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Go beyond email marketing best practice advice to attract the attention of your audience.

You include personalization in your copy, you keep a good balance of text and copy and pretty much tick all the best practice boxes for email marketing. But have you considered the power of shapes and colors in email design? I’ve looked at some examples of these subtle communication elements in different emails.


According to semiotics, colors can hold particular meanings, so I’ve put together a list of common colors and their associations. However, use the  colors that work for you in your email design, and stay within brand colors for consistency. Just because green CTA buttons worked for Brand X, it doesn’t mean it will work with your brand.

Since you can’t always play around with all the colors in your email design, you can use value to express something instead. Low values give the illusion of space, calm and happiness. High values express closeness, drama and conflict.

If you’re really stuck, use a color palette and search for complementary colors to see what works well. Adobe Kuler is useful for idea generation, and you can even search colors by keyword.

Shapes and lines

Finally, lines can help express brand personality as they can be thick, thin, delicate or bold. Curved lines look organic and natural, while straight ones look man-made and give a sense of order. Horizontal and vertical lines are static, whereas diagonal ones show dynamism and excitement. Observe the dynamic in this Mazda email design, for example.

Mazda Email Design

Mazda Full Email

Mazda Email Design

Mazda shapes and colors outline

In terms of shapes, squares and rectangles give a sense of order and structure. Circles, in traditional semiotics, are associated with divinity and eternity. This has crossed over to marketing as a symbol of endurance, but also friendliness. In fact, buttons with rounded corners feel more tangible. So give them a test in your email design and see if they attract more clicks.

Going beyond individual shapes, think about layout

There isn’t one golden rule but make sure the layout of your email design fits your style. Try having a hierarchy with most important CTA at the top, clearly identifiable through a different design. The top section is commonly called above-the-fold and it refers to what the reader can see without scrolling down.

So place your main content above-the-fold and include other CTAs designed differently underneath, to entice readers further.

Observe the color palette and layout

Observe the color palette and layout


Subtle aspects like colors, shapes and lines are subjective to a brand so testing is key here. And think about the message, what would you like to express visually? If you’d like to learn more about email design, you can watch my webinar on Email Design Meets Design Theory in our archive.