10 Clickable Trends to Use in Your Email Designs in 2021

10 Clickable Trends to Use in Your Email Designs in 2021

From dark, immersive backgrounds to the power of GIF animation, these are the rising trends to use in your 2021 email designs.

Where once a simple newsletter would suffice, today clever design strategies help email marketers connect with audiences, and encourage those elusive clicks to come thick and fast. A button or visual cue is no longer enough to capture the attention of distracted readers. Read on to discover how you can design your way to more effective emailing with quick and easy tips and tricks.

Stay ahead of the design curve with Shutterstock’s 2021 Creative Trends Report:

2021 Creative Trends

10 Clickable Trends to Use in Your Email Designs

In 2020, with fewer businesses able to offer a brick-and-mortar retail experience, digital marketing took on an increasingly vital role. In 2021, the power of email marketing to reach customers and build enduring brand engagement can’t be underestimated. Of course, in an increasingly saturated email market, it pays to make your email designs stand out. 

Email Design Trends 2021

We’ve identified these ten email design trends that are set to make an impact in the year ahead. Make a note and achieve your email A-game: 

Interactive emailsQuirky image framesDark backgroundsRetro type with impactInkscapesColorful collagesSurreal facesAnimated illustrationLarge-scale portrait photographyDelicate and minimal

Read on to discover more about each trend and how to put these into action on your email designs.

1. Interactive Emails

Emails that mimic the interactivity of websites and apps is a growing trend, helping to keep readers engaged with an email for longer, and maximizing the potential of a click. 

Hover-over animation, videos, and drop-down content offer extra interest for readers and are proven to boost click-to-open rates by 73%, with videos in email increasing CTR rates by a whopping 300% (Source: Martech Advisor).

Interactive Email DesignAn interactive email with drop-down menus and video clips from the BBC for the nature documentary A Perfect Planet.

With app downloads on the decrease, marketers are also starting to realize how interactive emails can take their place. Able to cut out the effort of downloading a heavy app to a device, interactive emails offer an instant method of connecting to consumers.

Now that more mainstream email platforms like Mailchimp are offering interactive email templates, these bells-and-whistles emails are also not as difficult to achieve as you might think. 

2. Quirky Image Frames

It’s no longer hip to be square. This trend gives your images an instant update—a particularly effective style for image-heavy, long emails featuring a range of products, for example. 

Try rounded corners or geometric shapes to give your image frames a quick and stylish makeover. Extra bonus points for irregular frame shapes, which can give email designs an artisan, hand-crafted mood. 

Variety of Frame ShapesThis email design is transformed from dull to dashing with a variety of image frame shapes. Photos from top: Image by contributor mentatdgt. Image by contributor veryulissa. Image by contributor Katerina Volkova producer.

We’re also seeing a general move away from flat design styles, with subtle drop shadows and noisy textures around image edges giving photos a 3D look. 

Drop Shadows on FramesA subtle drop shadow on image frames in this email from Wildist helps the photographs feel like they are jumping out of the screen.

3. Dark Backgrounds

With the popularity of dark modes on the rise, designers love the enveloping quality that dark and moody backgrounds give to websites and apps. The same technique is equally effective for emails, helping designs to feel more dramatic and immersive on small screens. 

Dark emails are also useful for highlighting a call-to-action, allowing you to set a button or link in a much lighter or brighter hue. 

Dark Backgrounds with Neon-Pink TextThis email design from InDesignSkills uses the combination of a dark background with neon-pink text and CTAs to create drama and contrast.

Pair dark emails with neon color accents, dramatic type, and moody photography to bring out the best of a dark scheme, and experiment with true inky blacks (try Rich Black, #010203) to make your email backgrounds as enveloping as possible. 

Monochrome Email DesignThis striking monochrome email design from Tracksmith uses a light-to-dark gradient effect to draw the eye downwards towards clickable buttons.

4. Retro Type with Impact

Nostalgic marketing is a powerful tool for engaging with a wide range of consumers, particularly those in younger markets. In 2021, vintage-infused type will help to bring a contemporary dose of retro to emails. 

Vintage-Style HeadlineThis newsletter-style email from online sound archive Musicbed uses a vintage-style headline to engage with its creative filmmaker audience.

Vintage headlines can help emails feel like traditional newsletters or newspapers—a surprisingly effective technique for reaching disengaged consumers who are used to being bombarded with futuristic emails and interactive content. 1930s and 1970s-style fonts are likely to be the most popular type styles, with soft, pastel color schemes helping to cultivate a vintage mood. 

Vintage Color PaletteA vintage-infused color palette makes the perfect pairing with retro typography in this breezy email design from Frances Valentine.

5. Inkscapes

Looking to update your email backgrounds? Inkscapes are set to be an eye-catching and enigmatic creative trend for 2021, and they bring easy, mesmerizing beauty to email designs. 

Inkscape DesignIn this email design, a deep, inky gradient effortlessly leads the eye down towards the tagline and CTA. Inkscape image by contributor korkeng.

Marbled inkscapes can allow you to incorporate brand colors in an unusual and artistic way, while inky gradients can help lead the eye towards buttons or key information. Allow the natural ebb and flow of marbled designs to bring calm and serenity to email layouts—you’ll find that you’ll need little else except a headline and CTA. 

Explore the Inkscapes Curated Collection:

Shutterstock's Curated Inkscape Collection

6. Colorful Collages

We’re seeing colorful collage images grow in popularity across email marketing. A more interesting alternative to single images, collages can combine photos, illustrations, and color for an energetic and immersive effect. Airbnb used a collage style for their 2020 Field Trip campaign, using it to inject fun and creativity into a campaign that was otherwise the product of a tricky year for the travel sector.  

Airbnb Field Trip CampaignAirBnb’s Field Trip campaign allowed children to participate in out-of-school learning from home with online experiences. The colorful collage imagery helps to evoke a sense of excitement, as well as convey the breadth of what students can expect with these online trips.

Collage images are not only visually impactful, they’re also fantastic for bringing together a variety of themes and messages, combining them into a whole concept—a useful space-saving technique for email designs which need to be short and sweet. 

Try pairing your collage images with color-coded backgrounds, like Airbnb did, or experiment with vintage-style images to create a nostalgic, newspaper-style effect. You can create your own collage images quickly and easily with Shutterstock’s Collage Maker tool.

7. Surreal Faces

In a year where we’ll all be craving intimacy and connection, the Surreal Faces trend presents the human form in ultra-stylish fashion. Illustrated faces will be a huge trend across the design board in 2021. And, for email designs, they make an eye-catching alternative to portrait photography

Inspired by Picasso and Modernist art, this creative trend has filtered across from interior and product design and has been earmarked as one of Shutterstock’s major 2021 Creative Trends. Abstract portraits, color-block faces, and line-drawn busts will bring serious style to your email designs, and are a natural fit for the fashion, beauty, or health sectors. Team your surreal faces with punchy, Modernist-inspired color schemes and pair with curvy typography for an overall artistic effect. 

Surreal Faces EmailAn art-inspired email design created using illustrations by contributor abstract_art7.

Discover the Surreal Faces Curated Collection:

Surreal Faces Collection

8. Animated Illustration

GIFs shouldn’t be the preserve of WhatsApp threads alone—the quick-to-load animation format is not only less bulky than videos, but surprisingly effective at enticing clicks. 

While GIFs featured in emails is nothing new, the style of these short animations is evolving into something far more creative (and less annoying) than their photo-based ancestors. Photo-based GIFs have been popular for a while, but are looking increasingly dated. And, for high-end brands, they can cheapen the look of your email. Not ideal. 

Animated Adobe GIF EmailAn animated illustration adds kook and quirk to this email design from Adobe.

Step up animated illustrations instead. These kooky GIF styles are illustrated, not photographic, and are best integrated into a larger, otherwise static, design. Whether it’s a ticking clock to indicate a sale countdown or a simple change of color across the image, illustrated GIFs used in moderation can help to make your email look more engaging and quirky.

Explore a selection of on-trend video footage for adapting into GIFs in our Eccentric Animation collection, one of our 2021 Creative Trends.

9. Large-Scale Portrait Photography

After a socially-isolated year, the craving for human connection is palatable, and savvy marketers are taking note. With a similar impetus as the Surreal Faces trend, we also expect portrait photography to be bigger, bolder, and more intimate in 2021. 

Identity Unfiltered, one of Shutterstock’s 2021 Creative Trends, has already predicted how raw and authentic portraits of people will replace studio-shot content in the year ahead. For email design, this means emails with large-scale portrait photos that expand across the width of the layout, helping readers to feel more personally connected with the message and the brand behind it. 

Large-Scale Portrait PhotographyThis email design for clothing brand P&Co uses large-scale portrait photography to create an evocative, seasonal mood.

Portrait Photos EmailReplicate the emotional impact of products and services with portrait photos. This simple, but effective, email layout for Blinkbar, designed by Alex Solorzano, communicates bliss and relaxation with a single image.

Portrait PhotographyUse portrait photography to get up close and personal with your customers. This email design uses an image by contributor Jacob Lund.

10. Delicate and Minimal

Email marketing is often defined by click-quick tactics, but rapid-fire buttons, ultra-bright colors, and GIFs aren’t always the best fit. Calming, minimally-designed emails in earthy, soothing palettes are easy on the eye, effortlessly elegant, and are the soothing counterpart to a slew of louder email marketing tactics.

Although a CTR is always the end goal, brand engagement is an equally important part of email design. Sometimes patience can be a virtue, and sometimes emails don’t need to shout to be effective at conversion. 

An added benefit of minimal email styles is that it’s possible to experiment with lengthier emails because the overall effect is more calming on the eye. Longer emails equate to more time spent engaging with your content, which increases the likelihood of not only clicking, but also with building brand memorability.

Simplicité Fashion BrandA simple and beautiful email design created by Brittany Porter for Parisian fashion brand Simplicité, uses soothing colors, light serif type, and long, listicle formats.

Go Forth and Create Awesome Emails

For too long, email has been neglected while designers focus their efforts on creating beautiful websites. These inspirational examples demonstrate how a thoughtfully designed email can make a huge difference for marketers by encouraging CTR and building brand engagement.

Cover image via CARACOLLA.

Looking for more tips and tricks for marketing design? Don’t miss these helpful articles:

How to Use Images in Emails to Drive SalesHow to Apply the Right Color Combinations to Your Marketing DesignsThe New Enhanced Shutterstock Editor: Create Stunning DesignsA Simple Guide to More Engaging Email CampaignsFebruary Fresh: New Content We Love

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