Email design guide

23 Feb SMB Email Design Guide: The Bare Essentials for 2015

Now that we’ve released our brand new drag & drop editor, we feel it’s only fitting to follow-up with valuable tips for SMBs to begin designing and sending emails that generate results.

Regardless of how great you think your marketing platform of choice is or how much you pay for it, the results your email marketing will yield hinge heavily upon your ability to craft quality emails.

This means making sure the functionality and appearance of your emails are top notch.

Keeping this in mind, here are some tips surrounding HTML email design & strategy that marketers ranging from beginner to expert can begin utilizing when setting off to create new email templates this year.

Designing Beautiful Emails that Drive Results

The “less is more” approach

It’s a trend that’s worked miracles for numerous businesses and surprisingly enough, it’s an approach that a multitude of businesses still fail to grasp when it comes to not only email design, but web design and other aspects of their marketing as well.

A former colleague of mine at a design agency once hit me with a powerful little one-liner that applies to this very topic:

“When you’re crafting your pitch, pretend you’re being charged by the word; do that and you’ll really begin to zero in on what counts.”

If we take a look around, we can see that this logic is being applied to some of the best designed emails out there. These emails are simplistic in nature with a very clean layout and contain little content.

& Other Stories Email Design Example


As you can see in the example above by fashion brand & Other Stories, this email template features a single column design with beautiful imagery, big titles, some text and truly embraces white space.

This approach allows the eyes to zero in on what counts without unnecessary noise or distraction; in essence, it’s easy on the eyes and a pleasure to scan rather than just being another, “off to the trash bin,” email.

Avoid 3D

There are quite a few marketing automation / inbound marketing platforms out there that like to brag about little bells and whistles within their email editors such as drop shadows, gradients and the likes.

We have two words of caution to express regarding anything that makes your email appear three-dimensional: STAY AWAY!

Flat is “in” and for good reason.

Aside from lending to an aesthetically pleasing email, going with flat website and email designs puts HTML coders in a better position to easily deliver the same look and feel across various email clients (yahoo, gmail, etc) and web browsers (chrome, safari, etc).

Adhering to the two aforementioned points will set you off to a start in the right direction. Keep in mind that designing your emails this way means they will work well on desktop, web and mobile email clients also.

600x pixel width = optimal

There are a few different contributing factors that lend to this:

  • Most email clients have a preview window that’s limited in size; 600 px is a safe bet.
  • You cannot be certain that your email displays in full size, therefore 50-75 characters per line is the optimal line length for readability (Source:
  • Mobile email views account for a large portion of email opens & click through rates (one column, 600 px width, large font sizes)

** extra tip: consider optimizing your images, large & small, for this width as well

Think like a square!

In the case of email design, thinking “like a square” can have it’s benefits, especially when you take into account the fact that triangular or circular elements cannot be coded into HTML email designs.

Email is more or less built as one would build a lego house – block by block – and since email is based upon a table layout, these are the basic “blocks” you’re generally going to be wokring with:

  • Columns (up & down)
  • Rows (side to side)
  • Cells

Mobile responsive

All emails created with our new drag & drop editor are mobile responsive as a default, meaning your emails columns will realign into 1 single column for your mobile viewers.

Considering that upwards of 55% of emails are now being viewed on mobile devices, this isn’t just a nice-to-have feature, it’s a must-have.

You can always switch off the reordering on mobile if for example, you didn’t want your social sharing icons to stack into one column. Simply use the editor to disable the mobile reordering.

Strategic Elements of your Email Design

Crucial Workarounds

Workarounds are paramount when creating emails that drive results. Why?… Because email clients such as Google, Yahoo, Apple and the rest all have their own unique ways of decoding HTML emails. This means: not everything that’s possible on the web is possible on email.

Here are some examples:

Q: Can I embed a video in my email?

A: The short answer is, no. Due to some crackdowns on spam, your safest bet is an image or gif that’s linked to a playable video online.

Q: Can I embed web forms directly into my emails?

A: Not really supported. Your best bet would be fake form elements with individual URL’s or driving to the form hosted on a landing page, etc.

Custom Fonts as Images

One of the questions you may be asking yourself is why we have a limited number of fonts available in our email editor. The answer to this is that custom fonts generally aren’t supported by email clients.

The good news for those designing emails is that you can always create your main CTA’s or images using custom fonts as an image, as in the example below:

& Other Stories Logo Image Example


*Two important things to take note of:

  • 20 px should be the minimal size to use if you’re using custom fonts as an image, because image may be scaled down on the mobile version.
  • Don’t go overkill with using custom fonts in your email; think “less is more” and aim to maintain a healthy text-to-image ratio.

Email Pre-Launch Checklist

  1. Clarify the goal of this email
  2. Compose your message
  3. Gather your visual content (images, video url’s, social icons, etc)
  4. Rough-sketch a draft of your email (either by hand on paper or within the editor itself)
  5. Optimize images for 600px (images smaller than 241px won’t be adjusted to full width in our email designer)
  6. Drop your text & images directly into the editor
  7. Format your text
  8. Use padding & margin to position your blocks or containers
  9. Preview your email while designing
  10. Always send test emails, check spelling & grammar, test URLs/links, image positioning, etc before hitting send.

Now that you’re armed with the basics surrounding great email design & strategy, remember that this “email marketing” space is flooded with noise.  Your job as a marketer is to find a way to stand out, but not in an obnoxious way.

If you’re already using Leadsius, we hope that you’ll enjoy our brand new drag & drop editor!

If you’re interested in seeing how this drag & drop editor enhances the overall usability and power of our marketing automation system, book a time to see it demonstrated for you live!

As always thank you for reading and if you have any questions, comment away!