Issue #28

5 inspiring email design trends for 2021

13 min read
In this Article

Raise your hand if you spend hours perfecting your Instagram feed theme but don’t put the same effort into your email newsletter design…

We get it! Email marketing isn’t always glitz and glamor, but as technology evolves, so do email newsletters. Between animated images and interactive content, email marketing has never been more exciting!

Today, we’re waving goodbye to boring newsletters as we dig into the ultimate newsletter trends of 2020.

I picked the top experts’ brains in email marketing to bring you these exclusive newsletter trends, plus predictions for 2021.

By the end of this article, you’ll have enough email design inspiration to craft your own awe-inspiring newsletters that your audience will love reading.

5 inspiring email design trends for 2021

Email design trend #1: Typography instead of hero images

You only have 50 milliseconds to make a good impression on your audience.

The top of your newsletter must engage your readers and encourage them to continue reading your content.

Hero images—large banner images at the top of web pages and emails—are a popular way to build trust and engage your reader during those critical 50 milliseconds!

You’ve likely seen hundreds of hero images before, but here’s an example from Louie Spence’s newsletter to jog your memory:

Louie Spence has a colorful header image to capture his readers’ attention. Image via Louie Spence
Louie Spence has a colorful header image to capture his readers’ attention. Image via Louie Spence

Louie’s high-quality hero image invites the reader to keep scrolling if they want to learn more about his masterclass.

But in 2020 and beyond, hero images are getting a sophisticated upgrade. More and more email marketers are replacing hero images with attractive typography.

As email marketing expert Anne Tomlin notes, “I've seen typography replacing hero images in countless emails. A lot of emails have gotten rid of the standard hero and replaced it with a large interesting copy in a cool font.”

I love the below email from Patagonia:

Patagonia’s header focuses on typography. Image via Patagonia
Patagonia’s header focuses on typography. Image via Patagonia

Their typography is clear yet engaging, and it piques my curiosity! Turning fishing nets into hats? I instantly need to know more.

Filmsupply also replaces the traditional hero image with big bold typography:

Filmsupply uses typography instead of a header image. Image via Filmsupply
Filmsupply uses typography instead of a header image. Image via Filmsupply

A few words with a bold font choice can have a big impact. You can use design software, like Canva, to create a new typography-focused header.

Be sure the words and phrasing you choose relate to your newsletter content. In the examples above, both phrases summarize the body content so the reader knows what to expect.

Email design trend #2: More animation, less embedded videos

Our brains process visuals—like videos—60,000 times faster than text. But embedding videos in your newsletters can hurt your deliverability and send your emails to the spam folder.

The solution? Eye-catching animations!

GIFs are the long-standing champion of animation in newsletters, but according to Noman Nalkhande, APNGs lead the way in 2020. “GIFs were quite popular (they still are), [but] animated images are taking everybody's fancy at the moment. These animated PNGs (APNGs) offer better color choices than regular GIFs, thus taking a notch up regarding their popularity.”

And big brands are already using animation to get customers excited for new products and promotions. Take Lyft, for example, who used a simple scooter animation to introduce their new Lyft Scooters:

Lyft’s scooter animation is simple yet effective. Image via Lyft
Lyft’s scooter animation is simple yet effective. Image via Lyft

Even if I don’t read the content in Lyft’s email, the animation tells me that Lyft probably offers scooters now. And since most readers skim content, using a clever animation will help your readers catch the main point of your email, even if they skim.

Matt Bertram also comments that “APNGs [are] currently supported by major email clients and can produce more impactful animations than conventional GIFs.” With smoother transitions, better color choices, and smaller file sizes, APNGs are the perfect solution to animated newsletter content.

You can try to make your own APNGs to give your newsletters a creative touch!

Email design trend #3: 3D images

3D images are powerful. Not only are they visually appealing, but they also increase conversions and decrease returns for ecommerce retailers. Adding 3D imagery to your newsletters will showcase your product(s) in a way flat imagery lacks.

Marius Thauland, a business strategist with Leiekontor mentions how “[m]odern digital art is making an appearance in emails with things like 3D images and futuristic concepts.”

Adobe uses 3D imagery to help their reader see the different collateral they could create through their software.

Adobe showcases different collateral made from their suite of products. Image via Adobe
Adobe showcases different collateral made from their suite of products. Image via Adobe

And Designmodo uses both 3D elements and stunning typography to grab their readers’ attention instantly:

Designmodo has stunning typography mixed with 3D imagery. Image via Designmodo
Designmodo has stunning typography mixed with 3D imagery. Image via Designmodo

You can try your hand at 3D image creation or browse 3D image libraries like Pixelsquid and Sketchfab to create beautiful email newsletters.

Email design trend #4: Minimal design

One major email design trend we are noticing in 2020 was the lean towards minimalistic emails and templates.

When asked about minimal design, copywriter and educator Chanti Zak recommends “slimmer margins with zero fancy formatting. [I]f your emails look like something straight out of a magazine, you might hate what I'm about to say, but here it goes…the more polished and perfectly designed your emails look, the more your reader's brain will automatically label them as marketing.”

Chanti brings up a good point: 64% of consumers want brands to connect with them and break down the “company and consumer” barrier. In other words, your readers want to feel like you are a real person and not just another company trying to earn their dollars.

Hillary Weiss, a business messaging strategist and coach, makes the same point:

“My team and I have continuously seen better engagement from plain-text emails. It's less overwhelming to the eye, and some readers told me it felt like they were getting a personal email from me!“

– Hillary Weiss Presswood, brand coach and copywriting expert

Personal connection is invaluable!

At ConvertKit, we make sure our email templates are beautiful yet minimal, so you can focus on developing a strong relationship with your readers.

Build a loyal community with newsletters

With a ConvertKit Free account you can share what you love on a consistent basis with your newsletter to connect with your followers and grow your business.

Create your free newsletter

ConvertKit creator, Michelle Poole’s newsletter, uses a minimal design with her content being the focus of her newsletter:

Michelle’s minimal design is beautiful and easy to read. Image via Virtual Hand
Michelle’s minimal design is beautiful and easy to read. Image via Virtual Hand

Email design trend #5: Dark mode compatibility

Dark mode took the world by storm in 2019, and many users prefer dark mode over light mode while using their phones and devices. If you haven’t thought about dark mode for your newsletter design, you may be alienating your readers who use it.

Alex Azoury, CEO of Home Grounds, mentions that by “intentionally designing the email to look fantastic in dark mode, which is more popular than ever, we don't lose engagement because the newsletter was only designed for a bright background.”

Litmus designs their newsletters for both light and dark mode. Notice how their logo changes on a dark background. Image via Litmus
Litmus designs their newsletters for both light and dark mode. Notice how their logo changes on a dark background. Image via Litmus

Luckily, preparing your newsletters for dark mode doesn’t require much additional work. You can achieve flawless email design for both light and dark mode using:

  • PNGs with transparent backgrounds
  • No set background colors
  • White outlines around dark text

And of course, test your email newsletter with both light and dark mode on your phone before sending it to ensure it looks great.

Email design predictions for 2021

2021 is right around the corner, and you can already see new email design trends emerging.

I spoke with our email marketing experts to see what they think 2021 has in store for newsletter design. Get ahead of the trends and start applying these email design tips today.

1. Hyper-personalization

Addressing your recipient by name can help you personalize your emails, but it won’t be enough in 2021.

Consumers expect hyper-personalization and want newsletters with relevant information. When asked what drives customers to unsubscribe to email newsletters, 33% of people said the products promoted in the newsletter didn’t match their interests.

You can send hyper-personalized content to your list by creating email list segments. Not only will your subscribers appreciate the personalized content, but your bottom-line will also benefit; on average, marketers who personalize customer experiences see a 20% increase in sales!

Anne Tomlin gives a strong example of how businesses adapted during the pandemic with hyper-personalization:

“the pandemic forced retailers to offer curbside service. That offering required logic to determine the subscriber’s location to direct them to the nearest store that offered curbside pickup.”

– Anne Tomlin, email marketing expert

By setting up segments, those businesses were able to easily transition to curbside service.

You can effortlessly segment your email list with Convertkit through tags and segments. With your segments in hand, you can send out hyper-personalized emails every time.

2. Text-only emails

If you aren’t design-savvy and the thought of 3D imagery and animation is making you sweat, you’ll love this.

Justin Blackman of Pretty Fly Copy sees fewer images and more text heading into 2021. “Write something that looks like an email you'd send your wife or husband,” Justin says.

Just take a look at this snippet from one of Justin’s email newsletters to see what he means:

Look for minimal designs in 2021. Image via Pretty Fly Copy
Look for minimal designs in 2021. Image via Pretty Fly Copy

Justin doesn’t use any fancy templates, yet his newsletter still draws me in. Strong email copy paired with a minimalistic design can do wonders for your newsletter.

3. Interactive emails

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will give you the ability to design interactive newsletters.

Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you have five different products you’d like to showcase to your readers. With a standard newsletter, you’d have to link to an external landing page for your readers to view each product.

With AMP newsletters, you can have a carousel and shopping right within your newsletter! Your readers won’t need to click to a landing page to complete your call-to-action. AMP gives users the opportunity to view image carousels, shop, and more without leaving their email.

While AMP might seem exciting, keep in mind not every email service provider supports AMP content just yet, but it’s an exciting idea worth keeping an eye on.

4. Bold and bright colors

Did you know that colors influence 85% of shoppers’ purchase decisions?

Red makes people feel love and passion, blue can make you feel at peace, and yellow evokes happiness.

Colors elicit emotions, and with the current events of 2021, people are desperate for an uplift.

Mayank Batavia with Quick Email Verification sees a trend towards email designs with bold colors:

“[W]e'll see marketers experiment with bold colors [which will] represent [the] optimistic outlook we all want to have.”

– Mayank Batavia, entrepreneur and freelance writer

Just take a look at Allset’s email newsletter below to see what I mean.

Allset’s use of colors gives you a boost of energy. Image via Allset
Allset’s use of colors gives you a boost of energy. Image via Allset

Email design best practices

Before you incorporate these email design trends into your next newsletter, there are some best practices you should follow!

1. On-brand design

Your reader shouldn't have time to dig through your newsletter to figure out who you are. Before you give your email newsletter a total design makeover, make sure it still fits your brand.

The average American sends and receives an average of 126 emails per day, and straying too far from your brand can cause confusion for your subscribers (and cause them to unsubscribe).

2. Be accessible and inclusive

Beautiful emails are ineffective if members of your email list cannot access your content. 2.2 billion people worldwide have a visual impairment. To create accessible emails, add alt text or image descriptions when possible and avoid putting important information into pictures.

If you must put information into a graphic, pair it with a caption or description so the information isn’t lost if your reader can’t view the image.

3. Optimize for mobile

47% of people use a mobile app to check their emails. Just like your website should accommodate different screen sizes, so should your email newsletters.

Images, animations, and graphics will be shrunk down on mobile. It’s best to avoid imagery with small text as it may become illegible on smaller screens.

Before you send out your email newsletter, send a test to yourself, and see how it appears on different screen sizes.

How to design beautiful emails in ConvertKit

Now it’s time for you to craft a beautiful email using the above email design inspiration.

ConvertKit’s Visual Email Template editor will be your new best friend to craft functional yet appealing newsletters!

First, sign up for your free ConvertKit account.

Once you have your account, go into your dashboard and click on “Broadcasts”.

Click “Broadcasts” to begin your email newsletter.
Click “Broadcasts” to begin your email newsletter.

Next, click “New Broadcast” on the right-hand side of your workspace.

Click “New Broadcast”
Click “New Broadcast”

The next screen will prompt you to select your audience. If you don’t have an audience yet, no worries! You can still test out our Visual Email Template Editor.

Choose who will get your email newsletter
Choose who will get your email newsletter

After you set your audience, click “Next Step” to access our Visual Editor. Use the email design inspiration you’ve learned today to create a beautiful email.

After your email is complete, click “Send Broadcast” to deliver your newsletter.

Schedule or send your newsletter immediately
Schedule or send your newsletter immediately

And that’s all there is! Take your email design to the next level with a free ConvertKit account!

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Dana Nicole

Dana is a freelance writer who works closely with B2B SaaS brands to create content people enjoy reading. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sipping on a warm cup of tea and reading a good book (the scarier, the better). See what she’s up to at

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