Beautiful email campaigns are nice. What you really need though are knockout email campaigns that convert. Good news is – you can achieve both. But, to do so, you must ensure your email campaign design is on point.

As email marketers, we are thinking of, worrying about and juggling tons of different tasks. From branding and attention-grabbing copywriting through to crafting compelling call-to-actions (CTAs), proofreading, testing and, at the same time, staying within the confines of email marketing laws, we are pretty much an equivalent to jugglers – email jugglers. 


“Do you intend to treat your customers like a human or a cash machine? Build trust through good email campaign design and good intent.” – Andrea Mignolo 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been wreaking havoc since March 2020 and with that competition for the consumers’ inbox has become vicious. In 2020, over 306 billion emails were sent/received daily. This figure is expected to increase exponentially reaching more than 361 billion in 2024. Among all these billions of people are subscribers and customers from your target audience as well as leads you can convert. To make sure your emails will stand out and immediately grab their attention, your email campaign design must be top-notch.

In this article, we’ll cover the following email campaign design topics:

  1. The Good: Awe-inspiring email campaign design examples
  2. The Bad: Poor email campaign design examples
  3. The Ugly: Horrific email campaign design examples

Ready to start designing?

Now and again, regardless of being an email marketing rockstar or a total newbie, we all need a bit of inspiration to nail our email campaign design. Yet, who should we derive inspiration from? Some brands are brilliant with their email campaign design and then, some simply go through the motions just to “get the job done” and subscribers end up with horrendous email campaigns reflecting poorly on the brand itself.

You’ve spent months – or years – accumulating email subscribers and acquiring customers. You have THE perfect email marketing strategy in place. Now, all you have to do is design a killer email campaign that your target audience will love. Yet, before you unleash it, make sure you are not shooting yourself in the foot by making email design mistakes. With design being a critical factor in your success, even one error (i.e. wrong font colour or size, bad imagery, confusing layout, broken links, etc.) will cost you.

The Good: Brilliant Email Campaign Designs

For an email marketer, there’s nothing better than a knockout email marketing campaign that boosts open and conversion rates and increases revenue while also keeping the recipient happy and engaged. Take a look at three examples from brands that have nailed their email campaign design.

1) Designmodo: The Right Rules Of Attraction

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

Designmodo’s Black Friday email campaign design showcases brilliantly organised campaign content that takes the reader on a journey, swiftly leading them towards the perfectly prominent and well-placed call-to-actions (CTAs) while also including bold typography and an attention-grabbing 3D graphic. The brand’s strategic and effective use of background white space also prevents the recipients from being overwhelmed while, at the same time, delivering a lot of information in a very clear, concise, ordered and attractive manner.

2) Starbucks: A Welcome Win

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

The first impression matters – always. As an email marketer, you get only one chance to make a great first impression – don’t waste it. For a new subscriber or customer, the email campaign design of your onboarding email is crucial to how the relationship will progress. 

Starbucks’s welcome email is truly on point and sets the tone of the experience the brand’s customers can expect in the future. The old, trivial “Welcome to Starbucks” opening has been replaced with a “we’re glad you’re here” copy which shows appreciation for the subscriber’s time from the get-go. With relevant imagery, succinctly described Starbucks account features and tidy, well-organised layout, the brand has achieved a well-balanced, invigorating and inviting email campaign design. To top it off, the “Welcome” on the cup recreates – digitally – the iconic Starbucks in-shop experience. 

3) Uber: Playing For Keeps

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

There are numerous taxi apps but none of them has Uber’s no-nonsense, to-the-point, clever approach to customer experience in their app. The brand recreates that same approach in its email campaign design.

Uber’s email campaign design has always been consistent with their branding which creates a familiarity as it’s always the same across the app, website and social media photos – bright colours and geometric patterns. Combining brand consistency with clever, no-fluff copywriting and simple layout has been – and will continue to be – a winning strategy for Uber.

The beauty of Uber’s email campaign is in its simplicity. Brief clever copy paired with a prominent call-to-action is exactly what overly busy recipients are looking for since most of the time recipients just quickly skim the emails hitting their inbox.

The Bad: Dreadful Email Campaign Designs

Any email campaign design idea can sound great when brainstorming. But, when the idea is implemented, it may look quite different from what you’ve envisioned. In some instances, the outcome can be quite absurd, poorly-designed and overall, awful. These three email campaign design examples illustrate perfectly what email marketers should never do.

1) Tumblr: The Dark Side of Email Design

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

Being recognised and nominated for an award is an awesome feeling businesses/brands should be proud of and share with their target audience. However, when using email marketing to share your excitement, make sure you’ve invested enough time and tested every aspect of your email campaign. 

Tumblr’s email campaign design announcing their Webby nomination, for example, is barely readable. Yes, it does highlight the key points – nomination and voting – but all the rest of the copy is so poorly formatted (i.e. dark background with black font) the recipients will have to squint to make out what the text says. Such an effort will immediately cause readers to lose interest and simply delete the email and move on. For example, rather than going “full-dark”, they should’ve kept the dark background and just made the font brighter. 

2) Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (WCFF): The No Optimisation Inferno

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

When most subscribers/customers receive an email, they usually scan for key information before deciding if reading the full message is worth their time. An email campaign design that has not been carefully planned and tested can have disastrous outcomes.

WCFF’s email campaign design not only has too much copy but none of the imagery sizes has been optimised and the text-overlay on the images is barely readable. I know we are all juggling numerous email marketing tasks (on top of others!) but even at our busiest we should always review and test your email campaigns. Instead of just going through the motions, carefully examine your email campaign. Test everything. Test it again. With professional email marketing software, you can preview your email campaign in tons of different email clients to ensure the layout is perfect. 

3) Michael Page: Bore Me to Sleep

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

An email campaign’s purpose is to deliver valuable, beneficial content to a target audience, pique the readers’ curiosity and make them ‘hungry’ for more information. From the layout and imagery through to the copy, your email campaign should entice the subscribers/customers at every step.

Yet, Michael Page’s marketing team might’ve missed a lesson or two in visual marketing. The overall layout is, indeed, clean and concise but the copywriting is quite bland. If you are promoting tips on “How to write a CV?”, make it entertaining and engaging – not boring the readers to tears. Rather than generic imagery, add some motion to your email to make it fun and unique. Why not even add some prominent font colour to emphasise the key points instead of just sticking to the default blue hyperlinks. But, be subtle when using colours and images. You’ll see why further down the article.

The Ugly: Atrocious Email Campaign Designs 

Would you believe me if I tell you there is something scarier than the Boogeyman, the Loch Ness monster, a Banshee and Baba Yaga? This is NOT for the faint of heart. This… is what happens when email campaign design goes terrifyingly wrong.

1) Foodtown: Nightmare On Design Street

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

Visuals in an email campaign design will give it a needed edge and emphasise your message by making your campaign attractive. However, when you become deranged and overcrowd your email campaign with a gazillion images, you are horrifyingly spoiling not only your email campaign design but also the recipient’s experience forcing them to either unsubscribe. Or, worst-case scenario, report your email as spam.

Foodtown’s email campaign design is a terrifyingly accurate example of what horrendous emails can look like. The grocery store completely forgoes all email design best practice stuffing so much imagery into a single space that recipients were probably, scratch that, have certainly had to blink and rub their eyes a million times just to manage to see just one product. I know discounts and promotions are welcomed and attractive but come on… This email campaign design throws everything at the recipients in the hope of what – at least one product might catch their eye? A neater, better structured and organised email campaign design would’ve achieved higher engagement and better conversions.

2) Neighbourlytics: The Evil Text

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

You want your recipients to have ALL the information? While your emails need to deliver value to the subscribers, adding too much text will make it very, very difficult to keep them engaged and reading. Not to mention, opening a text-heavy email on a mobile device will be a nightmare to scroll-through; and trust me, recipients will simply ignore the email. 

Neighbourlytics’s email campaign design is so overwhelming and bland that any recipient, even those interested in the topic, will not waste time to read it. Not to mention, the subject lineIt’s 2020. Our newsletter begins, and we wish it was under better circumstances” – goes beyond the recommended 50 characters and is not only gloomy but as bland as the email copy. Rather than going “all text”, try breaking the copy with relevant imagery; and/or, brief text paired with a prominent call-to-action redirecting the reader to a landing page to learn more about the matter. 

3) Levenes Solicitors: A Cacophony Of Colours

Email Campaign Design: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly | EmailOut.com

As a somewhat fashion-conscious person, I know which colour palettes and combos to avoid. This same “rule” also applies to email campaign design. You don’t want to have colour ranging from one end of the palette to the other. I already covered the science behind bold colours for your email copy and colours for CTAs, however, when it comes to email campaign design bold colours are NOT a winning move. Rather bet on a more subtle and refined colour palette to grab the reader’s attention.

Levenes Solicitors email campaign design for Amigo Month has so many colours it’s quite difficult and impossible for the readers to know where their focus should be. The excruciatingly bright red background distracts from the main content, which is where the most important part of the email is, causing the reader to quickly lose interest. 

Final Thoughts

Email personalisation, list segmentation, email campaign design best practice, A/B testing – they all serve a purpose. To ensure the right person gets the right message at the right time. By meticulously proofreading and testing your email campaign – from top to bottom, you can make sure none of these dreadful email campaign design examples will come to pass on your watch.

Your subscribers/customers/leads want to receive email treats, not tricks in their inbox. Make them happy by ensuring your email campaign design is top-notch and delivers an email marketing experience that your competition cannot achieve.

Are you ready to Wow your target audience?

Highly recommended further reading – 

1) Writing Marketing Emails 101
2) Email Design Trends 2021
3) Email Design Hacks
4) The Ultimate Email Preflight Checklist

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