Break Out of the Box

Email design isn’t known for being bold. Emails have a header, footer, and a bit in the middle where the bulk of the content goes. The header traditionally contains your brand’s logo and often (shudder) a navigation bar. Footers usually contain terms and conditions, postal addresses or other contact methods, social media icons, an unsubscribe link, and maybe a view online link. The bit in the middle? A template that organises the contents into some sort of grid structure.

There’s good reason why email design is becoming “standardised” in this way:

Emails often need to be produced fast. Creating a reusable, modular template in which content can be swapped in and out with minimal development time, are a must.

Emails have to be developed using tables, due to Outlook using Microsoft Word as its rendering engine. Tables are grid structures, so it makes sense for your content to fit into a grid.

Grids are boring. But what’s the alternative?

One of my favourite emails right now are those from Collaborative Fund. The design is far from that of a typical email. Colours are bright, bold, and very in-your-face. The feel of the email is much more that of an editorial piece, rather than an email.

Collaborative Fund
See full email

I concede, there’s still a grid structure, but you have to look for it. Each module of content is slightly different from the previous in how the content is laid out.

I have fallen in love with their use of whitespace, of which there are often huge glaring blocks of it. These expanses of whitespace enhance the copy and headlines enormously, almost forcing you to read it.

White space - be still my heart!
That’s one way to draw your subscribers into reading your emails. See the full email

These emails even break the design rules by using more than two different fonts in the email. Headlines, copy, call-to-action buttons are all different fonts. And yet, it works.

These aren’t one-off emails from Collaborative Fund either. These are emails that are sent on a regular basis. Granted they’re not daily, weekly, or even monthly emails so you could argue that the designers and developers have plenty of time to develop these. However, it’s not hard to see how that these emails are designed in a grid structure, which theoretically can be modularized to push emails like this out on a more frequent basis.

You could argue that Collaborative Fund emails are unique. As I said earlier, they’re more like magazines or editorial pieces. Not what what many email designers face day-to-day. Especially in the retail sector.

That’s not to say you can’t draw inspiration from emails like these. Sometimes we get the best inspiration not looking at our direct competitors but by looking at those a little further afield.

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