 we saw a 25% increase in image use. This means brands are adding more images, more high-fidelity images, and are using more animated GIFs within their emails. Image file size may indicate more production finesse, but be careful: it’s slower to load on mobile devices that are still bandwidth-constrained. Also worth noting: Emoji usage is way up. In 2017, emojis appeared in 10% of subject lines, which is a 66% increase from 2016.

Tom Buchok

Tom Buchok, MailCharts

Brands are adding more images, more high-fidelity images, and are using more animated GIFs within their emails.

Trend 2: Emotive design

Another trend that we saw last year, and I think will continue to pick up steam in the year ahead, is design becoming more human. As technology becomes an increasingly intrinsic part of our lives, companies will try to fill the need for human connections. This includes a deeper understanding of the customer and communicating to them on a more personal and emotional level. This may manifest itself in many different ways, including an increase in photography, illustration, and emotive language.

Nikola Keavy

Nikola Keavy, Campaign Monitor

Design is becoming more human as companies try to fill the need for human connections.

Trend 3: Progressive enhancements

In 2018, I think designers and stakeholders are more willing to embrace progressive enhancements—whether they’re background images, animations, or interactivity. We’ll be seeing more diverse content within 2018 email designs and less insistence on an email design looking the same within all clients.

Justin Khoo

Justin Khoo, FreshInbox

We’ll be seeing more diverse content within 2018 email designs and less insistence on an email design looking the same within all clients.

Trend 4: Greater accessibility

In 2018, we can plan on more email designers working to increase the accessibility of HTML email. That means writing code that can be read by a screen reader for visually impaired users, making designs that scale for screen magnifiers, keeping color contrast for colorblind users, making text readable for dyslexic users, etc.

Mark Robbins

Mark Robbins, GoRebel

In 2018, we can plan on more email designers working to increase the accessibility of HTML email.

Trend 5: Refined design processes

Brands will spend more time refining their email creation processes so they can do more than spend eight hours a day just trying accomplish the basics. That means building out master templates, using more email creation tools, creating stronger documentation, and empowering their teams to be more effective, in general.

Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross, Taxi for Email

More designers will be building out master templates, using more email creation tools, creating stronger documentation, and empowering their teams to be more effective in general.

Trend 6: Text-based emails

I think we’ll definitely see more text-based email designs. There have been quite a few studies recently A/B testing image-based vs text-based emails, and text-based generally sees more open and click-through rates. To me, it signifies the user’s quest for simplicity. They’re also less likely to end up in the spam folder. The user can get exactly what they need without feeling “marketed” to. Plus, it looks more personalized to the reader.

Anna Hetzel

Anna Hetzel, AnnafHetzel.com

I think we’ll see more text-based email designs, as they signify the user’s quest for simplicity.

Trend 7: A clear and easy way to unsubscribe

When it comes to the unsubscribe link, some brands have created complicated processes. But, moving forward, more and more brands are making the unsubscribe process simple (as it should be) and some even go so far as to welcome it. The reason: smart marketers realize that, if someone wants to leave your list, it might not have anything to do with your brand (and it doesn’t mean you’ve lost them as a customer). The last thing you want to do to a potential customer is make a simple process more complicated than it needs to be.

Val Geisler

Val Geisler, ValGeisler.com

Moving forward, more and more brands are making the unsubscribe process simple.

Trend 8: Increased interactivity

Interactivity is going to get more and more common, for sure. That poses a unique set of design challenges. The design has to be novel but intuitive at the same time. But the creativity this will spawn is going to be great.

Anne Tomlin

Anne Tomlin, Pompeii79.com

Interactivity will become more common. While it’s more challenging, the creativity it will spawn will be great.

2018 design trends: What we got right

Find out what’s been happening in marketing since we made our predictions for the year and how to take advantage of these updates. You can use the insights from these trends to deliver powerful content in your newsletters.

You can use the insights from these trends to deliver powerful content in your newsletters.

Source Campaign Monitor

Access to different html form emails

Not everyone has the ability to read emails the same way. Many readers have difficulties with dyslexia, color blindness, and with reading words that are too small on the screen. There have been a few different forms of HTML emails that’ve been created to help with these problems. For example, people with dyslexia can get a new font downloaded to help them read the emails more easily.

Almost 5% of the world’s population is color blind, and this can be difficult with some email platforms. Color blindness manifests itself in different ways—some see minimal color, while others can’t see any. While designing emails for people who are color blind can be difficult, it doesn’t mean that color has to be completely removed from the email.

Designing emails for color blind audience members can be quite simple. Even though the color doesn’t pop as well, writing the email in the right way can still grab readers’ attentions. When all else fails, those with color blindness could go with monochrome to make reading easier.

Email platforms are coming out with ways to magnify the screens for people who have difficulties reading small text on computers or mobile devices. There are ways to increase the font to both read and write emails, and other platforms provide ways to enlarge the entire email, including images.

Email design trends

With all of these new email design trends on the rise, there isn’t any reason not to give them a try. A few other trends that are showing promise are text-based emails and clear and easy ways to unsubscribe from emails.

Text-based emails or plain text emails are becoming more likely to be opened than A/B designed emails. They’re also easier to read and understand. Text-based email design works very well with non-marketing content and gives emails a more personal look.

On average, consumers receive 90 personal and 40 business emails per day. It can be difficult to unsubscribe from these emails, sometimes including multiple tedious steps. With new email design trends coming out, it’s a good idea to make the process easier, with fewer steps. More brands are welcoming the idea of unsubscribing, knowing that unsubscribes aren’t always a bad thing, and not everyone wants to be a part of their company communications.

Using emojis in emails

Some may say that using emojis in business emails can make someone seem less competent or professional. Multiple studies have shown that business emails containing a smiley face emoji turn people away instantly. During these studies, the researchers found that the senders without emojis had a better response.

In emails sent by companies to private clients, only 2% contain emojis. These companies can’t afford to lose customers, and it also sets them apart from other businesses to help them shine.

Many companies have begun to use emojis when sending out promotional emails to draw in more customers. When they send these, they’re trying to also get customers to buy more of their products, usually enticing them with coupons or promotional codes. Studies have shown that 56% of businesses using emojis in email subject lines had higher chances of being opened than those without.

However, when it comes to personal emails, using emojis (mostly in the subject line) can help ensure that the receiver will open them. Most of these personal emails are to and from personal friends, not in any type of business setting.

Wrap up

When it comes to email design trends, things are always changing and evolving—and that’s a good thing. With change comes innovation and opportunities for better, stronger email efforts.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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