Email design systems have been the talk of the town recently. You might have heard this expression being tossed around in meetings or webinars, and maybe you’ve been too afraid to ask what it actually is.
In this quick but thorough guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about this hot new email design trend.
Learn more about email design systems, what they are, why there’ve become so popular, and why you should consider creating a system for your brand.
What’s a design system?
A design system is a set of reusable elements that follow the same design guidelines, and that can be assembled together like a puzzle to create a full design.
What’s an email design system?
An email design system is a collection of predesigned, reusable email content blocks that can be put together to create a complete email template in a couple of minutes.
It’s a method used by email marketers and designers to facilitate the creation of on-brand email templates, at scale.
Why are email design systems important?
Emails, just like any other communication channel, should be branded. They should always reflect the image of your brand on a visual level, by using the same colors, fonts, and design style.
However, many marketers, especially in larger decentralized structures, are unable to roll out coherent email campaigns. Every email looks different from the one before it. And when it comes to local branches, it becomes almost impossible to manage.
That’s where email design systems come in.
By creating predesigned email blocks, email designers and marketers no longer need to design every email campaign from scratch.
They only need to work on the email message (email copy) and add the needed email blocks to modify later on.
Email Design Systems for Large Decentralized Teams
Imagine you are working with a large international fashion brand. Every country has it’s own branch. And every email marketing team in those branches is required to send out email campaigns regularly.
Email campaigns should be on-brand, using the company’s fonts, color palette, image style, logos, and other specific design elements.
Without a company-wide email design system, it’s almost impossible to ensure that every branch creates similar looking emails. Despite creating Brand Guidelines and sharing visual assets, the main email marketing team can’t guarantee that other teams will respect these guidelines.
Email design systems help by creating a set of email blocks that can be reused by everyone, regardless of the email message or team’s location.
They help teams maintain their brand identity at a scale and send out more consistent emails, no matter where they are.
Email Design Systems for Smaller Teams
For smaller teams, an email design system can be the solution to streamline the email production process and create better emails faster.
In smaller teams, efficiency matters the most. And with a preset collection of reusable email blocks, marketers don’t need to spend hours every week designing or coding emails from scratch.
They can simply drag and drop email modules and create a complete email template in a matter of seconds.
Email design systems are also cost-efficient. Companies can invest in establishing their email design system, that they can reuse every time they need to create an email. No need to waste time or money every time you have an upcoming email campaign.
Advantages of Email Design Systems
To put it simply, an email design system allows marketing teams to:
- Create on-brand emails at scale
- Maintain brand consistency in all email campaigns regardless of who is creating them
- Roll out emails faster
- Synchronize decentralized efforts
- Create accessible emails, always
- Send out perfect code emails, without the risk of broken elements
- Save money on coding emails
Now that we have an overall idea of the importance and advantages of using an email design system, let’s dig in more on how to establish an email design system for your team.
How to create an email design system for your team
An email design system can is useful for all email marketing teams, regardless of their size and frequency of email campaigns.
This is because an email design system can be adapted to the specific needs of every team.
An email design system is flexible and can be molded to match your team’s requirements.
Therefore, you need to start by evaluating your needs and defining the goals behind using an email design system for your team.
Evaluate Your Team’s Needs
During a brainstorming meeting, try to answer these questions:
- Who will be using the email design system?
- Why are we creating an email design system?
- What are the emails that we are sending out?
- What other types of emails we want to send out?
Don’t hesitate to add any other questions that you think might help your team adapt their email design system even more.
The answers to these questions will give you an overview of what your next steps will be, how many email modules you will need to create, and more.
At Stack Flow, for example, this first meeting was a simple shared Google document where every member could write their ideas and inputs. This method aimed at decreasing the entry barrier. And to give the chance for everyone to give their opinion, and not worry about the technical aspects of email design and code.
Another method is to go back to your previous email campaigns and study their structures. Take a note of the most used elements and blocks.
Design Email Modules
Once you’ve determined what email content blocks need to be created, it’s time to get to work. Invite your designers to weigh in during this process. They can make sure that your email modules respect the company’s guidelines and give their professional opinion.
Email modules not only make it easier for anyone to put together a good-looking email template, but they also help with email personalization and ensure that your emails always respect accessibility rules.
In fact, during an expert round-up interview we conducted with Chad White, he stated that:
Modular email design absolutely makes personalization easier. That’s a big reason that modular email build systems are growing. Modularity makes email personalization much easier to execute and, if done thoughtfully, doesn’t have to detract from your email’s aesthetics.
So while you’re designing your email modules, don’t forget to think about personalized content and accessibility elements.
Test Your Email Modules
Once you build your email design system components, it’s time to test them out on different email clients and devices.
Construct email templates using the newly established email modules and send out test emails, preview your emails on desktop and mobile, and test them using specialized tools such as Litmus or Email on Acid.
Your goal in this step is to detect any anomalies in your email code or design and fix them before going live.
Get Your Team On the Same Page
Just like with any other new project or tool, you should involve your team and get them up to speed. Share with your collaborators your email design system components, and walk them through how they can use it.
You can gather them all in an update meeting if you have a small team, create and share an internal document explaining the new concept, or even organize a company-wide webinar involving the required teams for larger structures.
More Tips to Keep in Mind
We’ve already mentioned that email design systems are flexible: they depend on your team’s requirements and adapt to your needs.
Understand the Why
When you are getting started to create your company’s email design system, it’s important to take the time to really understand the why behind this process.
Jen Casptraw calls this step: “Feeling the pain (of not having a system).”
Decide from the get-go if you actually need to set up an email design system. Maybe you have a simple coordination problem: in that case, you might need to find an email creation tool that offers team collaboration features and real-time review and approval workflows.
If you find that there are inconsistencies in your email designs or that you often send out broken emails, then you have a very strong reason why you should invest time and resources into creating an email design system for your team.
Treat It Like Any Other Project
Setting up an email design system for your team should be dealt with like every other project.
This means that you should plan:
- Time frames: planning, execution, and evaluation.
- Budgets: how much money can you allocate this project?
- Team members: who are the team members that will be involved in developing the email design system?
- Experts and external service providers: entities that have the needed skill sets and experience to help throughout the project, and can even ensure a regular follow up after the project completion.
- Roadmap and next steps, including employee education and training sessions.
Designing emails should be hard. Especially for fast-paced marketers who can’t be dependant on email designers and email developers to check every little detail of each email campaign. That’s why email design systems and tools like Chamaileon were created.
It’s time for email marketers to become even more independent, yet maintain the same level of expertise as an email designer or an email developer.