Design: The Center of the Circle

  • by September 30, 2008
In Chapter 13 of his energizing book, "The Circle of Innovation," Tom Peters argues that design should inform how we all work, at every level. For Peters, design is the ultimate key, and this makes a lot of sense to us.

Design is the clear core of email, and it's not limited to the aesthetics and functionality of the creative: design should be the driving force as we construct marketing strategies and individual email campaigns. Peters writes that successful design is design "for surprise," and with innovative ideas constantly changing what we can do with our email, this is a freeing and inspiring concept.

Peters includes a "Design Hall of Fame," in which he calls out Dow for its fabulously usable Ziploc baggies, Gillette for the revolutionary Lady Sensor, Rubbermaid for their lovably functional kitchenware, and other design superstars.

At my company, we sharpen our design senses by subscribing to hundreds of retail emails and blogging about our loves and loathes. We'd like to share some love-samples to make our own "Email Design Hall of Fame":



  •          Dynamic Divas: Sephora always does nice-looking creative, but what we love most is the company's smooth dynamic messaging integration. Not only does it utilize preference center information in a way that's helpful and on-brand (the company knows Lisa has combination skin and brown hair, and shows her products accordingly), but it remembers things I've tried and uses my past interests to upsell. Smart design.

  •          Glamorous Sectioning: One of the keys to great design, Peters points out, is giving customers something that they didn't even realize they wanted. Well, we never realized that we wanted our high-fashion emails to be sectioned out with strings of pretty pearls, but turns out that's EXACTLY what we wanted. Props to Tiffany & Co for figuring it out and implementing this classy, flowing creative design.

  •          Serving up a Series: Crate & Barrel and Chef's both took advantage of last Thanksgiving to build relationships with their customers, sending a series of informative emails focusing on gear for each component of serving an elegant dinner. Both creatives have a few issues (such as Crate & Barrel's vague CTAs) -- but in terms of functionality and the campaign idea, their design is right on. See the series.

  •          Sincerest Sorry: Urban Outfitters is always solid at designing for surprise. Its quirky copy and unusual images are so on-brand that they work. After a glitch delivered a less-than-stellar customer experience back in '06, UO sent out this apology email (scroll down to see the UO email). The call for laughs, the sincere "sorry" and the discount incentive to get people shopping again all make this a fame-worthy apology message.

  •          Warmest Welcome: Virgin America knew exactly what it was doing with its welcome message design. It's nice, simple and to the point so as not to overwhelm new subscribers -- and packed with all the info we need to get what we want from the site.

  •         Media Mastery: With new abilities to link to video and to embed animation, rich media is making its way into more email than ever. This Free People email uses media to inspire its subscribers' fashion sense, linking to video that demonstrates how to beat new Free People boots into ruggedly worn-looking style pieces. The video is a little off-beat and unexpected, but that's just what works. As Peters says, "DESIGN (design mindfulness) that transforms, that takes customers and companies to new places, is inherently risky."

  •          Quaint Monthly Kick-Off: We love Kate Spade's monthly Kate's Favorites messages. The elegant, clean creative and the focused, attention-grabbing design of the campaign make a powerful start to each month.  

  •          Motivating Information: The design of the strategy behind this Stride Rite email is simple and solid, combining valuable information with a strong CTA: your growing baby needs these types of shoes for his development stage, and you can get them here. 

    Of course, there are many more designs we've loved over the years, and we're getting new ones in our inboxes every day. It never hurts to have an eye for designs that stand out for being terrible, too, but we'll let you find those on your own...or in our blog.

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