Email insight: less is more

I’m a great fan of the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. Simple but good designs go a long way. I have mentioned this in Holiday season pt2: art of persuasion, but I believe this deserves more attention. Why wouldn’t a company go all out with their email designs? Flashy (or flashing, with animated gif..) logos, big text effects and buttons everywhere. A reason why is because people’s heads would spin and they wouldn’t know what to read or where to click. A missed opportunity which can be avoided.
True good design focuses on something called UX: the user experience. Now in the UX world there’s a debate about designing UX, and that it is actually not possible. However you can design for UX, which is noted in this great Smashing Magazine post. Designing for a great user experience means taking the facets of that user experience into account. These have been defined by Peter Morville, and graphically represented like below:

Hit all points right and you have a done deal: the people (your subscribers) will love you. It’s that simple, really. Some of these facets apply more to design for email marketing than others: I believe valuable, usable, useful and accessible fall in that category. What’s the optimum design plan then? Here are some pointers:
– Purpose: what’s the purpose of the email? Inform, engage, influence, persuade, etc: what should the email do?
– Audience: who will be the people receiving this email? Older people who will want bigger fonts for reading pleasure? Younger people who like hip designs and colors?
– Time: do people need to act now, today, or any day? Timed offers need a different approach than a new product introduction.
– Followup: what will happen ‘after’ the email? Do people need to clickthrough? Fill in forms? Call a hotline? This is sometimes called the customer journey.
– Tone of voice: this is tied to purpose and audience: how do you want your message to sound? Cool, fun, sexy, scientific, innovative, etcetera.
There are many more pointers, but these should get you started and thought about even before the first email design comes rolling off the Photoshop work belt. When trying to actually design an email, design like you are the receiver: how would you react to the email? This can be difficult at first, but is necessary because many times email marketing is viewed too often from the sender side, and not enough from the receiver side. Email marketing should be great and fun and valuable for all people involved, not just the people actually ‘doing’ it.
If you have any examples of great or flawed email designs concerning user experience, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments.

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