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Understanding Art Direction and Design for Email Newsletters

Newsletter Design 101: Creating an Art Direction

July 20, 2021
7 MINUTES
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Danica Popovic

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Creating a beautiful, eye-catching newsletter design is much easier if you know how to create an art direction for your newsletter.

Newsletter?‌ ‌Art‌ ‌direction?‌ ‌Is‌ ‌that‌ ‌really‌ ‌necessary?‌ ‌ ‌ Well,‌ ‌if‌ ‌you‌ ‌take‌ ‌into‌ ‌account‌ ‌that‌ ‌email‌ ‌marketing‌ ‌can‌ ‌have‌ ‌as‌ ‌high‌ ‌as‌‌ ‌4400%‌ ‌ROI‌,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌ immediately‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌value‌ ‌of‌ ‌improving‌ ‌your‌ ‌email‌ ‌marketing‌ ‌efforts.‌ ‌And‌ ‌while‌ ‌there‌ ‌is‌ ‌no‌ ‌ doubt‌ ‌that‌ ‌a‌ ‌clever‌ ‌and‌ ‌enticing‌ ‌subject‌ ‌line‌ ‌can‌ ‌make‌ ‌or‌ ‌break‌ ‌your‌ ‌open‌ ‌rates,‌ ‌email‌ ‌ marketing‌ ‌design‌ ‌plays‌ ‌a‌ ‌huge‌ ‌role‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌next‌ ‌step:‌ ‌getting‌ ‌people‌ ‌to‌ ‌actually‌ ‌read‌ ‌your‌ ‌ company‌ ‌newsletter,‌ ‌and‌ ‌perhaps‌ ‌take‌ ‌action.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ If‌ ‌you‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌have‌ ‌an‌ ‌experienced‌ ‌art‌ ‌director‌ ‌on‌ ‌your‌ ‌team,‌ ‌here’s‌ ‌a‌‌ ‌quick‌ ‌and‌ ‌easy‌ ‌way‌ ‌to‌ ‌ ensure‌ ‌that‌ ‌your‌ ‌design‌ ‌team‌ ‌is‌ ‌ready‌‌ ‌to‌ ‌create‌ ‌a‌ ‌newsletter‌ ‌that‌ ‌perfectly‌ ‌fits‌ ‌your‌ ‌brand‌ ‌ and‌ ‌your‌ ‌needs.‌ ‌ ‌ For‌ ‌this‌ ‌piece,‌ ‌we’ll‌ ‌focus‌ ‌on‌ ‌email‌ ‌newsletters,‌ ‌however‌ ‌many‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌steps‌ ‌apply‌ ‌to‌ ‌ traditional‌ ‌print‌ ‌newsletters‌ ‌as‌ ‌well.‌ ‌ ‌

Segment‌ ‌your‌ ‌audience‌ ‌

‌ Knowing‌ ‌your‌ ‌audience‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌key‌ ‌component‌ ‌of‌ ‌any‌ ‌marketing‌ ‌effort,‌ ‌and‌ ‌in‌ ‌fact‌ ‌also‌ ‌a‌ ‌ necessary‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌your‌ ‌branding.‌ ‌However,‌ ‌when‌ ‌it‌ ‌comes‌ ‌to‌ ‌email‌ ‌marketing‌ ‌there‌ ‌are‌ ‌also‌ ‌ a‌ ‌few‌ ‌practical‌ ‌steps‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌take‌ ‌to‌ ‌ensure‌ ‌that‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌reaching‌ ‌the‌ ‌right‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌ right‌ ‌messaging.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ Email‌ ‌segmentation‌ ‌‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌‌process‌ ‌of‌ ‌dividing‌ ‌your‌ ‌email‌ ‌contacts‌ ‌based‌ ‌on‌ ‌set‌ ‌ criteria‌:‌ ‌for‌ ‌example,‌ ‌location,‌ ‌age,‌ ‌interests,‌ ‌purchase‌ ‌history,‌ ‌etc.‌ ‌Of‌ ‌course,‌ ‌you‌ ‌should‌ ‌ also‌ ‌segment‌ ‌emails‌ ‌based‌ ‌on‌ ‌how‌ ‌they’ve‌ ‌interacted‌ ‌with‌ ‌your‌ ‌newsletters‌ ‌previously‌ ‌ (opened‌ ‌or‌ ‌not,‌ ‌clicked‌ ‌or‌ ‌not).‌ ‌ ‌ This‌ ‌can‌ ‌make‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌difference‌ ‌when‌ ‌it‌ ‌comes‌ ‌to‌ ‌email‌ ‌newsletter‌ ‌design.‌ ‌Just‌ ‌take‌ ‌a‌ ‌ look‌ ‌at‌ ‌this‌ ‌email‌ ‌from‌ ‌Nordstrom.‌ ‌Abandoned‌ ‌cart‌ ‌reminder‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌common‌ ‌practice,‌ ‌but‌ ‌this‌ ‌ one‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌stand-out‌ ‌example‌ ‌for‌ ‌several‌ ‌reasons.‌ ‌ ‌ The‌ ‌personalization‌ ‌is‌ ‌great,‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌not‌ ‌only‌ ‌remind‌ ‌you‌ ‌that‌ ‌you‌ ‌still‌ ‌have‌ ‌items‌ ‌in‌ ‌your‌ ‌cart‌ ‌ but‌ ‌feature‌ ‌a‌ ‌specific‌ ‌product‌ ‌that‌ ‌you‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌interested‌ ‌in‌ ‌buying.‌ ‌Below,‌ ‌they’ve‌ ‌also‌ ‌ included‌ ‌information‌ ‌about‌ ‌free‌ ‌shipping‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌possibility‌ ‌to‌ ‌exchange‌ ‌and‌ ‌return‌ ‌which‌ ‌ are‌ ‌both‌ ‌strong‌ ‌incentives‌ ‌for‌ ‌finalizing‌ ‌a‌ ‌purchase.‌ ‌ ‌ Finally,‌ ‌thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌blocks‌ ‌of‌ ‌content,‌ ‌the‌ ‌elegant‌ ‌color‌ ‌palette‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌fun‌ ‌script‌ ‌font‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌ header,‌ ‌the‌ ‌‌email‌ ‌is‌ ‌easy‌ ‌to‌ ‌read‌ ‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌key‌ ‌information‌ ‌pops‌‌ ‌without‌ ‌seeming‌ ‌ “aggressive”‌ ‌or‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌buyer‌ ‌is‌ ‌being‌ ‌pressured‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌purchase.‌ ‌

nordstorm newsletter.jpg Pinterest

Follow your brand guidelines

It may not be as obvious as product packaging or display ads, but even your newsletters should be on-brand. This will help build brand awareness and form a strong brand image in your customers’ minds.

Your brand guide should include guidelines on your brand’s tone of voice, which should be incorporated into the newsletter copy.

Find out how to build a strong and unique brand

Download our guide to learn all about branding and visual identity

When it comes to design, make sure that your newsletters use the brand colors and typography. This is especially important in case you opt for using an email newsletter template. No matter how beautiful and professional an email template may be, if it doesn’t correspond with your brand identity you shouldn’t use it without customizing it first.

Work out the technical aspects

A properly designed email newsletter requires a professional CRM (client relationship management) software or email marketing tool. Luckily, there is no shortage of these, with plenty of free options to choose from as well. Here are just a few big names you ought to consider:

  • Hubspot: A powerful marketing automation tool, it has everything you need to manage your contact and have an overview of your sales process; it has the possibility to import contacts from social media and other platforms so you have everything in one place.
  • Mailchimp: Not only the oldest but also the most popular email marketing platform in the world, mostly because it has a forever free plan (although it has its limitations). You can add a MailChimp integration on almost any platform, so don’t be worried that it’s not highly applicable.
  • GetResponse: What makes GetResponse unique is that it integrates with third-party lead generation software like OptinMonster, SalesForce, Google Docs, ZenDesk, etc. It also has great customer support provided by phone, live chat, and email.
  • Zoho Campaigns: Zoho is a cloud-based online office suite that has plenty of tools. One of them is Zoho Campaigns, an email marketing automation tool that can be used with or without Zoho CRM or suite.
  • Drip: Drip is an enterprise email marketing platform for eCommerce, bloggers, and digital marketers. It has a wide range of automation, sales funnels and personalization tools
  • Wix: Wix is known for its great features and ease of use when it comes to web design, so if you already have a website, you should definitely consider using their email tool for creating beautiful newsletters easily.

Knowing which software you want to use (which will depend on your budget and your needs) is an important step in creating your art direction, since implementing your vision might be difficult (or even impossible) with a particular CRM solution.

Define your goals

Although you might think that art directors are simply experienced designers, their job involves a lot more organizational and managerial aspects.

Art directors need to bring together or interview different stakeholders so that they can find a way for design to help meet different expectations.

There are several common types of email newsletters with specific goals such as:

  • Content-based: usually sent daily, weekly or monthly based on the user’s preferences, these newsletters help increase web traffic as they provide useful content pieces to your readers.
  • Promotional: often sent to promote seasonal offers, these newsletters should have one clear call to action related to a clear value presented to the reader.
  • Survey: unlike the rest of the emails, these ones usually require the reader to interact (respond), so they need to be designed in such a way that this intention is clear.
  • Curated offers: this type of email is very common with, for example, real estate agencies that send regular emails with all the available listings; the copy for this type of email is usually minimal and just includes key information.
  • Curated external content: whether you want to promote an external event, or work for a media agency sharing pieces of news from elsewhere, you should still make sure that readers know who’s behind the email by customizing newsletters in such a way that they represent your brand.
  • Product-based: if you want to introduce a new product or educate users on how to use your products, you’ll need to design a simple and powerful newsletter that relates key information quickly.

Of course, there are many more, but even from these few examples, it’s clear that an art direction and subsequently design should be closely related to the goals you want to achieve.

Here’s a look at two of our newsletters. The first one is our regular weekly curated content update. It uses longer copy and is relying on storytelling as a way of guiding interested readers through our content. The different CTAs are also useful for helping users to skim through to the blog post that interests them the most.

mp newsletter

On the other hand, is this email we’ve used for a flash sale. As you can see the design is much simpler and geared towards the one main CTA: choosing a ManyPixels pricing plan. However, both emails use our brand colors and style to ensure potential and existing subscribers know who’s behind the emails.

mp newsletter 2

Find inspiration and create a design brief

Research is a huge part of the role of an art or creative director. For this particular type of project, finding inspiration can be difficult.

Learn how to get started with our unlimited graphic design service

Download the ManyPixels User Guide — you’ll find all the useful information there

You can always search for articles of good email examples, or as with any project, turn to portfolio platforms like Dribbble and Behance - there’s a lot of awesome work to be discovered there! It’s also a good place to see what the relevant trends are: for example, you’ll see that many designers choose to use photos and illustrations together for a more dynamic and interesting look.

newsletter design idea 1.png By Felipe Medeiros

However, another trick you should definitely employ here is to sign up for newsletters of companies whose style you like. This may or may not include your direct competitors (although there’s no harm in knowing what they’re up to!), but don’t limit yourself to your industry alone. Whether you like their color palettes or enjoy the pieces of content they produce, discovering how they present themselves to their customers/readers can be very helpful.

A/B Testing

As you might be aware, A/B testing is a necessary part of any email marketing campaign. However, it’s also a helpful step in creating a long-term art direction for your newsletters.

Testingout several options and tracking the results will help you determine what works and where your art direction might need to be adapted. The slightest change (e.g. the color and font used on the main CTA button) can lead to different results, so it’s critical to understand how your audience is interacting with your newsletter.

Check out what you can create with ManyPixels!

Check out what you can
create with ManyPixels!

Check out what you can create with
ManyPixels!

Download our design library to see our latests creations: illustrations, brand guides, ads, logos and much more!

Download our design library to see our latests
creations: illustrations, brand guides, ads, logos
and much more!

Download our design library to see our latests creations: illustrations, brand guides, ads, logos and much more!

Danica_Popovic.png

Danica Popovic

July 20, 2021

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.