Design of the times: email trends 2018

Our inboxes are overloaded with emails on a daily basis — the ones we want, and the ones we don’t — promos, sales, reminders, articles and everything in between.

In 2017, and heading into 2018, it’s all about minimalism and semi-flat design for inbox cut-through and renewed brand love. Design’s getting deep.

Hidden depths

After the recent UI shift in both Android and iOS, design has followed suit. Gone are skeuomorphic and super-flat designs; now users prefer semi-flat areas of colour and light, with soft shadows for depth.

‘White space’ is still a must to encourage a greater eye-scan pattern — making emails easier to absorb and to hold our itty-bitty attention spans.

Love or loathe them, we’ll see more device context mock-ups, too (depicting where things are seen, e.g. visuals in situ on mobiles/tablets).

Take it to another dimension

3D is everywhere at the moment — fully rendered, pixel-perfect, colourful and arty compositions.

Think backgrounds made in Cinema 4D, with lifelike textures that make you want to reach into your screen and touch them, or beautiful intricate ‘paper cuts’ and ‘hand-built’ scenes, that hold a simple product still life and elevate it.

Animation. Animation. Animation.

Last year saw more animation in email and 2017/2018 is no exception.

With the rise of CSS and SVG animation and cinemagraphs, we’re going to see more moving image — from full-screen illustrative animations and subtle background transitions to motion graphics.

Video content has increased tenfold in the past 12 months and users are now demanding a high-quality experience that tells a rich story, quickly. Typically, we can embed or link out from email to short, looped clips that captivate.

Fondant fancy

‘White space’ doesn’t have to be white. It’s just space.

With over 16 million hex colour codes, now’s the time to break with ‘default white’. Pastels seem to be the flavour of the month — summery, soft, sweet, ice-cream shades. We’ll see these paired with a continued appetite for statement serif font headlines and sans serif body copy.

Strange shades

Flatter areas perfectly suit bold, courageous colours. An unusually paired colour palette, combined with soft shadows, makes for an unexpected eye-catcher.

Gradients continue to be big. They can lift a design, bring it together and add uniformity.

Colour transitioning is one of the biggest trends right now — made popular by Spotify with their duotone treatment. It’s spread across the design world and is now a go-to. Be it logos to calls to action, photo gradient overlays or web page backgrounds, this one’s here to stay.

Back on the draw

Illustration is massive again.

Companies like Bulb, whose branding is founded on illustration, incorporate this medium for a charming link between logo, illustration and type, which we can use in our email design, too.

Stock photos and client photo assets are popular and cheap but can get repetitive — not to mention the hours spent looking for that non-too-staged shot of a ‘businesswoman on a laptop’.

Now more brands are giving this time to commissioned illustrators and designers. Characterful illustrations and designs are replacing the obvious, clichéd stock shot, and even being used to overhaul brand identities. Praise be.

Big is beautiful (and practical)

Even though the majority of us scan just email headlines, subheads and calls to action, the body text is often key to securing a message or story.

To help get the body copy read, it’s growing in size. Literally.

It’s still wise to keep body copy minimal in length, but the traditional 12pt is a hangover from print. Time for a rethink. 16pt is a good place to start — a bigger font to suit the bright lights and confines of a mobile or tablet screen.

Large text isn’t clunky. Clunky is an ill-chosen typeface, poor kerning, and line height that doesn’t read well at a larger size. Legibility and readability are two different things.

Go off grid

Designing to a grid provides an invisible series of lines — an organised bedrock to establish a rhythm for your email. Grids also help us see how elements might break or stack across different screen sizes.

But wait. 2017/18 is breaking all of these rules and shaking off everything we know we shouldn’t do, especially in web design.

Why? Because we’re going for a more intuitive, freeform layout that’s fun and engaging.

Apply irregular layers for ultra-modern design, such as moving a page title that offsets the balance yet still feels purposeful.

Another reason to go off grid? It creates more ‘white space’. And, ‘white space’ is still our friend (even when it’s lemon meringue gelato-toned).

We’re sure you’ll agree, it’s important to understand the rules before you go breaking them.

Aaron Miller
Design Lead
Havas helia

If you’d like to discuss any creative ideas or campaigns with the team, call us on 01285 644744 or email us at