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Email design tips for novices | Expert Interview

Kaushal Gunaratne is CEO of Digital Glare and the creator of Cool Templates. He’s an expert when it comes to designing… well cool templates.

In this interview he reveals his top tips for marketers and novice designers when it comes to designing effective emails for their business.

Question: Hi Kaushal. Can you start by sharing your top 3 tips for someone who is designing their own email template?

Firstly, use web safe fonts as much as possible. If your email uses fonts that are not web safe, then the text will need to be converted to images. This can be detrimental to the email’s performance because most email programs have images switched off by default and the recipient won’t see any of your content.

Secondly, avoid using background images. Whilst gradients look good when sitting behind sections in your email, programs such as Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 (on PC) and Hotmail won’t display them because they’re a background image. This means that white text on a dark gradient background will often be displayed in the inbox as white text on a white background and won’t be seen.

Finally, think ‘screens’ not ‘print’. Sometimes we receive artwork that is designed to suit print sizes such as A4 or asked to design emails to fit a certain measurement in centimetres. On screen, measurements are taken using pixels, not centimetres or inches. The reason for this is that the screen resolution and the actual width of the email changes. For example, a 600px wide email on a 1024pixels resolution screen will look bigger than the same email on a 1980pixel resolution screen.

Question: What common mistakes do novice email designers need to avoid?

Other than the things mentioned above:

Avoid coding emails like they are a website. Use simple table tags instead of div tags and use inline style instead of style sheets.

Avoid content that requires Javascript such as embedded videos, rollover animation and flash content. Email programs don’t like Javascript and will often remove this content automatically and show a nasty warning message to the recipient alerting them that your email may contain harmful code. The solution is to have this content on landing pages instead.

For example if you would like to embed a video to your email, upload your video to YouTube, take a screenshot of your video with the ‘play’ button and place that as an image on your email. Then link that image directly to the video on YouTube. Your recipient will click on the image with the play button as it looks like a video and it’ll open up the YouTube video in a web browser window.

Make sure your email design is mobile friendly. If you look at mobile devices such as iPhones, they simply make the email smaller to fit the width of the screen. This makes the content really small and call to actions (buttons, links) pretty hard to click on. So make sure the content title is big enough and easy to read and that buttons and links are visible and easy to click (touch).

Question: What are some of the recent trends you’re noticing with respect to email design?

Email marketers are beginning to truly appreciate the contribution that a professional email design has to their overall campaign performance. In the past it was hard for us to convince customers to spend money on a nice design and generally they wanted only a simple header and footer for their email. Now we get detailed design briefs with clear objectives that in many ways are similar to doing small websites. So email marketers are now more willing to invest the resources into email design that it deserves.

We’re also seeing a trend towards mobile friendly email designs and campaigns that are closely tied in with e-Commerce systems. The latter demonstrates that more marketers are selling their products directly from an email which is one of the reasons why we recently released our eCommerce solution (compatible with Vision6).

Question: What image editing and design software do you recommend for email marketers who are on a small budget?

Pixlr – is a great little web based image editing tool. It’s free and is what I usually recommend to anyone wanting to do simple image re-sizing, banner design etc.

But if you’re looking to design complete email templates that you want to code to HTML, I would recommend Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Even though Photoshop is quite expensive, I find that there’s no other image-editing tool that gives you the same creative freedom. Photoshop also allows you to cut up your design to convert to HTML and compress images to suit the web.

Question: What are the main advantages of having a professionally designed template as opposed to designing one yourself?

Getting your email template or email marketing campaign designed by a professional is definitely the way to go.

Here are a few reasons why:

Unless you’re a designer or developer, you’re limited to what you can achieve in the email marketing space. Letting a professional handle your email design enables you to investigate creative ways to utilise the email marketing space to reach your audience.

As I mentioned before, companies are spending more and more on email campaign creative. To compete you need your email campaigns to look sharp. You won’t be able to do this if you don’t understand design or email development.

Professional email designers, through various projects, know what might work and not work. Also they’ll be able to help you further develop your creative online marketing strategy with value added services.

Deliverability testing is one of the most important steps in email design. When a professional designs your email, they will test it in different email programs and platforms such as PC, MAC, iOS, Android, etc.

Question: At Cool Templates you’ve built up a massive library of email templates. Is there a particular style of template that performs better than the rest?

Currently in Cool Templates we have over 260 templates that people can order online.

So far the emails with different paragraph styles (i.e. 3 column, 2 column, etc) are pretty popular. I think the main reason for this is if you order a template with different paragraph styles, once it’s set up in your Vision6 account, you can use it for many different campaigns or purposes.

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