2020 brought a lot of unexpected changes for both email subscribers and businesses. It’s no surprise that many email marketers preferred to play it safe with tried-and-tested email campaign designs. Yet, will brands keep making the most of their favourites like minimalism, bold colours and static images? Or, will email design trends for 2021 change?

What new email design trends for 2021 are you looking forward to? How likely are you to follow the new trends? Or, will you keep doing what you’re doing and rely on old email campaign templates that have proven successful? Isn’t setting your email campaigns apart from the competition a perpetual challenge that, without innovation and improvement, never goes away?

“Design like you are absolutely right, then optimise like you were wrong from the start.” – Jordie van Rijn 

Technology isn’t the only thing evolving from year to year. Email subscribers’ preferences and tastes change, too. 2020 was quite a disruptive year all around and with it behind us, it’s time to look at the future and the email design trends for 2021 that will help you create email campaigns that evoke the right emotions and convert like crazy.

In this article, we’ll cover the following top 10 email design trends for 2021:

  1. Typography
  2. Dark mode
  3. Gradients
  4. Emotions
  5. Minimalism
  6. Maximalism
  7. 2D and 3D imagery + illustrated animation
  8. Interactivity and AMP
  9. Muted colours
  10. Broken grid layout

Let’s dive in.

The look and feel of your email campaign are essential for successful results. Email design trends for 2021 will be focused on mixing and matching design elements. They will be about maintaining some of the old but also bringing in freshness, boldness and uniqueness to the subscribers’ inbox.

Recent research and statistics show email subscribers are interested in the following email innovations – 

  • product rating featured in emails – 38%
  • featured products and/or offers based on the subscriber’s purchase history – 35%
  • receiving email offers based on subscribers’ location31%
  • automatic summary for long emails – 31%
  • make a purchase from within the email rather than visiting a website – 24%
  • videos that play within the email without redirecting to a landing page – 14%

You probably think none of these stats has anything to do with email design BUT they do. As an email marketer, your goal is to create an email campaign that integrates and effectively delivers the information your subscribers want and desperately need. Thus, using these facts as a starting point for your 2021 email campaign design will ensure your brand stands out and proves your subscribers’ preferences have been taken into account during the design process.

You can, of course, keep doing what you’ve been doing with your email design (why mess with something that works?). However, don’t you want to reign supreme in the subscribers’ inbox and make sure your target audience will never, ever forget your brand or leave your email campaigns unnoticed? 

Email Design Trends 2021

Wondering what are the email design trends for 2021? Take a look at these top 10 trends that will give you a headstart on some jaw-dropping, eye-catching and captivating email designs to inspire your upcoming email marketing campaigns.

1) Typography

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Usually, an image in your email campaign would be enough to make the design captivating. Yet, email designs are constantly evolving and innovative, creative copywriting highlighted in BOLD TYPOGRAPHY is becoming more and more popular and establishing itself as an ongoing email design trend.

With bold typography, the need for an eye-catching hero image becomes redundant. Though, it would be aesthetically pleasing to the subscribers’ eye as well as help complement the email’s copy. With bold typography, there are four main rules you need to follow –

1) Careful word selection. When you have big, bold typography, everything revolves around it and it will draw the readers’ attention immediately. Thus, you must use words/phrases that will bring a positive image to your brand and impart a remarkable impact on the message you want to convey.

2) Use font colour thoughtfully. Bold typography does not bode well with bright, glaring colours. It overwhelms the entire design and can be quite unpleasant to the subscriber. Therefore, stick to more neutral, muted colour palettes. 

3) Spacing. When utilising big typography, you will require ample outer space. Thus, make sure your email campaign’s template will have enough room for this element. Yet, don’t forget to be subtle. If you overdo it and leave too much extra room, the email’s readability can be ruined.

4) Responsiveness. When it comes to fitting big, bold typography into a small screen, the struggle is real. On mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, etc., there’s not much real estate. Thus, your email campaign’s design shouldn’t be focused only on the letterforms but on the overall mobile-responsiveness as well.

2) Dark Mode

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software     Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Back in 2018, Apple added dark mode to its desktop email client. In 2019, iOS Mail introduced dark mode, too. Other email providers, including Gmail, followed suit announcing support for dark mode. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter are just some of the companies who have already adopted the dark mode feature. 

From 2019 onwards, dark mode has been “the-talk-of-the-town” and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, according to Android Authority, 91.8% of people use some form of dark mode in their emails

The benefits of utilising dark mode into your 2021 email marketing campaigns are – 

  • improved readability and minimising eye-strain
  • increased visibility when reading in rooms with low light
  • preserves the mobile device’s battery life significantly
  • helps in improving focus

Email marketers who are adopting this email design trend when crafting email campaigns will have to consider dark mode compatibility and make the necessary adjustments accordingly. The simplest example is having a white border around the copy to prevent it from disappearing or becoming too challenging to read in dark mode.

Don’t forget to always split test your email campaigns before you unleash them into the world and to always, always follow email design best practices.

3) Gradients

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software     Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Using gradients adds even more depth and interest to your colours and shows you can create something more unique than a straightforward colour palette or Pantone swatches. That is if you choose the right spread of tones to blend in your gradient. Otherwise, it can clash horribly.

Interesting fact: Some people believe the psychedelic culture of the 60s can be accountable for the origin of gradients. Its re-entry in email design is considered to reflect a strong feeling of nostalgia as well as giving email campaigns a vintage effect.

With gradients, email marketers will not only be able to create amazing and unique backgrounds (like J. Crew) but also, re-design call-to-actions (CTAs) to include gradients the same way Instagram has done using the brand’s easily recognisable colour palette. 

If you want to take your email design to the next level and go for gold, you can even have animated gradients in the backdrop of your email copy and visuals to make your campaign even more outstanding and aesthetic.

4) Emotions

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

For a successful email campaign, usability and functionality are simply not enough. As an email marketer, you must use your email’s design to instil the right emotion(s) in your subscribers.

Usually, there are nine emotions you can trigger in your subscribers to ensure maximum conversion through email campaigns – 

1) belonging
2) guilt
3) curiosity
4) hope or optimism
5) greed
6) trust
7) fear (FOMO)
8) love/lust
9) vanity

Colours, words, images – they can all evoke emotions. For example, you need to use the correct colours to evoke the right emotions.

  • blue reflects serenity, peace, trustworthiness and stability; 
  • red signifies excitement, passion, urgency, aggressiveness and danger – be careful when using the colour; 
  • orange stands for creativity, energy, freshness, joy, enthusiasm and fascination; 
  • yellow is often associated with the sun and suggests warmth, light and optimism and can be used to draw the subscribers’ attention without giving any alarming signals, however, it can be quite hard to read on white background – it would work wonderfully in dark mode, though; and
  • black which is a universally prefered font colour as it is easy to read (except in dark mode then you can switch to white) and appears bold, solid and powerful.

The same principle applies to imagery. Let’s say you are promoting a discount or a special offer, the perfect image to complement your email copy would be one evoking excitement. Alternatively, if you simply wish to show appreciation and thank your subscribers for making a purchase or signing up to your email list, an image portraying gratitude would be a perfect choice.

Charity: Water, for example, used blue font colour which looks soothing and calm combined with an image that reflects optimism and hope, making the subscriber feel what the brand is conveying through their email campaign.

5) Minimalism/Simplification

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How would you describe a minimalist email design? Is it when you strip your campaign to the basics and keep it simple? Is it when you implement more monochromatic effects? 

The minimalist email design trend is evolving each year and in 2021 this trend still remains strong. It not only makes email campaigns easier to read but it also highlights the purpose of the email without annoying and overwhelming the subscriber with unnecessary clutter. The perfect minimalist design is a balance between the visual elements (i.e. images, GIFs, videos) and the typography. Neither element should overpower the other. Keep your email campaign clean and concise, it’ll help you be noticed in a sea of competitors.

Rather than utilising multiple intense colour palettes and brutal abstractions, lean towards muted colours, simplified layout and generous spacing just like Apple. Though, don’t forget to take Dark mode into consideration when working on your email campaigns’ design. 

6) Maximalism

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software   Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Maximalism is the antithesis of minimalism, it’s counter-trend if you’d like. With this email design trend, everything is large, lavishing, flashy and focused on making a statement. Simply looking at the characteristic of maximalism will make a minimalist email marketer cringe – 

  • busy email layout
  • multitude of colours
  • large, flashy imagery
  • elaborate details
  • bold typography

Yet, with mobile devices (i.e. smartphones, tablets, etc.) and PCs handling visual effects better than ever, the benefits of using minimalism in email design have become somewhat obsolete rendering the trend as just another visual style instead of a necessity. Less is more, but more often than not, more can be better

With email subscribers expecting better, more creative and bold visuals, utilising maximalism to capitalise on more eye-catching effects and creating a memorable experience for the reader will help email marketers express their brand’s individuality and give email campaigns a fresh, unique and engaging look and feel. Let colours, shapes, imagery and bold typography do the talking.

7) 2D & 3D Imagery + Illustrated Animation

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Do you use ordinary stock images and vectors in your email campaigns? Why not let 2021 be the year where you’ll rethink your design strategy and add uniqueness to your emails?

By adding texture and shading to your 2D images and illustrations you will take the look and feel of your email campaign to the next level representing items/products/services more tactically. For example, you can experiment with different colour contrasts, gradients, tints, texture, shading and patterns to give your campaigns more depth, better impact and higher engagement (like j. Crew). 

On the other hand, you can go even further than texture illustration and 2D images by introducing 3D imagery to your emails.

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

In 2020 the use of 3D imagery hit the email design universe hard proving to be a winning design tactic and as we move into 2021, this flourishing email design trend will only keep growing.

Creating 3D imagery for your email campaign is not an easy task. However, 3D techniques such as photorealism, 3D and isometric illustrations and even clever shadow applications, have become quite popular and brands have been seen using this approach more and more often. Moreover, this email design trend can certainly make your email come to life by ensuring your email campaign stands out. 

Take a look at Adobe’s example for instance. As the creator of Dimensions, it comes as no surprise the brand uses 3D images in their emails showcasing their Creative Suite in an intriguing way beckoning subscribers to engage.

Illustrated animations, as another alternative design approach, combine the power of simple illustrations and GIFs. Utilising this email design trend will not only give your email campaign an awesome visual oomph but encourage your audience to engage and convert.

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software      Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

8) Interactivity and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Interactive emails offer subscribers the necessary functionality for them to take the desired action. Interactive elements can include taking a quiz, watching a video directly within the email or, in B&Q’s case, “flipping a switch” to explore the company’s lighting range of products.

There are five major benefits of utilising interactivity in your email campaigns – 

1) increased engagement
2) boost in conversion rates
3) higher click-through rates
4) better and more qualified leads
5) give subscribers exactly what they want

Interactivity has been an ongoing design trend for quite some time and as the years’ pass, it’s only proving to grow and become a timeless email design trend enhancing email marketing KPIs and encouraging subscribers to engage.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) In Email

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for email was initially introduced back in 2018 and brought to life in March 2019 with support for both iOS and Android, since then, AMP has been trending in the email design world. AMP is an open-source tech introduced by Google which paves the way to sending dynamic emails with HTML, CSS and JavaScript being used to create AMP emails. With AMP email, subscribers can complete call-to-actions straight from the inbox without the need to visit a website.

There are three main benefits of using AMP in email – 

1) wider email usage opportunities – email marketers can implement interactive elements into their email like carousels, forms, confirmations, event invites, etc. directly into the email giving subscribers a more web-page-like experience.

2) revitalisation of old email technology – AMP emails aim to refresh the static look of email campaigns with more dynamic and interactive content “pushing” email subscribers towards completing the desired action.

3) a new level of personalisation – AMP emails allow email marketers to receive and send more data than ever helping brands to personalise emails even further.

Take a look at this brilliant example of an AMP email from Booking.com that makes the subscribers’ experience a breeze – 

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Experts anticipate that AMP emails will quickly become an evergreen email design trend despite the current design process being a little complicated.

9) Muted Colour Pallete

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software       Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software    

In 2021, bright and bold colours will no longer be a design email subscribers like to see in email campaigns. Instead, muted colour palettes – which have gained momentum in 2020 – will become “the rage” in email design creating a sense of safety and security.

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Revolve and NUEBAR, for example, have incorporated a muted colour scheme in their email campaigns with enough white space to create a sense of tranquillity and calmness in the subscribers’ inbox.

10) Going Off-Grid

A broken grid layout, in the simplest terms, is an email design layout that defies the traditional standard grid layout. It could mean adjusting columns’ width and/or row size; overlapping and/or stacking design elements; adding animation; and, any other tactic going beyond the standard grid designs. 

A broken grid layout allows email marketers to create unique, visually-engaging, highly-entertaining email campaigns; and, offer a memorable and distinguishable experience to the recipients.

Lastminute.com, for example, has done a wonderful job with their upcoming music events in Europe email campaign utilising asymmetrical hero image pushing the subscriber to keep reading; and, the call-to-action (CTA) straddled by pink headphones is just beckoning the reader to take action – 

Email Design Trends 2021 | EmailOut.com - free email marketing software

Final Thoughts

Email marketing has been and will continue to be the most effective marketing channel for customer acquisition and retention. Yet, the harsh truth is that packaging sells and that applies to your email design, too. 

Since your email campaign’s design plays a crucial role in your success, you should aim at striking a balance between stylish, modern, subtle and vibrant. Sounds complicated? 

Do not shy away from experimenting and trying new things. In email design, small things can make a huge impact on your target audience and your subscribers’ receptiveness. 2020 was quite trying and disruptive, changing your customers’ tastes and preferences, therefore – like it or not – you need to adapt. These top 10 email design trends for 2021 will help you improve your email marketing efforts, increase your ROI, get ahead of the competition, stand out in the subscribers’ inbox and inspire you to think outside the inbox.

What other email design trends do you think will be popular in 2021?

Highly recommended further reading – 

1)  Email Design Hacks
2) Writing Marketing Emails 101
3) How To Prevent Common Email Marketing Mistakes
4) The Ultimate Email Preflight Checklist

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