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How Email Design Trends Have Evolved: Insights from Two Experts on the Ground

How Email Design Trends Have Evolved: Insights from Two Experts on the Ground

There’s no better way to learn about email design trends than to ask the people on the ground, designing emails every day for multiple clients. We partnered with Rachel Rewerts, client success team manager, and Celeste Odell, senior graphic designer, both from Delivra, to share their insights on where email design is headed.

What are the top email designs concerns among your clients today vs. 3-5 years ago?

Celeste: The main concern design-wise among our clients has always been rendering. Clients would like to be sure that contacts using Yahoo! Mail on a Chrome browser are also seeing the email in the same way as those viewing it in Outlook 2010. Thankfully, within the last 3-5 years, we’ve had more clients become concerned with responsive email rendering, and the design shifts and changes on small mobile screens continue to be easy.

Rachel: Our clients are very aware of how their emails look on a mobile device. Luckily, the stats have helped us encourage them to make the shift to responsive mobile email design. We are seeing mobile device open rates for our B2C clients in the upper 50% to low 60%. B2B clients are up there, too, but more in the 30% range. In addition, clients are more concerned today with email effectiveness and brand awareness. I used to see a lot more “newsletter”-type emails with five to seven call to action buttons, but now I see a lot more clients sending announcement-type messages with one to three call to action buttons.

How many clients do you work with or have your eye on at a time?

Celeste: Each person on our Design team typically has 5-10 projects going on at once. Thankfully, it feels like a pretty good pace, as our clients need time to review designs and gather feedback, and every project is different.

Rachel: At any given time, I would say our Client Success Managers are working with 10-20 clients that have active projects going on at one time. However, they are responsible for many more accounts, depending on the client need. Some clients are more self-sufficient when it comes to managing their email marketing strategy and finding the platform to execute their strategy. Some need a bit more guidance and hand holding.

What are some email design innovations that marketers are trying, and which of them really seem to be gaining traction?

Celeste: Over the last 5 years, I’ve seen a lot more of our clients incorporating data personalization into their email content. This could be organizing the layout of the email based on past interactions, populating the email with personalized content from previous purchase data, altering the call to action based on a contact’s subscription type… more than simply merging in a first name. Real personalization is such a good thing to see gaining traction!

Rachel: I’m seeing more and more clients focusing on a simple design and using dynamic content to provide the right message at the right time. It’s a nice way to use one piece of content with small but impactful changes. I think the other thing I’ve noticed is the tone used in the email copy. The tone feels more client-focused versus a hard sell—something we have really focused on is that it’s the email’s job is to sell the clickthrough and not the product itself. The buying cycle is a journey and clients definitely get that now more than ever before.

Which design elements are clients moving away from?

Celeste: I’ve noticed more marketers and designers begin seeing their email as its own experience rather than a digital version of a direct mail piece. I used to often receive the print PDF of a mailer from the marketer and be asked to directly code it into an email. People respond to direct mail differently than they do with their own email and have different expectations. Thankfully, that knowledge is becoming the norm.

How has the increase in mobile email reading changed the way your clients think about email design?

Celeste: More of our clients are thinking about designing for both mobile and desktop, considering things like how to design banners to work well on small and large screens, how much content is being placed into an email, or how many clicks a content file is receiving from mobile users in a split test.

Rachel: We talk to clients a lot about making sure their primary call to action is easy to click on a mobile device. We also remind clients that when a recipient spends more than eight seconds reading an email, that’s a success! The good news is that, according to this Litmus study, readership times are on the rise for our mobile readers, but while you may have a little more time, you still don’t have much time to let the reader know who you are, what you want them to do, and why they should do it. I learned this from the very first Marketing Sherpa conference I attended. For some of our clients, design is about the basics—you have to master those first.

Which brands are sending the most creative or compelling emails?

Celeste: My favorite emails are actually from Envelopes.com. I rarely even have the need for custom envelopes, but their emails are just so good for sales-y B2C emails. They’re beautifully designed, incorporate clean animated GIFs, and their copywriting is always cute and punchy and catching. The emails keep me daydreaming about what print project I might design. And, all they sell are envelopes! Some samples of Envelopes.com emails:


Rachel: One email brand I have always loved is King Arthur Flour. Their emails are always so well-designed and enticing. I also like the way their call to action copy is more than just click here or learn more. Williams-Sonoma does such a nice job of staying on-brand and there is always at least one thing I want to learn more about. I feel like I’m stepping into the store when I open one of their emails. They also have a nice dynamic piece in the footer that shows my closest store location and upcoming classes.

Are there email design trends that you really love or hate?

Celeste: The overuse of emojis in subject lines is a trend I numbed to pretty quickly. I’ve seen too many marketers slapping emojis into their subject lines without bothering to test the copywriting or email content. I’m not against using emojis in subject lines—I would just like to see marketers have a more solid idea of why they’re using them. As for a trend I love—I’ve seen very classy uses of animated GIFs in email in the past few years. I’ve seen it used more and more to gently guide users to a call to action or create visual interest. More of this, please!

Rachel: Whoa, I couldn’t agree more with Celeste, here! I have a client doing some interesting subject line testing with a company called Persado—they provide the subject lines, the client imports how each subject line performs, and by using that data their platform provides even more relevant subject lines each time they test. It’s just a reminder not to let your own personal views impact a potentially relevant subject line or design element trend—and not to assume you know your audience without testing and measuring responses.

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