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Firstly, let’s understand something: an email is not a piece of direct mail. When I worked for a major ad agency in Sydney, I was horrified to discover that they were literally taking snapshots of direct mail pieces and sending out these single jpeg images as emails. This was for a major financial brand. The emails looked dreadful – the results looked worse.

I am not a designer, but I have worked on more email projects than I care to mention; so here are a few of my tips to keep you on track with email design.

1) Form versus function

Yes, you want your email to look pretty, to grab the user’s attention and have visual impact. But you also need to compromise your design to the restrictions of the format. Whilst one big fat slick image at the top of the email might look smashing, if the user has images turned off then they won’t see it. Ensure your HTML text to graphics ratio is reasonable. Generally, you should consider how your email will look without images – hard, I know, but if the message doesn’t come across with all the images turned off, it’s officially an email fail.

2) Size matters

Your email should be designed to a width of no more than about 600 pixels. I’d also suggest that your header graphic is no more than 200 pixels deep. Better still; don’t use a graphic until further into the email. Clients are always keen to get their branding in as soon as possible but, remember, the first brand mention is in the From address.

3) Consider the preview panel

In the world of DM it’s all about the ‘fold’; that is, what is visible above it and below it. With email, it’s about the preview panel (in Microsoft Outlook, anyhow). Make sure you include the offer and a call to action above the fold.

4) The F-shaped pattern

Users apparently read emails in an F-shaped pattern. This means that they can’t be bothered to scan the whole way across and really just scan your email for interesting sub headers. This means your copy has to be spot on.

4) Printability and readability

Try to avoid using background images; again, some email clients won’t render them. Your nice green background with white HTML copy on top will end up as white HTML copy on a white background. If you must use a background, make sure it’s just a colour but, even then, consider your poor customer’s printer cartridge before you do. Also ensure your copy is nice and large so it’s easily legible.

5) Link back to site

Undoubtedly, if you include the brand logo this will act as a link back to your brand website’s Home page, but consider using a site navigation at the top of your email. Many users, though they won’t be interested in the particular offer showcased in the email, might use the communication as a jump point back to the site. So make it easy for them. Include the core site sections and possibly even a search function. uses this to great effect.

6) HTML, not graphics

Kind of covered already in point 1, but I just wanted to drive the point home.
Be sure to use HTML, not graphics, for the header and subheaders as these are generally where you’ll be signposting the email’s content. Always include a HTML link through to the offer as well as a graphical one.

Check out some design ideas on the Campaign Monitor website

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