6 design principles for your next eNewsletter

We recently had the opportunity to redesign the RealTime eNewsletter for Jews for Jesus. This project was a great opportunity to use design to increase donations, while still providing Jews for Jesus readers with valuable and engaging content.


In our design process, we employed 6 principles to ensure success of the new eNews design. Interested? Well, you’re in luck! You can check out the principles below:

1. Content first, no matter what

Although donations were a primary focus of the redesign, our research revealed that the majority of the clicks were happening on the column written by Executive Director David Brickner. So, rather than make this sought-after content play second fiddle to the ask, we put it right at the top. The result: clicks to read the rest of David’s article grew by 40% (donation clicks increased as well!)

2. Optimize for scanning

Since RealTime is essentially a long, multi-topic email, we included a table of contents. These simple text links provide context and help readers dive straight into the content they want without having to scroll.

2_Icons_floated-right For each topic, we employed large, clear subheads as well as a simple icon system to help guide readers toward the articles they look forward to each month. Finally, some subtle background colors were used to visually unify chunks of content and further improve scanning.

3. Clear donation opportunity

In addition to our content-first approach, we incorporated a single donor-focused offer into a content break in the middle. We designed on the assumption that the lack of interest in giving came from the offer’s lack of visibility. In the end, our assumption paid off.

By bringing the offer into the flow of content and adding some donor-centric language, we were able to increase clicks to donate by 97% while keeping content pure and accessible.


4. Make it responsive.

Even in 2013, many eNewsletters still snub mobile readers. Consider for a moment Litmus’ 2013 stat on mobile email readership: “Since January 2012, mobile email opens have increased a whopping 63% and now make up 44% of all opens.” Wow. A logical conclusion, given that eNewsletter’s are in fact emails, is that the number is going to be roughly the same for both.


In the case of RealTime, we designed this functionality into the template from the beginning, resulting in an accessible, legible and coherent mobile experience. But what are your options if you don’t have the capabilities in-house to go fully responsive? Try principle 5, go “mobile friendly” with a single- column layout …

5. Go with a single column layout

Emails and eNewsletters are trending more and more toward a single-column approach. Why? It could be that readers, when only forced to scan or read down one vertical axis, are less likely to overlook valuable content. Westerners are used to reading this way — it’s the way we first learned to read — left to right, top to bottom.


Redesigning RealTime in a single column reduced clutter and visual noise. We used analytic data to determine the order of topics. And since the desktop design was more or less a wider version of the mobile layout, this also reduced the amount of code needed when adding in the responsive bits of CSS. Nice!

6. Lastly, excessive brand decor becomes noise

Decorative design elements (read: visuals that aren’t content), even when justified or mandated by the corporate brand guide, will become unhelpful noise, especially in email. The user experience must come first, and this means cutting the visual fat.

Aside from a logo, a few icons and a handful of solid colors, we stayed away from these kinds of distractions. If an element from the original design wasn’t helpful in expressing the content, it was removed. No nonessential imagery, no burdensome textures to load, no extraneous functionality.

In the end, we arrived at an eNewsletter designed to focus a reader’s attention, while performing as we’d hoped.