Would Apple have been as successful if they didn’t offer products with a signature sleek, modern designs? And would Starbucks have become a household name without its well-designed stores? That’s hard to say, but it’s clear that good design matters.
Design goes deeper than visuals, and your message is more than just your words. Thinking about communications design makes your email messages more effective and increases your click-through and read rates (since these tell you more than open rates alone), gaining more eyes on your content and actually engaging employees.
Here are eight internal email design tips that will help boost your email metrics and engagement.
#1: Target the “Who” and “What”
Whether you realize it or not, you mentally filter your emails and decide how important they are before you ever decide to open them. It all starts with the “from” and “subject” lines.
The “From:” field should be as specific as possible — like having a person’s name or the company division it’s coming from. Be sure you don’t overuse shared mailboxes for too wide a variety of messages, though, because your employees may ignore all of them if the majority are not relevant to them, lowering read rates.
As for the subject line, it should give them a reason why they should read the email and also an idea of what it’s about.
Here’s an example of how important it is to target your employees with these two fields:
NCR Corporation — a hardware, software and electronics company — ran an analysis on how their 29,000 employees used their internal emails to see how they could, in part, improve read rates and make sure the information was seen.
They found the biggest factor that influenced open and click-through rates was whether the message was properly targeted, instead of sending the same message to all of their employees at once. That just shows how important it is to make sure your emails are targeted to a specific group or area of focus to make it more successful — and that starts with the “from” and “subject” lines.
#2: Add a Pop of Color
There’s nothing wrong with an email that has black text on a white background. It makes the message easy to read, and that’s the whole point of email.
But, don’t be afraid to brighten up your messages, especially if the email is about, say, a special event or requires a specific action from the employee. You can use solid brand colors with white or light text to grab their attention. (Just be sure you don’t do that for a long section of text because it can be difficult to read.) Using color in headline messages, buttons and actions will draw the reader’s eye.
#3: Use a Responsive Template
Your employees are accessing their email from a myriad of devices, so your emails should not just shrink to fit if you want them to be read.
Using a responsive email template will ensure your messages are legibly displayed no matter which device they’re using. You can use an internal communications tool right in your Outlook that provides responsive templates.
#4: Design a Messaging Hierarchy
Make it easy for employees to scan your emails by presenting the information in a hierarchy, from the subject line to the headline message, primary image, subheadings and short body paragraphs.
A header is the first thing employees are going to see when they open the email, so make it worth their time. You can use a design or image with headline text to set the tone for the email and let employees know what it’s about. This is the place to get your main point across.
Here are a few ideas you can use with your header design:
- People are interested in people, so use images with faces to capture more attention! Feature an employee or company photo (or carefully selected, relevant stock image).
- Pick a typeface and color that are easy to read, especially if it’s overlaid on an image, and check how it appears on mobile.
- Your header is best when it contains your lead message.
Use subheads to deliver a concise summary of your message. Then, use short blocks of paragraphs — with a max of three sentences each — in the email body. Seeing long, heavy blocks of text tends to overwhelm and deter your employees from reading the email.
“Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.”
— Brian Reed, UX designer and developer
#5: Why Waste Space on Branding?
With email, you are working with limited space — the preview pane offers about 700-by-450 pixels on a desktop and 360-by-360 pixels on a mobile phone — so make the most of it.
Most companies brand their email as if it were marketing material, but employees already know it’s internal communication from the From field.
If 80 percent of the email preview window is a static banner image with a big company logo, you’ve just wasted your most valuable message real estate.
Instead, get your primary message up top, and allow other message components like your brand colors, fonts and images to brand the email. An official brand mark in the footer area is enough to make it official.
#6: Balance Images and Text
The best internal emails have a mix of images and text — not just one or the other. Too much text, and your employees may never read or understand the message. Too many photos, and you could slow down the load time and distract from the message.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to use a 60/40 text-to-image ratio with your emails. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule: A more formal or shorter message may benefit from another approach.
Some of the most engaging images to use are ones that feature people. With today’s technology, you can capture high-quality images in the moment with your phone, so you don’t have to rely on stock images or formal photo shoots for your emails. Your photos might not be perfect, but they will be much more engaging than any staged, stale shots.
#7: Make Calls-to-Action Stand Out
A simple, colorful button with compelling, commanding language (think action verbs!) will do the job in engaging employees to take action.
#8: Don’t Ignore the Basics
There are plenty of design and visual elements you can incorporate to make your emails stand out. But, don’t get lost in all of that and forget the reason you’re actually sending the message.
Make sure your email clearly answers these questions:
- Why should the recipient read and pay attention to it?
- What do you expect employees to do with the email? Is this need-to-know information, just something to think about, or requires them to do something?
- If an action is required, is it clear and apparent within the default preview window?
Do everything you can to make the reason for your message clear. Some companies even use an icon or classification system to let their employees know what category the message falls into.
Do More with Your Internal Email Design
Is email design an important part of engaging your employees? Yes. But to see if it’s actually working, you need to be able to measure your communications.