How to design emails people will read

Most of us are not trained designers. We might have great content ideas for our next email campaign, but don’t always know the best way to design it.

Don't worry if you’re not a designer! Finding the right images and typography, picking a color palette and laying out your content properly might seem daunting, but there are a few tricks that will help you succeed in creating a design strategy that works.

What is email design?

Email design can be broken into 2 important components:

  • The layout of the email campaign
  • The visual composition

In this chapter, we'll share some of the best approaches for layout and visual composition to help you design emails that your subscribers will want to read.


You have approximately 8 seconds of your readers' attention before they lose interest. While your content must be relevant and add value, your first priority is to make sure people actually read it.

It doesn't matter if your text is Pulitzer-prize worthy prose. If the layout isn't inviting and easy-to-read, no one will take the time to engage.

But before we talk about your email newsletter design, let's agree that your subject line is important too. No one will see your beautiful email if they don't click to open the email. We suggest keeping it simple, use a preheader and continuously use A/B tests to optimize the open rate and find subject line formulas that make your subscriber base excited.

When thinking about your layout, consider these 3 design principles:

  • Don't go too wide
  • Make it scannable
  • Remember the power of three

Don’t go too wide

Keep your email or newsletter within 600 pixels wide. If your emails are too wide, the reader must scroll side-to-side which is really annoying. The reader is likely to skip the content if they can’t immediately see the entire width of the email campaign.

Width of email design

Make it scannable

Before someone will invest their valuable time in your content, they'll scan the entire email to see what catches their eye. Leverage this by using descriptive titles and bullet lists to break up your key points into sections. This allows people to know what your email marketing campaign is all about within a few seconds. 

Scannable email

Remember the power of 3

There are usually 3 main sections to an email newsletter: headline, body copy, and CTA. These are the key elements of your content hierarchy. The headline sums up the main message. The body copy delivers the support points. The call-to-action seals the deal. Make sure these 3 elements are super easy to find. 

Power of 3 elements in email

Beautiful designs look amazing, but if no one can make sense of the content, you won’t achieve your goal. Email content hierarchy is the process of placing the most important messaging where the reader can find it quickly.

Visual hierarchy is not as complicated as it sounds. 

  1. Start with the most important points that you want the reader to take away.
  2. Use color, contrast, position, and size to put more weight on those points. 
  3. Place larger typography on top and gradually go smaller with less important info.

Your audience is time-crunched, so create a hierarchy of importance that allows them to get the main points at a glance.

For a text hierarchy, use bold titles, sub-headers, quotes and varying typographies like italics to make your important points stand out.

Typography content hierarchy

Most people scan email newsletter designs and websites in an F-shape pattern.

Heatmap studies, where researchers see how people look at a computer screen, show that the brain prioritizes visual in an F-shape. The eyes look first at the top and left for information. They then focus their attention on the left side and the middle.

F-pattern in content reading

The bottom and far-right are barely noticed by the user at all. Keep your relevant information in the areas that you know most readers will definitely scan, especially your call to action.

While you want your email marketing campaign to be visually appealing, it is still a functional tool. Make sure your content is readable before you make it pretty.


Visuals play an integral role in your email design. Not only do visuals break up the copy to make the email more readable, but the right visuals should help advance the message.

Sound intimidating? Here are some fundamentals that will help you design emails that match your brand and message.

Choosing the right colors

Before you randomly choose colors that appeal to you, consider the power that colors have in communicating an emotion. Color influences your readers' perceptions.

Psychologists found that most people form their opinion about a company solely based on their colors.

Each color communicates a different set of emotions and moods that you can incorporate into your email design.

For example, red elicits passion (think Valentine's Day), yellow communicates warmth and green signifies health and peace. Whatever mood you are trying to convey, stay single-minded and keep it focused on one emotion.

Here is a color chart to help you get started.

Color theory for emails

Beyond setting the mood of your email newsletter design, color can be used to help draw the eye to certain content or make things easy to find. One technique is to use highlighted blocks of color to make the content pop. By placing color around your text, your email becomes much easier to read.

Finally, if you are choosing a color, it is a good idea to find a palette that matches. You want to make sure your colors are compatible so you don't distract readers. 

Choosing the right imagery

The right imagery can take your content to another level of engagement. Though using textsin the right typography can get your message across, pictures can communicate an idea or a story within seconds. Your images hold a lot of influence.

The first job of the image is to grab the reader's attention. Select images that complement or even enhance your text. The reader is expecting to learn something specific based on the image. Make sure the messaging delivers on the image. 

For example, if you use an image of a pie chart with specific data points, the body copy should explain or tell the story of the data. Sounds obvious, but many make the mistake of adding visuals that don’t relate to the main message.

MailerLite built-in photo editor
Want more ideas on how to use imagery in your emails?
>> Read our blog about using images in email newsletters

Our customers have sent millions of email marketing campaigns, which gives us a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't. We've identified 5 design hacks that can improve engagement.

Please use these tactics in moderation. Too much of anything loses its appeal and could have a negative effect.

1. Animated GIFs

Let's face it, GIFs are fun. For email marketing, GIFs also play a more functional role. Instead of overloading your newsletters with multiple images that slow download times, a GIF can help consolidate images to tell a story.

GIFs in emails

Whether you have several products to feature or you need to explain something complex, a GIF gives you the freedom to be creative and fit it all into the email. You can make your own GIFs with tools like GIFMaker or GIPHY.

 Or your can simply type in a keyword to find all the related GIFs across the Internet using Giphy's and MailerLite's integration. 

2. Video

Video gives you the ability to tell a more dynamic story and engage your audience. The problem with video is that most emails won't accept video files. 

If you use MailerLite, there is no need to worry!

Videos in email

Video works great on mobile devices!

Mailerlite enables you to include video in your newsletters, which can really help engagement. Video in email has the potential to increase click-throughs by up to 80%. 

Read more about using video in email marketing.
>> Our blog on video blocks in email and why you should use it

3. Background patterns

If you don't have any eye-catching images to include in your emails, consider using background patterns or images. Interesting backgrounds will help the content pop.

Email background patterns

MailerLite’s newsletter builder allows you to choose from a wide selection of patterns or you can upload your own. Keep experimenting and testing until you find a design that really works.

If you are looking for some unique background ideas to your newsletter’s header, here are some free resources: Best free resources for beautiful newsletters.

4. Directional cues

A directional cue is a graphic that points the reader to a specific direction. Whether you want them to see a promotional deal or the call-to-action button, using directional cues is an effective way to emphasize the desired action.

Directional causes in email content

You can use visuals like arrows, lines, pointing fingers, or even an image that leads the eye towards the end goal. Don't overuse directional cues and keep them subtle.

5. Responsive design

More than half of your audience is opening your email on a mobile device, so it makes sense to always be thinking about other devices. Responsive design is a best practice for every email you create. It ensures your subscribers have a positive email experience on any device.

MailerLite designs are always responsive and allow you to preview your newsletters on both mobile and desktop. 

Email newsletter responsive design

Bonus: 2 extra design elements to consider

1. ALT text

Many people forget this, but we recommend you to add ALT texts to all the newsletter images you insert (here are the instructions). 

The ALT text is an alternative text that's displayed when an image file cannot be loaded or when people use screen readers to read your email newsletter. It makes sure that your message still comes across, even when the newsletter design isn't fully displayed.


2. Email footer

Sure, it's the end of your email but that doesn't mean the email footer doesn't need to be part of your newsletter design. You'd be surprised at how many readers scroll there. Keep it simple and concise. Most email footers contain the unsubscribe link, email preferences, social media links and contact information.

Also, include a “view in browser” link to allow your subscribers to access the email in all its glory on their browser. You can add the browser link in the header of footer (or both).


You start an email with a clear objective and write the content that will get your point across. The design is often an afterthought. Don't ignore the power of design.

A beautiful design will capture your reader's attention, and a smart layout will ensure your readers can digest all the information quickly.

Need more inspiration? Visit our newsletter examples design gallery to see email designs created by our customers.

Whether you design your email yourself or use one of our design email templates, email marketing is still about persuading the reader to take action. Our next chapter will cover how to create effective CTAs (call-to-action). 

Want your emails to convert? Click here to read the next guide!