A minimal approach can lead to beautiful newsletters. Here's how to do it right.
With your inbox bulging with email newsletters - from small businesses you've never heard of to major retailers such as Amazon - it soon becomes clear how needlessly complex some newsletters can be, and how quickly they disappear into your trash folder. These simple but visually stunning newsletter designs are a selection of the few that have caught our eye...
Accountancy is not the most glamorous of topics, nor is it an industry particularly renowned for clean, simple digital marketing. But Freshbooks, the online accounting service based in Edinburgh, has nailed it with this clean looking template.
It makes good use of an eye-catching block of their corporate blue colour to draw your eye to a new feature in their system as well as providing a selection of recent news topics below to provide an update at a glance to customers.
02. With Associates
With Associates is a digital marketing agency based in London, and its strikingly simple newsletter really caught our eye with its one-column layout and stylistically simplistic icons. A particularly nice touch is the use of a logo which rotates through icons related to their services.
03. District Dining
District Dining, a restaurant in the Surry Hills area of Sydney, keeps things simple with a black and white design spread over two columns, letting the fantastic photography of the venue and their food stand out. They also include their opening times in the footer of the design, which is surprisingly rare in restaurant newsletters.
Email newsletters are often a call to action for a list’s subscribers to take advantage of an offer, purchase a product or book an event. The Smithonian's efforts to advertise a design talk event are no different, with a striking header image and very clear venue and date details alongside a simply design but vibrant 'Register Now' call to action button.
05. Native Shoes
Native Shoes proves that simplicity can be very eye-catching indeed with its large, welcoming typography and intriguing photographs. Paired with their one-column layout, it draws your eye down the page to skim every article within it: nicely done!
Lole is a female clothing brand, and its clean design with blocks of their bold yellow colour and simple photography make for a simple, stunning template that doesn't feel pushy or salesy.
This email newsletter template from StyleCampaign is a must see for lovers of pixel art as well as CSS3 since this design uses no images in its build. A fantastic example of how simple visuals can have an appeal unmatched by busier layouts.
08. Charlie Pratt
It may be two years old, but this template from Charlie Pratt goes to show that good design can work wonders. With a simple header graphic in striking colours, Charlie communicates to readers who is and what he does instantly, and the large heading leads into the first article cleary.
09. Budnitz Bicycles
Another example of clean photography being used to great effect, Budnitz Bicycles' template makes use of the ubiquitous one-column layout to make the most of the limited screen width we’re left with for email design.
10. Fiasco Design
Whilst Fiasco Design’s template relies heavily on imagery from a design project completed for one of their clients, the overall effect is a great appreciation for their work as you're drawn through the identity and its various applications. The progress bar centered alongside each heading is a particularly nice touch to indicate the reader’s progress through the newsletter.
Email design and structure is an art. They're single webpages designed to remind the user that a company or organisation exists, or ask the reader to take a specific action. When done right, subscribers love receiving your newsletters. When done wrong, newsletters get dumped into the spam folder and future messages will never be seen.
There is always a bit of risk and uncertainty when a subscriber first signs up to your email or service. They hold their breath as they click 'sign-up' and slowly exhale when the first email comes in and it’s revealed that you will not be spamming them with all kinds of junk.
The Jetsetter welcome email has a lot of new users slowly exhaling and relaxing when it first comes in. Clean, clear design presents a comprehensive overview of their service, benefits and options available to you as their user. This is an email designed to be kept and referenced. It is almost a user account screen or service dashboard designed for your inbox.
TeamWorx is an email with a list of the latest jobs in retail. The great, strong design of the email will leave you in no doubt as to who found you your next job.
This is a newsletter about broccoli. Yes you read that right, broccoli! They're doing something right if they manage to get me looking twice at the 'green stuff'. Tenderstem, wisely, don't give their product the hard sell - instead, they plug into the whole foodie culture. And who doesn't like reading about delicious food and drooling at gorgeous photos of the dishes?
The design is bright and fresh, as expected, but also brings in a bit of personality and nature with the loose font and rough edges. A really lovely design. Mmm, I am hungry now.
From one extreme of almost no images to a newsletter made almost entirely of images - the contrast cannot be more extreme. Percept have turned the presentation of client projects into a design piece.
This is an approach that has worked very well, as their newsletter has been shared extensively and featured in email design collections all over the web for the last few years.
They were still wise enough to keep the text portion of the email as HTML so it can be read when images are turned off. Something all email designers should remember.
The creators of Storied from stock image agency Corbis understand the power of faces. Of course it helps that they have access to some of the most famous ones. We are all drawn to faces. It is an inbuilt response that you can take advantage of in your designs. Add to that the power of stories, and you have a winning email newsletter. The design is simple but very classy-looking in black and white. Again, a newsletter I look forward to getting and reading every month.
Eroi go to great lengths every month in customising the style and illustration of their emails. The always interesting and focused content keeps you engaged and coming back for more.
Litmus just recently launched a new look for their email newsletter. When you're operating a business in the email space the pressure is on to make your email look good. And good it looks, broken into clear bands of colour and sections to highlight and differentiate aspects of their business and product.
18. Abercrombie & Fitch
This one focuses on the clothes themselves and produces great product shots where you can almost feel the texture of the cloth. They have a very solid, natural feel. The fun each month is how interesting they can make the layout of those clothes. Stylistically, they keep each email consistent so you are in no doubt, at a glance, who this email is from. Dark blacks and grey backgrounds really makes the colourful products stand out.
Made make their furnishings part of the design and give their products a huge amount of whitespace to make them stand out. Notice how they also 'interior decorate' their emails. All the featured products colour coordinate where you could almost buy the entire set for your room. Lovely touch.
Fantasy imagery is nothing new in fashion and sports, but you rarely see it brought so far and looking so rich as in this campaign from Icebreaker. It is very much aspirational/lifestyle design.
If you are lucky enough to have a hugely visual product, sometimes it is best to let your images do the talking as is done in this mail from iStockPhoto. For designers and photographers the mail works as both a source of visual inspiration and a showcase of their products. Just like With Associates, iStockPhoto are curating the best of the best from their vast image collection.
22. Jack Spade
If there is one technique that ecommerce stores have really played with and embraced this year it's animation. Animated gifs are becoming cool again and finding new life in email newsletters.
This campaign from Jack Spade is a nice example, showing the model in different poses and clothes when opened. File size can become an issue with animated GIFs especially if they're as large as the ones used in this email, which comes in at about 700k.
23. Nokia Music Store
While the Nokia Ovi store was closing, this great email for their music store began the transition over to the Microsoft Windows style.
Again, it's curating the new releases that are available to discover. Of all the ecommerce examples it's great to see such obvious personalisation of the email to the subscribers own music taste and their collection. For example, the 'Complete your collection' section is based on what is missing from your own music and the 'Live gigs' section shows gigs from artists in the subscriber's play list.
24. Blick acoustic night
Lovely two-tone colour design for this invite to a music night at a local venue. It makes the assumption that you know the venue, which is fair enough. So the three key pieces of information are prioritised: music, music type and time. The rest is detail.
25. Constant Contact – webinar invite
The Blick acoustic invitation is in stark contrast to this really vibrant campaign from Constant Contact for a webinar. It contains not one, but two strong calls to action. The email manages to break the message into two parts. The first gives the key points and a register button. The second gives a more detailed breakdown of the webinar and its benefits, and again a call to action. Great use of colour and typography to give a strong, clear message.
Sometimes following a style too closely can undermine your campaign. The retro typography based design for the IFMA Member Luncheon is lovely. Stark black and white really pops off the screen.
Strangely, while they do add a colour highlight to When, Where and How, the most important button, 'Click here to RSVP', gets lost. A colour on this button would finish it off nicely.
A literal interpretation of an invitation is rendered beautifully in this design for Popularise. I really like how they incorporated the logo into the letter seal. No design element is wasted and everything supports the brand and message.
I am a big fan of the Ronseal model: it does exactly what it says on the tin. This sales campaign from Typetec does that. In big bold letters. Beautiful, bold and simple.
This email for the launch of the game immediately pulls you into the atmospheric black and white world of PB Winterbottom. It’s the beautiful illustration that buys your interest and keeps you reading. While embedding a video is only possible on some email clients such as Gmail and Apple Mail, you can still fake it with a screenshot and play button. Video has been shown to increase conversion and this is especially true for a game where you need to show gameplay in action.
Apple are masters of the beautiful product shot and their latest campaign for the launch of the Macbook Pro is no different. The image manages to show off the amazing slim design and clarity of the screen, even from extreme angles. Only Apple could get away with such a small 'buy now' button!
31. HP Monster Sale
An oldie but a goodie. I'm a sucker for a design that breaks its bounds and the tie-in with Monsters vs Aliens gives HP a great excuse to do just that, by cutting the giant woman in half for a half price monster sale.
32. Beach Park Water Park
This one does a great job of playing with the email format to show you the water slide experience using your scroll bar. I might be worried about how long this would take to load, but what a great experience when it does.
The New York Times targeted interest in the presidential campaign for this email, which is really a brilliantly-targeted offer for a paid trial - $5 for a Times subscription for the duration of the election run. Nothing flashy here. Clear value statement, price and call to action.
Alan O'Rourke is a BAFTA-nominated designer specialising in web design and email marketing. Clients include Virgin America, Eircom and RTE. Follow him on Twitter.
Richard Carter is creative director at web design agency Peacock Carter Ltd.
- Tips for great email newsletter design
- Superb WordPress tutorials for designers
- Ecommerce web design: essential tips
Have you seen a great email newsletter design? Let us know about it in the comments!