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How to create an award-winning email design

How to Create an Award-Winning Email Design

No matter if you are an experienced email designer or have just taken your first steps in the field, chances are you will strive to create an award-winning email design.

What does this mean anyway? Whether or not somebody will give you an award for the great email design you are about to create, your primary goal is to win the hearts of your recipients. An award-winning email design is functional and pleasing to the eye. Moreover, it makes people click through. This is what distinguishes it from the ordinary email designs which never make it into the spotlight.

In today’s post, we’ll go through the principles of creating an award-winning email design. Follow these and you will win the hearts of your recipients in no time. These principles are tested and working by many experienced email designers, so let’s skip the chit-chat and dig in!


1. Focus your message

An award-winning email design starts with an award-winning copy. And we are certainly not talking about a long, article-material copy. The successful email design which converts the most is created to support one main simple message.

A focused message means that your email is as concise as possible and serves one single purpose.

kate spade saturday email design example

What about the newsletters, you’d ask?

Yes, newsletters certainly include more text and call-to-action buttons because they are focused on delivering news. But this basically means they also have one purpose – to deliver news.

Focus on making different call-to-actions as clear as possible. Also, make the surrounding text as short as possible.

oasis newsletter email design example


2. Brand your emails

Every email, no matter if it’s a welcome email, a transactional email, a newsletter, an abandoned cart email, etc., should be very well branded. Each email you send must work in favor of your brand awareness, so this is one principle that you should abide by. Here are a couple of examples by Starbucks.

starbucks email example

starbucks email example


3. Lead the viewer’s eye.

Every award-winning email design has a purpose and usually, this purpose is to make the recipient click through. In order to do it, you need to establish a clear hierarchy directing the user’s eye towards the click-through option which in most cases would be a button.

Creating a clear hierarchy lets you lead the viewer’s eye, thus not only helping the reader perceive your message better but also prompting them to take the action you want them to. For the purpose, you need to arrange your elements in such a way that everything leads to the call-to-action button.

  • Inverted pyramid

email design template reversed pyramid

This is a very famous and functional method of creating email design because it keeps the template along with the message focused and concise. The very top of the inverted pyramid plays the role of the attention-grabber. It boosts the interest and curiosity of the viewer. In the middle, you put information which motivates the recipients to click through. The tip of the pyramid is the call-to-action button which is made as one prominent option for the user to click.

The inverted pyramid method in email design can be used as a layout for a separate template or be applied in the beginning of a longer template, just like in the following example.

inverted pyramid email design example

If you are using a longer template like this one, don’t forget to repeat the call-to-action button at the bottom. You can either use the same copy or spice it up with a different one.

  • Hierarchy with blocks or sections

Using blocks or sections is another way to create a hierarchy for your award-winning email design and visually lead the viewer through the template. Here is an example of an email template with several full-width sections. Note that each section has its own call-to-action button. Here is a great example by J. Crew to depict this method.

blocks email design template example shoes


  • Draw a path by arranging the visual elements accordingly

Photos and text sections can help you lead the viewer’s eye if their arrangement creates a path for the viewer to follow. Naturally, the call-to-action button comes in the end of the path leaving no other option for the viewer but to click.

email design hierarchy example J Crew


  • Use numbering

Numbering is often used in graphic, web, and email design to establish a hierarchy for the viewer’s eye, even if the visual arrangement of elements looks a bit messy. Check out the following template which has numbering to establish a hierarchy. Imagine it without numbers. A little confusing, right?

numbering hierarchy email template example

Each number plays the role of a different template section. Again, each section comes with its own call-to-action button.

  • Use arrows, lines, and paths

Such design elements bring order and hierarchy to every kind of design, no matter if email design, web design, or another kind of graphic design. Even if there are many visual elements like in the following example of email design, lines and paths lead the eye, so there is no room left for confusion.

hierarchy dotted line email design


4. Choice of colors

When it comes to creating an award-winning email design, there are a few rules regarding the choice of colors.

  • Before you start, choose a palette

Have in mind that messages in the email are better perceived when the viewer isn’t distracted by too many colors. Especially when it comes to using bright colors. One bright color is enough to help you put an accent on certain design elements while keeping the overall look clean. If you are using pastel colors, combine two to three colors to keep the aesthetics of the design.

Gradients and patterns are other great options which are also quite trendy these days. Combine them with one solid color to achieve a clean, good-looking design.

email design gradients example

  • Use brand colors

In the name of a greater brand consistency and a better brand awareness, make sure to use color schemes which you use in other marketing channels, such as banners, ads, social media posts, etc.

  • Visually separate the body from the header and footer

The header and footer are a prominent part of every award-winning email design. However, make sure to separate them from the email body. Most brands prefer using a solid white, a solid black, or simply a contrasting color.

email design example


5. Pick high-quality graphics and photos

  • Pictures

Most of the time email designers are designing email templates for marketing campaigns, e.g. to promote new products, product sales, etc. This means you will have a set of pictures to include in the template. Make sure all of them are in crisp quality. No award-winning email design comes with blurred or pixelated images.

email design example by Topshop


  • Illustrations

The same rule applies. Illustrations and cartoon characters are often used to depict services. Just to make sure you will always have crystal clear illustrations and graphics, pick vector based art that can be resized as much as you need it without losing quality.

award-winning email design - email design example by GraphicMama


6. The call-to-action button

The call-to-action button is the most important part of your award-winning email design which means that all other visual elements must lead the viewer’s eye towards it, leaving the viewer with no other option besides clicking. Here are the common rules you need to abide by when it comes to designing the perfect call-to-action button.

  • centered – if you’ve paid attention, you’d notice that call-to-action buttons are usually centered due to the inverted pyramid rule;
  • contrasting – call-to-action buttons must stand out. This means they are usually designed in a color contrasting to the background;
  • clear and crisp copy – the CTA button text should say exactly what will happen after the user clicks on it, e.g. “Subscribe”, “Sign up”, “Browse shoes”, “Read article”, etc.;
  • surrounded by negative space – leaving enough negative space directs the viewer’s attention to the button;
  • supporting visual elements like arrows, or a person, or a cartoon character pointing or looking at the button directly bring the attention towards the button.

email design example by Birchbox


7. Choice of fonts

Fonts are as important as every other part of the award-winning email design. Make sure to abide by the following principles:

  • type – most brands these days prefer to use sans serif fonts since they are perceived as more casual fonts. Serif fonts, on the other hand, are perceived as sophisticated fonts;
  • size – according to the email accessibility best practices, you should set the font size to 14px for longer emails, and to 16px for shorter ones;
  • aligning – don’t justify the text unless you are pursuing a specific effect. Align the text to the left if you are including more content or use align center if you’ve bet on a shorter template with just a sentence or two;
  • font combinations – whenever you make font combinations, make sure to combine them in an aesthetical way. Don’t mix more than two or three fonts.

animated GIF email design example


Ready to make an award-winning email design?

We are sure you are! After all, it’s not so hard when you have the most important principles right in front of you. In addition, the web is full of wonderful examples that will fuel your creative mind with ideas.

If you want to share your creations with us, we’d be more than happy to see them in the comments below.