It’s not just technology that evolves every year, it’s also the tastes and preferences of your email subscribers. The email design trends of 2021 emphasize emotional aims just as much as visually stunning graphics—appealing to readers’ hearts as well as their eyes. The look of your emails is still crucial, but the email trends this year are more about how the visuals make your subscribers feel, not the visuals themselves.
What new email marketing design trends can we look forward to? We’ve compiled a list of the 10 best email design trends for 2021, so you can have a head-start on some jaw-dropping emails and hit the new year running.
Here are the top email trends for 2021:
- Editorial approach
- Illustrated iconography
- Skeumorphic frames
- Are they reel?
- Animation layering
- Pastel palettes
- Single scroll with floating elements
- Neon in dark mode
- It’s all about you
1. Editorial approach
Think luxury print magazines: minimal layouts, high quality photography and muted palettes. A genre of design aiming to not only connect with their audience, but to be displayed on their reader’s coffee tables for all to see, this trend is all about fine-tuning your aesthetic.
Email marketing has evolved massively and currently, it’s about keeping your inbox chic and sophisticated. Less is more when dealing with text; it’s got to be attention-grabbing, yet not over the top; enticing but not overwhelming. Keep your audience at the forefront of your mind to ensure your designs are spot on.
2. Illustrated iconography
Gone are the days of simplistic iconography. As with much of our other digital design trend forecasts for 2021, email marketing is seeing a rise in illustration, interactivity and accessibility. In particular, icons have been granted much more visual prominence. Conveying brand personality, unique artworks and most importantly, clearly communicating the intended message, iconography is making waves in email marketing design.
You might notice the use of bright and vibrant colors, a way to instill extra energy to the minimalist backdrop and bring focus to its content. Aside from speeding up loading times with lightweight graphics, icons—especially zhuzhed up icons—soften brand identities and encourage an emotional connection to be made with the audience. Adding a sense of uniformity to your icon imagery enables this technique to become a great visual aid when explaining multiple features or advantages of your business.
3. Skeuomorphic frames
Don’t panic if you’ve never seen the word skeuomorphism before, it’s a design term for mimicking the visuals of another object within your design. In this case, skeuomorphic frames refer to when you frame your images inside a mock device, for example a smartphone or browser window, so that it looks like the image itself is on someone’s phone screen or browser window.
Of all the 2021 email design trends, skeuomorphic frames are one of the easiest to apply—just put your content inside a stylized recreation of a mobile device or browser window.
This technique works best for digital services or apps because the viewer can imagine exactly what it’ll look like; illustrative versions of browser windows can be as playful as you want: they’re another chance to establish an aspect of your brand identity. Even minimalistic designs can incorporate this rather current—bordering on millennial—feeling trend, with just three dots in the upper-left corner to signify the somewhat iconic Mac browser window.
4. Are they reel?
Body positivity has influenced a multitude of brands to explore a more realistic, less airbrushed avenue of product photography. Alongside this movement, there’s been a revival of commercial film photography dispersed across industries. Nostalgic, vintage-inspired and evoking the experiential aspect of photography as a practice, all sorts of brands are manipulating digital photography to embody its predecessor.
Add to these factors the pandemic-related urges for socialising and shared experiences and it makes sense that email marketing is targeting emotional responses and connections in this way.
With film photography being generally more expensive to produce than digital on a regular basis, we have some shortcuts for you to nail that vintage, film aesthetic:
- Adding film code to the borders of your photograph
- Surrounding the image with a polaroid frame
- Using flash-heavy pictures for hyperrealism
- Manipulating the color to black-and-white or sepia as an after effect
This is a less “polished” technique than other types of photography and when used appropriately it helps readers to better relate to your brand. On the flip side, be sure this is what your audience wants in a brand—this trend doesn’t pair well with particularly formal businesses, which benefit from content that’s more polished, not less.
Email design by Charlie McEvoy
5. Animation layering
The goal of impressive email visuals is to walk the line between looking amazing and loading quickly. You want something to dazzle your viewers, but in a reasonable file size. So instead of fully animated effects in newsletters, the email design trend of 2021 is to overlap animations with other, static images.
This gives you the “wow” factor of animations, but with less of the technical drawbacks. For one thing, a layering effect with or without animations adds visual depth to your emails and gives designers better control of visual hierarchy, or what elements get noticed first. It also fits into the collaging technique, but with the animated motion giving it a fun twist.
Email design by Anastasia, via Dribbble
6. Pastel palettes
Coinciding with other 2021 email design trends like illustrated iconography and editorial layouts, pastel palettes provide a vibrant counter-balance to the muted monotony of minimalist styles. Just like illustrated iconography above, pastel palettes soften a brand’s image and make them appear friendlier and more cheerful, which is why they’re often referred to as “happy colors”. While other email trends encourage using less images, pastel colors ensure that the visuals you have will draw attention.
Ideally, bright pastels work best as highlight colors for elements like call-to-action buttons or top-priority text. Especially when paired with neutral backgrounds, pastels can attract attention anywhere you want. Be sure to use them sparingly, or they lose their potency.
7. Single scroll with floating elements
Year after year, design trends strive to outdo and one-up whatever was popular before, but how do you top something as intuitive as scrolling? One of the 2021 email design trends seems to have found a way. Instead of creating chunks of content in a linear order, brands are creating one long frame of content with content “floating” on alternating sides of the screen.
What feels like an overly-simple formula for email designs actually creates a really striking, new energy. It’s handy for displaying multiple products in one email, especially if they’re all similar kinds of things.
The technique of alternating the product images that float up the frame creates a nice rhythm for the reader and supports a positive, memorable user experience. It also creates a more accessible breakdown of information for readers, which makes scrolling through emails so much more enjoyable.
8. Neon in dark mode
Paying homage to underground styles of the 80s and 90s, the use of neon colors in dark mode feels more relevant than ever. It’s a familiar technique that adds a retro twist to contemporary branding.
To freshen it up, brands are teaming it with slick animations and motion effects. Unusual, atmospheric and buzzing with energy, this one gives a forward-thinking ambience to your audience’s inbox.
We’ve been speaking a lot about minimalism, but for polarized trends like this, there’s bound to be a counter-trend. In this case it’s maximalism, the antithesis of minimalism in that everything is large, lavish and flashing. Just look at its main characteristics, which would make a die-hard minimalist wince at the thought:
- Busy layouts
- Arrays of colors
- Large imagery
- Elaborate detail
- Bold typography
Now that PCs and smartphones can handle better visual effects, the practical benefits of minimalism have become obsolete, rendering it just another visual style rather than a necessity. At the same time, modern users have come to expect better and better visuals, setting the stage for a design movement, such as maximalism, to capitalize on eye-catching effects.
10. It’s all about you
No, not you. It’s all about you, the customer. The last of our 2021 email design trends is less of a creative design style and more of an email marketing strategy: creating personalized emails with call-to-actions (CTAs) that speak directly to the user and encourage them to click through for a service tailored to them: the individual.
In recent years, there’s been a growing emphasis on the user experience and reader journey in email marketing designs as they communicate directly with the recipient. Marketing personalisation used to merely mean posing questions to the reader within the email, usually with answers that flatter your product or service. More advanced strategies include segmenting your email groups and sending customized content to each one (i.e., recommending expensive products to a group of your biggest spenders).
This trend extends personalising your marketing emails to another level. Reevaluate the destinations of your CTAs: think experiences or tailored, useful widgets that individualizes and aids their interaction with your site rather than sending them straight to another generic sales page. One of our digital marketing trends for 2021 is interactive content, so we’d recommend an online quiz or minigame.
Email design trends 2021: follow your (customer’s) heart
It’s a mixed bunch for the email trends of 2021. There’s the rise of maximalism, minimal editorial-style layouts, pastel palettes but then neon flashes, illustrated icons and yet more organic photography. Whichever you feel drawn to for your brand, make sure to keep your target audience at the forefront of your mind. You need a deep understanding of their consumer wants, needs and habits to truly establish an emotional connection and a click-through.