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Embrace Chaos with Clever Email Design System

Building a successful newsletter is tricky. However, with a strong email design system, this challenge turns into a piece of cake that brings numerous benefits.

Written by RamotionAug 3, 202212 min read

Last updated: Feb 19, 2024

Do you know that email marketing, one of the most traditional and oldest ways of communicating with clients, is still pretty much alive? Recent studies show that a staggering 4 billion email users worldwide actively check out their correspondence. Other surveys indicate that every three out of four marketers have seen considerable growth in email engagement over the last year, with almost 40% of brands showing the intention of increasing their email budgets.

Still not convinced? Consider real numbers. Experts believe email marketing to be one of the most effective strategies for startup development, with an impressive ROI of $36 - $40 for every $1 spent. This makes email marketing not just a viable approach to forwarding business but, most importantly, pretty much promising.

For instance, welcome email has an average open rate of 82%. This means your message will be delivered to the most significant portion of your target market, allowing you to start your relationships with customers on a good note and generate considerable traffic for your sales funnel. And, with a professional design system digital agency, the company may enjoy even more benefits that translate into financial success and stability.

So, how do you make this oldie but goodie approach work for you? As the good saying goes, start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. Along with understanding the principles and theory of email marketing, it is crucial to building a reliable and versatile email design system that ensures a solid foundation to conduct all sorts of email campaigns.

Let us break the email design system into pieces to understand its essentials and consider the time-proven routine of bringing it to life.

Email Design System Definition

An email design system is a clever symbiosis of brand guidelines, which cover color palette, typography, and all the essential elements of visual brand identity, and a pattern library, which comprises design components and code examples to achieve a complete ecosystem.

Simply put, it is a set of reusable components made with brand styles in mind and used in email production. It defines rules and principles to connect elements to meet the brand's vision and simultaneously fulfill goals set by the email marketing team.

The email design system includes all sorts of tiny units that serve as building blocks, sterling email templates, and fully coded email designs that can be implemented without much customization. Let us dive a little bit deeper into fundamental elements of design systems.

Welcome Email from GoDaddy

Email Design System Components

Design system elements come in all shapes and sizes, from brand colors to typography to call-to-action buttons responsible for conversion. However, the essential pointers remain the same for all businesses regardless of their niche, size, age, goal, product, target audience, marketing strategy, and email campaign. They are:

  • Logotype. It should be presented in variant formats and include information about the colors, background, and required spacing.
  • Color palette. It includes primary and secondary colors as well as recommended color combinations.
  • Typography. It includes several allowed type families, font weight, line spacing, and colors for different text conditions.
  • Icons. It includes instructions on creating new icons to match existing ones and standards that every pictogram should meet.
  • Imagery, illustrations, and photos that are allowed to use in production.
  • Design principles. A set of rules that defines approaches to be followed when bringing design components to life. They help email designers achieve consistency in email display across numerous email clients when they create emails.
  • Style guide. A set of policies that governs how each component should behave on its own and interact with its neighboring components to create an environment where everything plays well together.
  • Voice and tone. It reflects the brand's values, delivers the right message, and makes people feel emotionally connected to the brand.
  • Code style guide. A set of rules that makes it easier for developers to introduce changes and updates to existing emails and elements as well as streamline the workflow while creating emails.
  • Accessibility guides. A set of principles that makes the newsletter easily accessible by all people. Although it is relatively new in designing emails routine, yet it already has a noticeable impact on a brand's bottom line.
  • Email templates. A collection of pre-made newsletter layouts and content blocks that can be used for various purposes.
  • Code snippets. A collection of hard-coded content blocks that allow the team to create the newsletter block by block. It may include all elements, from a header to a testimonial to a call-to-action button.
  • HTML comments. They explain the usage of units, modules, and templates.
  • Documentation. It describes the logic behind design and implementation decisions and provides instructions for the component's utilization.
  • Ongoing training around design system usage.

Email experts divide these elements into three main categories: the Pattern library, the style guide, and documentation.

Back to School Campaign by Moment

Benefits of Building eMail Design Systems

Building email design systems like creating brand guidelines is crucial for successful company development for many reasons. One of them is that it offers a wide range of benefits. Let us consider the advantages of introducing a well-thought-out email design system into the workflow.

  • It ensures functional consistency that increases predictability, which is crucial for a user to feel safe and familiar with the newsletter.
  • It ensures internal consistency that helps users focus more on their actions and tasks instead of learning how to walk through every context of the newsletter.
  • It ensures overall consistency in delivering the message.
  • It reinforces email production by synchronizing decentralized efforts, streamlining tiny processes, and eliminating trivial tasks.
  • It helps scale email marketing so the company can easily cover a large audience and simultaneously conduct various email campaigns.
  • It creates a productive email environment where various departments may contribute to the same cause, thereby taking the email to the next level.
  • It has a positive effect on reducing cognitive load.
  • It encourages creativity by setting all the tedious and repetitive work aside.
  • It reduces stress for email designers since they can focus on bigger things.
  • It reduces stress for email developers since they do not need to worry about adjusting the layout to different email clients or building the same units again and again.
  • It reduces the time to build emails, even if the team needs to code emails from scratch.
End of the World Sale by Baboon

Steps for Creating Your Own Email Design System

There is no list of definitive standards to follow when creating your own email design system. However, email marketers, designers, and developers constantly share some great insights on how to create one. Consider this widely acknowledged 7-step routine for building your first email design system that is highly recommended to follow.

Step 1- Determine the goal

Before diving into this process that will take a decent amount of time, effort, money, and resources, it is crucial to get solid proof as to why a design system needs to be built for your company. For this, you need to define its prime goal.

What you can do here is mull over the benefits that the design system offers to select those you want to enjoy. In addition, throw in the mix personalized benefits to be gained based on the current state of things. If the end justifies the means, then go for it.

Goal | Image by Engin Akyurt

Step 2 – Analyze and thoroughly inspect the company's existing email campaigns

Auditing all email campaigns the company has and intends to do helps to decide what needs to be addressed with your email system.

During this stage, the company goes through emails and checks the current state of UI assets to determine which components are common across emails so that they need to be done in the first place; and which parts are unique and need to be accounted for a little bit later. This includes different types of content. In general, elements that need to be looked at are:

  • hero area,
  • typography,
  • icons,
  • colors,
  • themes,
  • graphics,
  • multimedia,
  • testimonials,
  • images,
  • buttons,
  • headers,
  • footers.

On top of that, you need to add units that are specific to your niche. For instance, if you operate in an e-commerce and SaaS sectors, you need to consider cross-selling units, block with product's features, discounts, etc.

Step 3 – Make it an official project

The biggest mistake companies make when trying to build an email design system is treating it as a side project. However, as practice shows, it should occupy a top priority.

Make it official and put everyone on the same page about goals and reasons for allocating precious time and effort to this task.

This stage involves three crucial steps.

  • The first step is ensuring the decision is endorsed by senior management.
  • The second one is assembling a team. Creating a strong email design system requires collaborated efforts of different specialties and abilities. At a minimum, you will need to gather under one roof experts in these fields: visual design, user experience, development, accessibility, and management.
  • The third one is collaborating, discussing, and documenting design decisions and their reasoning to make everyone clear on the ultimate goal. This helps to channel overall efforts in the right direction, stay on track and get back in case of doing things off the grid.
Team | Image by Fox

Step 4 – Build an email design system

It is here where the real fun begins. The implementation of this stage largely depends on the company's vision of the situation and the strategy of the design and development departments. However, in the majority of cases, they will go through these fundamental steps:

  • Refer to the organization's current brand guidelines, such as a style guide, logo requirements, official colors, fonts, etc.
  • Establish a component hierarchy.
  • Break everything into categories: components, regions, and sections.
  • Focus first on essential elements such as color, typography, space, text blocks, buttons, image block, header, footer, navigation, and copyright. Then, switch focus to secondary elements such as hero area, testimonials, tabs, listings, etc.
  • Measure elements based on size, scale, density, and weight.
  • Design guidelines around how copy is written and presented.
  • Develop the rules around the writing approach to understand what tone, voice, and language to use.
  • Create fully-fledged email templates that require only minor customization to be put in action.
  • Save brand colors, modules, and full templates.

Along with that, companies follow the best practices, some of which are:

  • keep the design system away from being too generic;
  • keep design components as stylistically unique as the organization's brand;
  • introduce charisma and character of a brand;
  • achieve unity and cohesion;
  • embody harmony.

Step 5 – Document everything

Like it or not, the maintenance day will come as well as the day when the new designer or developer will get hold of the design system. The practice shows that no instructions and annotations lead people to use things for the wrong reasons. Therefore, it is crucial to provide detailed documentation to avoid confusion, misunderstanding, and halt of the process.

Start documenting everything from the beginning: create step-by-step instructions and explain the purpose of each unit. Addressing how, when, and why of design and coding, the company secures a powerful email design system that creates an intuitive ecosystem across all boards.

Documentation | Image by Pixabay

Step 6 – Do QA and A/B tests

Do you know that email clients render emails differently? Apple, Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo! Mail, and the rest of the gang stick to their own rules that result in the strange interpretation of the same newsletter.

As a result, achieving consistency in email display becomes a true challenge. The way out is to do a range of QA tests to ensure components, modules, and templates meet the current standards and requirements.

As for A/B tests, it is crucial to compare two versions of the same approach to determine what design solution, including stylistic options and code snippets, resonates the best with the audience to amplify the effectiveness of email campaigns and overall strategy.

Step 7 – Keep resources updated

Developing an email design system is an ongoing process. However, do not panic. You will find this step simple, valuable, stimulating, and inspiring when you finish all previous stages.

The deal is that this stage involves creating new components to meet the ever-evolving preferences and expectations of the target audience. It is here where you can let your imagination run wild, though with one condition. According to professional email designers, every new unit should meet these five criteria:

  • have a purpose;
  • be reusable;
  • be flexible;
  • act responsively;
  • stay accessible.

A solid foundation created during the previous stages makes this easy to enforce. On top of that, this stage involves constant updates and enhancements. At a minimum, this means conducting reviews of design system components and standards, getting users' feedback, monitoring the target audience's preferences and expectations, and listening to your marketing team to ensure the email design system stays sharp and up-to-date.

Depending on the company's ultimate goal, target audience, and product, it may throw into this sequence some other stages. However, this basic structure lies at the core.

An email blast from Cracker Barrel


An email design system is one of the main pillars of creating a productive environment in the marketing universe. Not only does it help to streamline the workflow, but it offers a long list of advantages that translate into substantial benefits for the company. For instance, it provides the team with effective solutions to reach the audience, channel the efforts in the right direction, and fill gaps that lead to ROI growth and the company's stability in the market.

The best part is that creating an email design system is not that hard. All you need to do is to dedicate some time and effort to this process, put everyone on the same page and implement all steps in a well-acknowledged guide.