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Should Color and Design be Used in Emails? How to use Color Theory for Email Design

Want to learn how to use color theory to design eye-catching emails? Here are our top tips to help your email campaigns stand out in your audience's overstuffed inbox. 

Posted 25 Feb 2022
Should Color and Design be Used in Emails? How to use Color Theory for Email Design

Despite being one of the most lucrative marketing tools on the market – with an average ROI of $36 for every $1 spent – email marketing can be significantly lacking when it comes to color and design

What many businesses don’t realize is that their customers buy with their eyes first. When the presentation is attractive, it sets you apart from the competition and enhances the customer experience.

Why Use Color and Design in Your Emails?

Worldwide, more than 319 billion emails find their way into people’s inboxes every day. This inevitably leads to digital fatigue – there are only so many bland marketing messages the brain can pay attention to. 

By serving up your customers something aesthetically pleasing, beautifully designed, and informed by the principles of color theory, you can rise above the rabble. The result? More engagement with your marketing materials. 

Advantages To Using Color and Design in Your Emails

Most established brands already have a color scheme strategy, but not many are using it effectively in their email campaigns to the detriment of their email marketing ROI.

The advantages of utilizing color and design in your emails far outweigh the extra time spent creating them. In fact, color and design can be used to:

  • Evoke a certain emotion or response
  • Create interesting, appealing visuals
  • Emphasize important information

What Are Some Of The Best Colors For Email Marketing?

Color is at the heart of marketing and branding. Studies show that 62-90% of our initial impression of products stems from color. If you want your emails to make a statement, start with a palette that conveys the message you are trying to communicate with your audience. 

To do so, you need a basic understanding of color psychology, or specific colors’ influence on our perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors.

Color Psychology: How Colors Affect and Reflect Our Mood 

It is well-documented that color stimulates distinct physiological and psychological responses. 

The concept of color psychology drives many of the aesthetic choices of consumer brands, as it creates an association between a particular shade and that business.

The question then becomes, Why do brands choose the colors that they do?” The answer lies in the type of response and emotions each color provokes.

Color trends wax and wane. Staying abreast of consumer preferences to capitalize on attention-grabbing palettes will help your email campaigns stand out from the rest of your audience’s overstuffed inbox. 

Here are just a few of the trending color schemes you can expect to see in marketing this year:

How To Choose The Right Color and Designs For Your Emails

When choosing the right colors and designs for your emails, the palettes you decide on need to make a clear statement about who you are as a business.

One of the most notable examples of the importance of branding and corporate colors is Coke’s disastrous “white can” holiday marketing campaign. After only one month on shelves, the brand pulled the campaign due to consumer complaints. 

White CocaCola Branding

Consumers cited that they felt that the soft drink “tasted different” out of a white can and that they often mistook the limited run can for the silver Diet Coke can. Moral of the story? Brand colors and identity are too closely connected to risk shifting your color palette. 

Color and Design Best Practices

Color should be a priority in your marketing emails, from your newsletter design to creating dynamic content. Follow these design tips to enhance your emails, garner a positive audience association, and communicate your brand personality effectively.

Limit Your Palette

During the design process, choose three key colors plus white. Your background, foreground, buttons, columns, and other elements should remain within this color family. Otherwise, you risk your audience feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated, which can make viewing your content unpleasant at best or create a negative brand association at worst. 

Maintain Harmony and Balance

Remember learning about the color wheel in art class? A color wheel’s arrangement serves as a guide for creating color harmony or sets of aesthetically pleasing shades when paired together. 

Color wheel - Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors

Four primary color combinations inform harmony:

  • Complementary
  • Analogous
  • Tetradic
  • Monochromatic

Keep Accessibility in Mind

Conventional web design practice strives to make content accessible to all. It won’t matter what color scheme you choose for your marketing emails if your content is unreadable. As a rule of thumb, the more contrast between your background and your font color, the easier it is to see the text. Consider emphasizing your headers with coordinating shades from your branding color palette to bring a splash of color to your text. 

Engaging email campaigns live at the intersection of powerful color palettes and innovative design. 

Give some thought to how you can incorporate these five exciting email design trends that bring both together in beautiful synchronicity.

Dark Mode

If you’ve ever been blinded in the dead of night by the light from your phone, you understand the appeal of dark mode. This setting inverts the colors on your phone, turning white backgrounds black and black text white.

In addition to being a little easier on the eyes, a dark background opens the door to a whole world of colors that wouldn’t work on a white background. Pastels, neons, and creams pop against the background color for a more significant visual effect. 

Geometrics in Bright Colors

The abstract is out: middle school math class is in. Clean lines and polygons make a statement when used as bold accents on a darker background. 

Splash them across a simple background in coordinating colors to your headers or use them to create flow through the essential parts of your email. 

Pastel Minimalism

Vaporwave’s minimalist design in bubblegum pinks and baby blues holds steady as one of the most influential email trends over the last few years. The rise of pastels goes hand-in-hand with dark mode design elements, offering a complementary set of soft hues to jazz up classic black. 

3D Images

Bring together two trends by layering abstract 3D images over a simple, flat background. Your message and visuals appear to leap off the page, bringing your audience closer to your brand both literally and figuratively. 

Don’t be afraid of intense colors and isometric designs, especially if you’re using a white or black background. It creates depth that is anything but subtle. 

Animated Design Elements

GIFs and other animated design elements naturally stand out against anything else on the page, so you can keep things subtle while still nailing the effect. If you make things too busy, though, it can overwhelm your viewer and slow download times, which are both major faux pas in email design. 

3 Examples Of Amazing Color And Design Usage In Emails

Creative Boom: Combining Earthy Neutrals and Flat Design with Pops of Peach

Creative Boom Email Example -  Combining Earthy Neutrals and Flat Design with Pops of Peach

The header image for Creative Boom’s January 5th newsletter adds an exciting dimension to the flat design trend with simple textures on the grass and a person in the forefront. 

This, combined with the bold palette that draws on rich blues, creamy beige, and deep yellows, draws the eye and compels the reader forward as they scan down the picture. 

The pop of peachy pink is also a nice touch, as the sudden shift in color scheme lends importance and emphasis to that detail. 

Minor Figures: A Bold Color Scheme Tells a Story of Balance

Minor Figures email example - A Bold Color Scheme with Balance

Given that the central idea of the communication is Minor Figures’ success at balancing their carbon footprint, their strategy of using only two colors in equal measure is intelligent and effective. 

The mint green and electric purple, which would typically act as highlight colors in a more traditional email, can stand on their own. This makes the brand impossible to ignore, even in the busiest of inboxes. 

Elgato: Using Black Negative Space to Show Off Product Features

Elgato email example: Using Black Negative Space to Show Off Product Features

While it’s usually called white space, Elgato demonstrates the appeal of negative black space to illustrate the brightness of their ring light. The image jumps off the screen, appearing to glow against the background. The light stand does a superb job of drawing the eye down the email with a staccato visual rhythm of ebony and ivory. 

Craft Your Color Story

Ready to harness the power of color to engage your audience from subject line to CTA? It all starts with choosing your palette and perfecting your brand personality. 

Once you’ve decided on the story you want to tell, it’s time to find the colors to write it in. Show your creative flair by combining, remixing, and amplifying trends– Think pastel geometrics, flat design on dark mode responsive backgrounds, and GIFs in earthy neutrals. 

Guest Author: Darya Jandossova Troncoso

Darya Jandossova Troncoso is a photographer, artist, and writer working on her first novel and managing a digital marketing blog – MarketSplash. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, creating art, and learning everything there is to know about digital marketing.

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