Does Email Design Matter for Internal Communications?

Consider this statistic, from a 2014 Baydin analysis of 5 million professional emails: The average person receives 147 emails a day — and deletes 71 (48 percent) of them.

Now, think about the last email that really caught your attention. No matter why you liked it, the email obviously did a good job of getting you to open and — more importantly — read it.

Today, design is all around us. We expect our phones, clothes, cars and nearly everything else we use to be thoughtfully designed both aesthetically and functionally. So, does the design of employee communications matter? We argue it does!

Why not employ similar, thoughtful design elements to your internal communications — and enjoy the benefits and results?

“Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”

— Ralph Caplan, design consultant, writer and public speaker

Communications by Design

As an internal communications professional, you’re up against the limited attention spans, work loads and all of the other messages making their way into your employees’ inboxes.

To help ensure your messages are well received and actually read, you need to put more than good writing into them — and that starts with design.

For most email communications, good design helps you achieve the following:

  • Enable employees to quickly categorize, prioritize and summarize your message
  • Increase readership and help your message be clearly understood
  • Encourages employee engagement, which boosts morale and retention rates

Design isn’t just about looking good. Certainly compelling photographs, use of color and layout all contribute to a quality design. But it’s also important to consider these functional aspects of email design.

Apply the “From:” Filter

Your first consideration for any message is knowing who it’s from. Not only does it do the obvious — tell them who sent it — but the “from” field is one of the primary filters your employees use to determine the potential value of the message.

Best practice is for the “from” field to be specific to the message, ideally the name of the sender or publication or the department or functional area. While shared mailboxes are useful, be careful not to overuse them for a wide variety of messages types. When the actually messages vary widely, you may train employees not to pay attention to any of them if the majority are perceived not to be relevant to the recipient.

What Is Your Subject Line Doing?

Crafting good subject lines is a challenge. Subjects are another important filter we use to decide to pay attention to a message or not.

Your email subject line juggles multiple tasks — catching your employees’ attention, imparting a gist of the message to come and all while not being too long. While most desktop email programs will show 60 to 70 characters, mobile devices tend to show only half of that.

What They See at First Glance

Having garnered some attention with your “from” and subject line, now is the time for some brief eye contact. The key ingredient to capturing your recipients’ attention — and getting your message read — is the preview pane.

This is another area of the message with limited real estate: about 700-by-450 pixels on a desktop and 360-by-360 pixels on a mobile phone.

Obviously, unless your message is very short, you won’t be able to get your entire message across here. The objective is to give them something interesting or compelling, establishing a reason to read further. If you use a large banner graphic at the top of the email, it’s critical that the image actually be viewable, not blocked, and that it delivers at least a partial summary of your key message.

Remember: Scrolling or swiping down a page is standard practice for email users, but avoid having any horizontal scroll whenever possible.

Start with Your Brand

Is it really necessary to have a big company logo at the top of your internal email? This isn’t marketing. The “from” address already tells the recipient this is an inter-company email.

That’s not to say your brand isn’t important: All internal communications should follow your brand standards, with consistent font types and sizes, use of color, general layout and image style. Your emails are part of your brand voice, and being consistent emphasizes the value of your communications.

Design an Information Hierarchy

Email is for information processing, and readers tend to move their eyes quickly through a page. Consider newspaper front pages and the lead page of magazine articles. The compelling message ingredients and story angle are right at the top, with a bold headline and art that pops. This is followed by a concise summary, further followed by the story and more message details.

It’s also good practice to inform the reader what you expect them to do with the message: Are you asking them to take action and do something, a notice of something they need to know to do their job, something important to think about or news that informs them about the bigger picture?

Go with the Flow

No one wants to wade through an email that’s a big block of text! People tend to scan email messages, pausing and reading just the details they want.

Use color and font size to lead the eye through the page. Good use of white space will make your internal communications clear, easy to scan and easier to read. Remember that swiping or scrolling down is routine behavior, so a longer message of shorter paragraphs and more white space is more readable than more condensed copy.

Mobile Responsibility

What’s one of the first things you do each morning, maybe before you even get out of bed? You check your email on your mobile device. Today 66 percent of emails in the United States are viewed via mobile devices.

Having a responsive design is imperative for your internal emails to keep up with this growing trend. Unfortunately, many email messages just shrink to fit on phones — which means the 10-point font size you designed for the desktop shrinks down to a 5-point one on a phone. To work around these common issues, you can get a tool that provides mobile responsive templates for the email program you use, or try these simple workarounds.

  • Skip the full page banner images. If images are only 300 to 360 pixels wide, they will fit on a phone without causing the entire page to shrink.
  • Start with larger font sizes. Having 24-point headlines, 18-point subheads and 14-point body copy isn’t too big for the desktop, and doesn’t become unreadable when reduced on a mobile phone.
  • Remember the subheads and white space. Swiping through a message is easy on a phone, so make sure your primary messages are communicated in the larger fonts with spacing between each section.

Responsive design offers a tailored viewing experience based on the device being used and has been shown to increase click rates and responsiveness by 15 percent.

Does Email Design Matter for Internal Employee Communications? YES!

Now how can you tell if your design and content are working? That’s where measurement for your internal communications comes in.

Want more tips on getting the most from your internal communications? Download our free guide to internal communications measurement.

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