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Designing Emails for Success With Paul Airy

For some, email design is all about aesthetics. While you should definitely make your emails good to look at, they must be combined with your overall strategy to achieve success. 

Let me put this in another way, you must be designing emails for conversions, not for compliments. After all, email design has improved subscriber engagement for 20% of marketers. 

To talk about designing emails for success, we reached out to Paul Airy, an email design and accessibility expert. He’s also the author of ‘A Type of Email’ - a book dedicated explicitly to typography in emails. Safe to say, Paul is the real MVP when it comes to email design. 

Let’s not waste any time and get straight to the interview. 

How vital is email marketing in today’s day and age?

Email marketing is vital in today’s day and age. People are living their lives online more than ever. They’ve had to live their lives online throughout the Covid pandemic. They’ve experienced the benefits of doing so. 

During their life online, they receive emails. They receive them from their financial service providers. They receive them from their insurance providers. They receive them from their grocery stores. They receive them from their clothing stores. In the UK, they even receive them from the National Health Service! 

When they order online, they receive an email to confirm their order. They receive another email to tell them their order is on its way. They receive another email to ask them to review their order. Finally, they receive another email encouraging them to order again! And it goes on.

How crucial is design in successful email campaigns?

Design is crucial in the creation of successful email campaigns. In fact, email campaigns should be ‘designed to be successful.’ It’s important to ask ‘What does success look like?’ and include the answer in the design brief. 

The answer will inform the design decision-making process. Being familiar with the brand that’s sending it, the message they’re sending, and the recipients who’ll receive it, as well as its specific purpose, will inform those design decisions. Each design decision will transform how an email sounds, looks, interacts, performs, and succeeds.

What are 3 elements every good email design must have?

  1. It must answer the brief – which should answer the question ‘What does success look like?’
  2. It must be easy to read and easy to interact with – it must be accessible. 
  3. It must respond to the recipient’s device of choice – reflowing and resizing its content across mobile, tablet, and desktop devices.

How crucial is typography in email design?

It’s absolutely crucial. An emails’ message is communicated through words, expressed through typography. However, it has to be well-executed. 

Headings, paragraphs, lists, and calls to action, all made readable by carefully considering font sizes and white space, are critical, as is the practice of wrapping pairs of semantic tags around each HTML element. Combined, they allow recipients to read the email easily – both visually and audibly.

Should brands have one consistent typography style for all their emails or change the style as per the email type? 

Brands should have one consistent typography style for all their emails because a brand’s typography is integral to its branding, and changing its typography will change its branding. However, brands may change layouts across different types of email, while their logotype, typography, and imagery clearly and consistently must communicate to their recipient’s that they’re from the same brand.

Do you prefer web-safe fonts or web fonts?

Both. I’d encourage brands to utilize web fonts, especially if they’re using them across their other channels, as it will strengthen their branding. I’d advise brands to utilize web-safe fonts, especially for fallbacks where web fonts either aren’t supported or can’t be downloaded.

Should brands be cautious when using web fonts in their emails?

Yes. Because only some of their recipients, those that use Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Mac’s will see and experience web fonts, as Apple Mail will display them. 

Therefore, I’d advise brands to analyze the emails they send using email analytics, such as Litmus Email Analytics and Email on Acid Email Analytics. In doing so, they’ll receive reports on the percentage of their recipients that use Apple Mail, thereby the percentage of their recipients who’ll see and experience web fonts.

Is email accessibility important? What are some quick ways through which one can make their emails more accessible?

Important? It’s fundamental! 

Some quick ways? Use HTML typography or ‘live text’ and avoid embedding typography within imagery. Use image alt attributes and insert the appropriate alternative text into each one. Use semantic HTML attributes, especially on the headlines and headings, as they make a big difference.

What is one email marketing pet peeve you can’t stand?

Buying email lists.

What is one overlooked element when designing emails?

Alternative text. Copywriters rarely write it. Marketers may write it if prompted to in their email builder. Developers are often left to write it in their code. And, as it doesn’t appear on proofs, it’s rarely proofread either!

What’s a good ratio of textual to visual content in emails?

I’m not convinced that the ratio of textual to visual content in emails is as relevant today as it used to be. I’d recommend using well-chosen imagery to support the content and context of an email, with the text being HTML typography or ‘live text.’

What is your favorite email marketing campaign that you’ve worked on?

My own email – Type E, as I write it, design it, and develop it. It’s very fulfilling. It’ll be returning to the inbox in 2022!

What’s one email marketing trend to look out for in 2022?

In light of Apple Mail Privacy Protection, I think we’re going to see a lot more attention paid to answering the question I spoke of earlier – ‘What does success look like?’

In doing so, we’ll look to the metrics that help us understand whether success has been achieved or not, such as click-throughs and conversions, while still keeping one eye on opens. This trend will inevitably change ‘how we do email’ and how we measure success in the first place!

If you could give one piece of advice to email designers just starting out, what would it be?

Always think about the person opening, reading, and interacting with the email you’re designing and the email clients, webmail clients, apps, and devices they’re using, and utilize your creativity and your code to deliver great email experiences to them.

Wrap Up

Designing emails geared towards success is crucial. You can make this process easier by using predesigned email templates from Unlayer. They’re super easy to modify, completely white-labeled, and feature a responsive design. 

That’s all for this interview, who should we talk to next?


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