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Email Newsletter Design: Guidelines And Examples


The email newsletter is a powerful marketing and communication tool that has various useful functions. It reminds your users about you; it informs users about your products; it tells them what you have been up to; and it helps you build a unique relationship with them. Users like email newsletters if the newsletters bring them value.

The fundamental rule for creating an email newsletter is to give it interesting, relevant and up-to-date information that is enjoyable to read. Users sign up for newsletters hoping be informed about things that they would not otherwise be able to find out about. In this article, we’ll discuss some guidelines for designing and distributing email newsletters. Each point will be accompanied by both good and bad examples.

Please notice: in this post we features both good and bad examples of newsletter design, so you can get a better understanding of the problems to avoid and good design decisions to make.

You may be interested in the following related posts:

Signing Up For A Newsletter Link

This is an important step in convincing users that your newsletters are interesting and that they would benefit from signing up.

Tell Users What They Will Get Link

Before asking users for their details, tell them what they will receive, and identify the benefits of signing up. If you mention that the newsletters will include exclusive offers and deals, make sure to keep the promise. In addition, let users know how often they will receive the newsletter: weekly or monthly.

On the Mulberry sign-up page2, the company promises to send users exclusive updates and offers. The Marie Claire UK subscription page3 clearly states that its newsletters include news, beauty buys, competitions and offers.

Marie newsletter subscription page4
Marie Claire UK subscription page

Reward Users for Signing Up Link

You may want to consider giving some reward to users for signing up; for example, a free gift, voucher or discount. To encourage users to sign up for his newsletter, Jamie Oliver offers a free £25 wine voucher that can be claimed after subscribing (on the condition that users spend £64.99 or more on the wine).

Jamie Oliver sign up page
Jamie Oliver sign-up page

Jamie Oliver reward page
Jamie Oliver reward page

If you will give rewards, let users know as soon as possible in the process. James Perse5 gives users who subscribe to its newsletter a $15 online gift card. However, the reward is not mentioned on the subscription page, and the promotion code is sent via a confirmation email only after the subscription has been received. You would not have known that until you subscribed. The company is clearly missing a great opportunity to get people to sign up for its newsletters.

James Perse Subscription confirmation email
James Perse subscription confirmation email

Preview Your Newsletter Link

One way to let users know what they will get is to give them a preview of your newsletter. Hershey’s Kitchens has two different newsletters, and it offers examples of both types. The company even gives each newsletter a name and clearly indicates how often it will be sent out.

Hershey's Kitchen sign up page
Hershey’s Kitchen sign-up page

Keep Questions Short and Simple Link

Users avoid filling out forms and submitting their details if possible. For a newsletter sign-ups, all you need is their email address.

Hersey’s Kitchens has 10 mandatory fields. has 8 fields, but only the email field is required. We have found from our studies, though, that people often miss the asterisk or do not know what it means. Users who are reluctant to fill in many details may well refuse to sign up in this case.

Hershey's Kitchen subscription page
Hershey’s Kitchen sign-up page

Content Of Newsletter Link

Based on our user testing, we found that people look at three things when they receive a newsletter:

  1. The sender, to see if it is from someone they know.
  2. The subject line, to see if it is of interest to them.
  3. The date, to see if the communication is up to date.

Write an Attractive Subject Line Link

One way to encourage users to open your newsletter is to write a subject line that grabs their attention.

If you are offering some sort of deal in your newsletter, try to avoid generic appeals in your subject line (for instance, Game July newsletter subject line: “Sizzling Summer Deals”). Instead, mention specific offers, such as Dorothy Perkins November Issue: “25% Off Just for You”. Also, be realistic about your offers, and avoid making them sound too good to be true. Users are skeptical about subject lines like “Get 1000 Extra Points” because they know they will often have to spend a lot to get those points.

Provide Useful and Well-Written Content Link

A newsletter should contain information that users would not normally research on their own. Users take seconds to scan for topics of interest to them before deciding whether to spend more time reading the newsletter. If your newsletter, like Forrester6‘s, shows only one or two topics, users would less likely to find something of interest to them.

Forrester newsletter
Forrester newsletter

Furthermore, including links to your website in the newsletter is crucial.

Make Content Relevant to Your Readers Link

Make your newsletter’s content as relevant to your readers as possible, whether through offers, products or images. Superfluous content will add no value and simply be ignored. You could also provide customized content. Personalization can be done in one of two ways:

  1. Asking users for more (optional) information when they sign up.
  2. Implicitly recording what they buy and view on your website.

For example, Amazon7 sends newsletter with recommendations based on what its users have purchased. Recommendation-based newsletters can be highly useful, provided that your analytics are accurate.

Amazon customised newsletter
Amazon’s customized newsletter

Offer Exclusive Deals Link

You could always offer subscribers special deals or freebies. There are a few ways to go about this. H&M8 and Photobox9 ask users to present their newsletters at the point of purchase in stores to receive discounts. Clinique10 and Airparks11 include a promotion code in their newsletters that users can redeem when checking out online.

H and M newsletter with discounts
H&M newsletter

Photobox newsletter with discounts

Photobox newsletter newsletter with promotion code
Airparks newsletter

Avoid putting these benefits so deep in the newsletter that users miss them. For instance, Clinique (above) puts its code at the bottom of the page, whereas Airparks puts its at the very top of the page.

In addition, make sure the rewards are relevant to your product and target audience. Take Inkclub12, which gives out a free blusher to customers who shop via its newsletter. Not only does this item have little relevance to Inkclub’s product line, but it may not be very attractive to the company’s target users. newsletter with promotion code
Inkclub newsletter

Newsletter Design Link

Design your newsletter to suit its chief purpose. If the main objective is to announce a new product or promote a particular service, you may want to focus the newsletter entirely on this product or service. Good examples are Apple13 in promoting its new iPhone 3GS.

Apple newsletter about new iPhone 3GS
Apple newsletter promoting its new iPhone 3GS.

To promote its latest exclusive offers, Ted Baker14 takes an easy and rather lazy approach: the whole newsletter consists merely of one big banner showing offers of 50% off, in the hope that users will click to the website to find out more. By contrast, Dabs.com15 showcases a number of its latest deals in its newsletter, giving users a rough idea of its product line and sale prices.

Ted Baker newsletter
Ted Baker newsletter

Dabs newsletter
Dabs newsletter

You could also adopt a catalogue style, like IKEA16, or create a summary of your e-commerce website, like Audible17, which teases users to visit its website with prices and a clear call-to-action button.

IKEA newsletter
IKEA newsletter

Audible newsletter
Audible newsletter

Keep it Simple and Straightforward Link

As reported by the Nielsen Norman Group in its Email Newsletter Usability Report18, the average reader skims a newsletter for 51 seconds. People never read: they scan for content that is of interest to them. So, don’t overwhelm them by squeezing too much information on the page. Make sure your content gets straight to the point, and write short paragraphs and bullet points.

The main purpose of Flybe’s newsletter is to present an exclusive offer on family trips to Disneyland. The value of this deal is lost among the long paragraphs. The message could be conveyed more effectively in bullet points for quick scanning.

Flybe newsletter
Flybe newsletter

Make Good Use of Images, Numbers and Colors Link

Users are drawn first to elements that are visually simulating, such as graphics. Use images to guide users to the most important content and messages.

Numbers also grab attention. Users tend to associate them with prices and savings. Use percentages and dollar values to show concrete offers. For example, Pixmania19 newsletter has a big “49% off,” showing how much savings are available: clear and appealing.

Pixmania newsletter
Pixmania newsletter

Color adds interest, too. But be careful, because inappropriate use makes for a messy, confusing newsletter. Take Rimmel London’s newsletter.

Rimmel London newsletter
Rimmel London newsletter

Tailor the Layout to the Content Link

A newsletter can be designed in a one-column or multi-column layout or a mixture of both. A one-column grid is easier to skim but might take up more space and increase the length of the newsletter. While people do skim email newsletters, that’s no reason to make them overly lengthy. However, some exceptions are the Design Hotels20 newsletter, which is long but well organized. Hotels are shown based on location, with attractive photos and deals.

Design Hotels newsletter
Design Hotels newsletter

A two-column layout is common for newsletters. Narrower columns is usually used for the table of contents and upcoming events, while the main content is given a wider column. Etsy21 uses a two-column design for its newsletter, but both columns contain photos and links, and the sections have no prominent divisions. The design makes the page look messy and it lacks focus, making it hard to figure out where to look on the page. By contrast, iStockphoto22‘s clear division between sections and grid design help guide the user’s attention to the left or right column.

Etsy newsletter
Etsy newsletter

iStockphoto newsletter
iStockphoto newsletter

Be Creative Link

Creativity in a newsletter is always welcome. Both First Great Western23 and Southern24 present their content using fictional characters, Bob and Loco respectively, who users can easily relate to.

First Great Western newsletter
First Great Western newsletter

Southern newsletter
Southern newsletter

Giving each edition of your newsletter a different layout or design is okay as long users can easily recognize your brand. Despite STA Travel25 using various styles for its weekly newsletter, certain elements follow their branding guidelines, allowing users to quickly identify it.

STA Travel newsletter issue 254
STA newsletter, issue #254

STA Travel newsletter issue 255
STA newsletter, issue #255

Unlike the rather uninspiring Tripadvisor26 newsletter, Top Gear27 gets creative with its hand-sketched design, which makes the newsletter fun to read and explore.

Tripadvisor newsletter
Tripadvisor newsletter

Top Gear newsletter
Top Gear newsletter

Be Wary of Table of Contents Link

Some newsletters include a table of contents at the top of the page, which can help users quickly scan for items of interest. A table of contents can be especially helpful in lengthy newsletters that have a lot of content, such as the one from MoneySavingExpert28.

MoneySavingExpert newsletter
MoneySavingExpert newsletter

Previous experience tells us, though, that some users do not understand that the links in the table of contents navigate within the newsletter. Assuming that the links take them to a website, they avoid clicking them altogether. One solution is to avoid placing the links in the left or right columns, as Foodepedia29 does, which is where external links and ads are often found.

Foodepedia newsletter
Foodepedia newsletter

Be Wary of Ads Link

If you have to include ads in your newsletter, make sure they blend in with the content. A good example of this is Lastminute.com30, and a bad example is PCMag.com31 which merely copies Google AdSense code directly into its newsletter, making the page look messy and the content unconvincing. newsletter32 newsletter newsletter newsletter

Tools And Features Link

Make it easy for users to unsubscribe, but don’t remind them how to all the time. Also, tell users how they can change their email address, view the newsletter in a Web browser and quickly share the newsletter with their friends. Other useful features include: “Follow us on Twitter,” “Be Our Fan on Facebook” and “Watch Us on YouTube.”

After Sending Out The Newsletter Link

After sending out your newsletter, use an email marketing tool and list manager to track, monitor and measure the performance of your campaigns. Many email service providers are out there, such as MailChimp, iContact, Mailvivo, Mailing Manager and Atomic Email Tracker. The majority of them also provide templates to help you create your newsletter if you don’t want to get your hands dirty.

Showcase Link

MacHeist‘s Directorate newsletter grabs its readers’ attention with the price of its iPhone apps (£0.99). Then, it tells them what MacHeist does in a short paragraph and presents its features in a clear and appealing way via icons. Simple, interesting and effective.

MacHeist Directorate newsletter

Headscape‘s newsletter with large headlines and nice illustrations.

Headscape's newsletter

Muji‘s newsletter has a tidy layout that allows for quick scanning. Each section is accompanied by nice product images and prices.

Muji newsletter

Howies might have a bit too much text in its newsletter. However, it organizes the content into different sections with big clear headings.

Howies newsletter

Apple‘s Christmas newsletter has a photo-related theme promoting its digital photo organizer software, iPhoto, and its photo books and calendar printing service.

Apple newsletter gives its users an exclusive offer with a code. It not only emphasizes the word “FREE” but makes good use of the model to draw attention to the offer. newsletter

Bluefly cleverly divides its newsletter into two sections: “Offers” (the main section) and the right navigation section, using beautiful imagery in the process. Also, notice how it emphasizes the 80% offer and word “OFF” (in large font).

Bluefly newsletter

Ambiance San Francisco takes a creative drawing-based approach to encourage users to shop with it.

Ambiance San Francisco newsletter

Disney Adventures‘ newsletter is another good example. Its beautiful picture gives users that holiday feeling.

Disney Adventures newsletter33

Good Life Garden‘s newsletter effectively uses the word “Free” to grab the user’s attention. The design is simple yet visually pleasing. Unfortunately, the content is repeated in the same newsletter.

Good Life Garden newsletter

Bite Card‘s newsletter has festive background imagery to evoke the winter season. It is simple, with a big banner at the top showing the product price, followed by cocktail choices and ingredients.

Bite Card newsletter

The Squawk‘s newsletter attracts users with the beautiful book cover on promotion for that month.

The Squawk newsletter

Cauldron‘s newsletter also has a tidy layout and clearly defines the purpose of each section. It tells users the subject of its next issue in the “Coming Next Month” section at the bottom, a nice tease.

Cauldron newsletter34

Mango‘s newsletter makes good use of bright, attractive colors.

Mango newsletter

iStockphoto‘s uses a gallery to present its top eight photos of the month: neat and easy to scan.

iStockphoto newsletter

Threadless‘ newsletter offers “$10 per tee” in big clear type at the top of the page.

Threadless newsletter

Further Resources Link

You may also be interested in these additional resources:

About the Author Link

Chui Chui Tan is a User Experience Consultant at cxpartners, UK. She loves being creative. Chui Chui has spent over seven years conducting user evaluations and designing usable and accessible user interfaces. She previously worked as a Mechanical Designer and received her doctorate in Human Computer Interaction. You can follow Chui Chui on Twitter39.


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Chui Chui Tan is a User Experience Consultant at cxpartners, UK. She loves being creative. Chui Chui has spent over seven years conducting user evaluations and designing usable and accessible user interfaces. She previously worked as a Mechanical Designer and received her doctorate in Human Computer Interaction. You can follow Chui Chui on Twitter.

  1. 1

    Nice round up, thanks

  2. 2

    Thanks alot! I’m saving this link to use as a reference when I am doing a newsletter in the future. Brilliant post as always on smashingmagazine!

  3. 3

    David K Rodriguez

    February 15, 2010 8:02 am

    I agree with @mr92.
    Many email clients have images turned off by default.

    Most of these examples are strongly reliant on images. You say to “Use images to guide users to the most important content and messages.” Does that mean that the most important content should be images? Or does it matter? How about accessibility?

    Also, while the tripadvisor email may not seem inspired, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. I love inspired design as much as anyone; but this one is short, clean and to the point with a strong call to action. Is that not more important for their purposes?

    I would also like to add that Campain Monitor is a great resource for email design and tracking (although I’m sure many people already know that).


  4. 4

    Ronald | Naldz Graphics

    February 15, 2010 8:17 am

    A good email newsletter design and telling them how it works could be a factors that motivate visitors to subscribe:) nice post btw.

  5. 5

    Nice work. A really good read with some interesting points.

  6. 6

    Web Design Norwich

    February 15, 2010 9:10 am

    awesome thanks

  7. 7

    Superb article – my first SM bookmark of 2010!



  8. 8

    Mohammad Koubeissi

    February 15, 2010 9:20 am

    Great post, I’m glad email design is starting to get noticed more within design blogs.

    I started to help others with email newsletter design and email marketing.


  9. 9

    Great guidelines and examples.

  10. 10

    you sharing another helping article with newsletter guidelines and really good examples.

  11. 11

    Web4half | Web Design

    February 15, 2010 11:37 am

    Thanks for putting together this awesome List…

  12. 12

    Great article with some helpful ideas and tips.

    Here’s an email design gallery:

  13. 13

    “Be creative”. Seriously? You guys wrote that?

  14. 14

    Thank :p

  15. 15

    Nice as usually from SM.
    Is there any good and free app for sending newsletters?

  16. 16

    Nice, good to get this covered as its important to keep in contact this way, and can be forgotten about in web design.

  17. 17 is another that should be mentioned.

  18. 18

    think there should be some information about html/text newsletters, because a lot of people block images (and html-styles) in newsletters (;

  19. 19

    I spend a lot of my time creating HTML emails and i believe that it is important to try and stay away from using images to display text. A lot of email browsers have images switched off and many recipients do not bother to turn choose to display them. Also if you build a HTML email completely with images nested inside tables, you will always get white spacing between the rows when viewing through firefox in hotmail!

    I say keep it simple!

    • 20

      Hi Harrison

      I saw your comment, and I agree with you, just thought of sharing this in with you and any other HTML email creators, the reason for the whitespace in hotmail when viewing in firefox can be fixed if you include an inline css style in the images making it display as block: style=”display:block”, that should fix your issue.

      Anyway great post, thanks…

    • 21

      To the people talking about images not being displayed : For those not doing unsolicited emails subscribers know they will be receiving the newsletter and can click the view image button. You can style alt tags text style to help with page hierarchy.

      You can get rid of these gaps and the solution took about three minutes of googling to find. Apparently the person above me works, I have seen it mentioned on multiple sites. For one reason or another it did not work for part of what i was doing so I use :

      vertical-align: top

      This also removes the bars.

    • 22

      you could try giving each image an inline style : display:block. It works for me.

      – sorry, didn’t see the previous comments, anyhow you should now the trick.

  20. 23

    Thanks for the great article~
    Always a big help.
    Newsletter design inspirations:

  21. 24

    As always – an amazing article with excellent examples! Thanks man.

  22. 25

    great designs and very informative stuff,,

    check your website worth websitereckon


  23. 26

    Very few of the examples above are what I’d call “email newsletters”. A newsletter is a communication that informs and entertains the reader about a common point of interest. Half of the above are just big coupons delivered via email. I throw such coupons away when I get them in the (physical) post and I throw them away when I get them via email.

    • 27

      I agree. As I scanned the article, it appeared to me that most examples weren’t newsletters at all, just ads masquerading as newsletters. Today what passes for true information is just glitzed up advertising for folks with short attention spans who don’t really want to use their mental muscles.

  24. 28

    Nice examples and good advice. Though the HTML/txt issue is ever debatable. Then again, cannot reach them all anyway.

  25. 29

    And where’s the technical information on how to make them?
    CSS support, size, weight, differences between email clients, etc.

    Also a review of email apps would be nice too.

    This is like a Cosmopolitan article, too superficial for me.

    I’m dissapointed :(

    • 30

      Check out Campaign Monitors “Resources” section.
      They have a comprehensive list of what CSS works in what Email client. Very useful if you are just starting out!!

  26. 31

    Thanks for this great article.

    It would be nice if someone could post the HTML code of the showcased newsletters (e.g. via pastebin). This will make it easier for developers to understand how others structure the newsletters “under the hood”.

    • 32

      Someone recently said to “Code like it’s 1999.” – I don’t think it needs to be that drastic but you get the point.

      Remove all meta tags as well… they have no place in email.

      I disagree with the #4 statement. Outlook is the most forgiving of all email clients. It will not look the same in Gmail or Yahoo much of the time. Test on as many platforms as possible. There’s some handy charts laying around explaining what is and is not supported in web based email. I think you can find one on CampaignMonitor, which the link has been provided by others here already.

    • 33

      @Tommy: the basics for building HTML templates are simple;
      1) forget everything you know about HTML and CSS
      2) use tables, tables and even more tables
      3) only use inline CSS (and forget about complete stylesheets)
      4) when testing: if it works in Outlook, it works everywhere! (except Lotus…)

      • 34

        No it does not. If it works in outlook it might break in hotmail on firefox.

        Not to mention you need to specify outlook 2007, the older versions are better.

      • 35

        Johan, thanks for your reply. I noticed that some newsletters are available as online versions and analyzed the structure a little bit.

        It’s really a mess and frustrating that it’s so difficult to build good newsletters in this days.

  27. 36

    Federica Sibella

    February 16, 2010 12:39 am

    Thanks, beautiful round up. Right on time, it’s really what I was looking for.

  28. 37

    + remember to READ your email before sending it to avoid mistakes such as;
    “..if you are an exciting (sic) client of Headscape”
    (sorry Paul!)

  29. 38
  30. 39

    != a doubt, my favorite SM article in the past 12mos. Much thanks for this.

  31. 40

    This article basically says “make pretty designs” in your email newsletters. However, you are not mentioning the complexity that goes into building these properly, and many designers who do not realize how to optimize their email designs for this particular medium will either end up frustrating themselves or their builders if they follow this article’s advice.

    Also, it’s NOT going to look good in Outlook 2007 no matter what you do, so good luck with that!

  32. 41

    What type of price should be used when designing a email ad biweekly. Do you charge by the hour or a flat cost?

  33. 42

    Really nice post, guys :). You’ve covered a lot, I gotta admit.

  34. 43

    Damn you covered a lot. Great article – bookmarked for later. :D

  35. 44

    These are great examples! We’ve posted a guide which covers a few more items too:

  36. 45


    February 17, 2010 1:19 am

    Thanks, great article!

    Some of these newsletters prefers to feature up to 5 different topics, what about those which feature more than 10 different topics?

    Do you think it is a good recomendation?

    An example:

  37. 46

    thanks. imo there aren’t many email newsletters that look good. some of these aren’t bad. if an email newsletter is nicely laid out, not too much content, good informative content and easy on the eye – it’ll be successful… just like a website if ya like. if coded right, it’ll pretty much always look ok in outlook although it is a bit of b****. in all honesty, i don’t get inspired by the html email galleries listed in the comments… most of the inspiration comes from beautiful web sites.

  38. 47
  39. 48

    Some great looking newsletters there. You missed’s newsletter out, though – they have an innovative design that appeals to a lot of people, and of course it is jam-packed with information for everyone!

  40. 49

    you should see:

    works great!


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