Resources Hub » Blog » Email Design Fundamentals: Part 2

This is part two of a series on email design essentials from our resident Art Director and design specialist, Tylor Loposser.

We covered the importance of strong email design principles and some of the basics in executing a well-designed campaign in part 1 of this series. Now we’ll cover some situational best practices and tips for getting the most value out of your designs.

Improving deliverability

The most beautiful, thoughtfully crafted email won’t get you far if it never even reaches the inbox.

When we’re talking about email deliverability, we’re talking about where the campaign lands once it’s accepted by the inbox provider. 80% of deliverability is influenced by your reputation as a sender, and the other 20% is the content of what you send.

To speak to the content portion of that stat, you should keep in mind that most major email providers like Gmail use algorithms that identify emails composed of all text or all images, which can be a spam trigger.

I like to use the 60/40 rule to avoid this. That’s 60% imagery and 40% text. Applying this mix makes for a very engaging email and helps to avoid these traps.

Also, If you are coding your own campaigns: audit your code!

Look for any broken markup or open tags; avoid redundancies. Concise code is “lighter” and has a better chance of landing in the inbox. Additionally, make sure you are in compliance with GDPR standards and CAN-Spam regulations.

The other portion to that stat is your reputation as a sender. This is predominantly influenced by the behavior of your subscribers, so keeping them happy and engaged is key. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Always create concise mailings with clear (and limited) calls to action. When content is heavy, analysis paralysis rears its ugly head and causes people to make no decision at all.
  • Show respect, and remember you’re a guest in your subscriber’s inbox. Be conscious of their time and let them know you are listening to them.
  • Personalization, but the type of personalized content that is beyond tags. Write copy that speaks to your subscribers directly; consider dynamic content to make their interests included.
  • Consider tone and use your brand’s personality to engage your users. This can be a great way at reminding your subscribers there is a human on the other end of these campaigns.
  • Always have plans for surveys and testing. Check with your audience and make sure you are meeting their expectations. I would recommend quarterly reviews and make revisions based on your findings.
  • And lastly: Strong. Memorable. Branding. If people don’t remember you, they will stop opening your emails. This inaction triggers some email clients to automatically move these mailings to the Spam folder.

Top tips for accessible email design

This is a really fascinating topic and gets back to what designers are really good at: Creating things for other people. It’s a process that begins with empathy and ends with us making sure we are creating paths for everyone.

These tips are focused on designers, but keep in mind this effort requires many different disciplines.

  • Alt text is something that you should be doing already, but make sure it’s descriptive. People with vision impairments rely on this data.
  • Remember what we learned about hierarchy in part 1? It plays a role in accessibility as well. The definition you create helps with cognitive retention.
  • Pay attention to your colors, especially when it comes to copy. This is all about how two colors react when they are placed next to one another. There are tons of online tools that can aid designers to create color combinations that help improve legibility. This should be considered for any copy in your mailing, including your CTA. Interesting fact: A loss of the ability to recognize red and green is the most common type of color blindness
  • Guard your buttons. Don’t use images for CTAs. Use inline links or bulletproof buttons.
  • If you want to use inline links, give them two characteristics to indicate that they are interactable (ie: bold + color, underline + bold). Do not let color alone be an indicator that something is clickable.
  • If you want to go with buttons, Campaign Monitor’s editor uses what we call ‘Bulletproof Buttons.’ They are composed of HTML (color/shape/text); which ensures rendering in all cases.
  • Use as much live text as possible, as opposed to using images as text/images with text overlayed. Live text can be picked up and read by screen readers.
  • Pay attention to your alignment: Any copy that is longer than three lines (this includes when the mailing is on a mobile device) should always be left-aligned.

Integrating video in email


Currently there are only about five email clients that reliably support watching videos inside of a campaign. But if you’re interested, there are some great 3rd party services such as Liveclicker that can allow you to set up videos and embed that code into your template HTML.

This would typically only be available to people using the Template Builder and someone who is an email developer with some comfort getting their hands dirty in code. So there are some additional costs and skills that are needed to achieve this.

On the other hand, we have 13 email clients that support animated GIFs. An option is to create an animated GIF using some of the frames from your video and place a play button over the top, this creates movement and mimics a video, then link that image out to wherever your video is hosted.

Animations of all types have been shown to increase engagement and render additional clicks. This option is a lot more attainable if you have limited resources (money, time, skills)

How to design for dark mode

More and more email clients are providing a ‘dark mode’ option for their apps and web experiences. Best practices for dealing with dark mode in email are still evolving, but I do have some tips:

  • With images, you have two options. You can save out JPegs that will maintain their backgrounds, so you’ll have a banding effect throughout your campaign. Or you can save your images out as PNGs, giving you a transparent background and allowing your images to appear cut out on top of the dark mode background. It’s a matter of preference; once you’ve tested, see what works for you.
  • You can apply white outlines or an outer glow to any dark logos/icons that are PNGs to keep them from being hidden in dark mode. On a white background, the additions you make are going to be invisible.
  • Your CSS style attributes like background, color, background-color, bgcolor or color are what is affected by the mail client when entering dark mode. HTML copy will reverse to white text automatically. There are image swaps that can be accomplished by media queries for dark mode preferences. You can also apply underlines for dark mode to make inline CTA’s continue to stand out. All of the control happens in the CSS.
  • I’d recommend creating a testing ring. Like all mailings, make time for testing before the big send. Send tests to co-workers with different dark modes/email clients to start to get a picture of what your mailings will look like in many different scenarios.
  • Also, you can always try changing your background to black in the template as a quick way to get a glimpse. Inside of the Campaign Monitor Editor, you’ll find the background color option once you’ve clicked on the gear icon in the top left-hand corner.

Wrap up

Design isn’t just about making emails pretty and packaging them up nicely; it’s a fundamental component of marketing and your relationship with customers. It can inspire loyalty, elicit engagement, compel action and express emotion. It even influences whether you end up in the Spam folder!

There’s a lot to balance and consider. Don’t forget; you can always turn to our pre-built email templates designed to get results so you can stay focused on the content, message, and strategy. And our Free Image Gallery lets you add stunning, high-quality images into your campaigns with no cost or hassle.

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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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