How to design a newsletter readers love

Newsletter brand and design checklist and guide

Sponsored by

DEEP DIVE

How to design a newsletter readers love

Most newsletters are ugly.

Their brand, design, and content format sucks.

Here’s how to design a simple and elegant newsletter your readers will love — without any design experience and without hiring an expensive designer.

Why design is important

If you’re on the fence about the importance of design, consider this:

  • Design helps you punch above your weight. You’ll look smarter, more professional, and more trustworthy (to both your readers and sponsors)

  • Great design makes your newsletter content easier to read and consume (which will increase your open rate and CTR)

  • Design helps you stand out in the inbox (which is often filled with dozens of other ugly newsletters)

Now, let’s talk about improving your brand and design.

Starting with mistakes to avoid…

Avoid these mistakes

Most newsletters are ugly for 4 reasons:

1) Content is not designed to be read inside the email.

If you’re sending emails to drive traffic to your website, you’re not sending newsletters.

You’re sending a marketing email for your blog.

People don’t want to click five or more links to read your content. They want concise, skimmable, and useful content inside an email.

That’s the power of newsletters. They’re convenient.

Readers can open, find what they need, read, and be done. All in less than 5 minutes.

Your newsletter should save readers time and effort.

2) They only deliver one thing.

Most newsletters should be like newspapers and magazines.

Deliver multiple pieces of content in each issue:

  • Articles, stories, curation, images, infographics, games, quizzes, interviews, advice columns, profiles, reviews, reader comments and feedback, etc.

  • Let readers pick and choose what they want to read.

If your newsletter only delivers one piece of content (like a blog post, essay, case study, etc), it won’t be valuable to all readers.

However, if your newsletter delivers 3-5+ pieces of content, at least one of those things will be valuable to everyone.

3) Not skimmable — No sections, headers, dividers, or boxes.

Every newsletter should be skimmable.

Add a table of contents, section headers, dividers, and boxes so readers can easily find what they want to read.

Don’t be arrogant and assume people will read your newsletter in full.

If you send a block of text, most people will open one newsletter, archive it, and never consider reading it again.

4) No color, images, or personality.

Your newsletters don’t need to be filled with tons of colors, images, GIFs, memes, and witty jokes.

But you do need some.

  • Use your brand’s primary color in newsletters

  • Add relevant images when you need them

  • Write like you’re talking to a friend

10 Newsletter Designs You Should Steal

Here are 10 newsletters with great brands, design, and content formats.

The best way to improve your newsletter design is to imitate others. Subscribe to all of these and start stealing design elements.

Everyone imitates Morning Brew, and for good reason. They’re a $100M newsletter business with great design.

What I like: Every section is inside a box, and each box has a blue section header in all caps. This makes it easy to skim and find what I want to read.

The Hustle is another OG in the world of newsletters.

There’s a lot to steal: Custom GIFs for top stories, <300-word story structure, their famous witty voice, and writer signatures.

This newsletter has the best design and format out there right now:

  • 3 images at the top that tease the 3 main stories below

  • Easy to read stories about need-to-know news in the creator economy that are 150-300 words

  • < 5-minute total read time

  • Custom dividers

Intrigue added many clever variations to the tried and true “5-minute newsletter” design.

Dead simple design that delivers everything you need to know in 5 minutes.

1440 is one of the few newsletters that get 55%-60% open rates with over 3.5M subscribers.

If SportsCenter was a damn good email newsletter.

Semafor has the most clever tables of contents I’ve seen.

Failory does all the little things right.

Every main story has a beautiful custom image, they use section headers and boxes, and the referral program has a GIF that shows all rewards.

9) Axios 

Everyone should learn from Axio’s “smart brevity” writing style.

Simple, useful, easy to read.

Justin is one of the few creators that does design well.

Newsletter Design Checklist

Here are 12 things every newsletter design should have:

1) Header branding

Your logo and your sponsor’s logo (if you have a sponsor for the send)

This guarantees an impression for the advertiser.

2) Section headings

This is a 1-4 word description of the section below.

  • “MARKETS”

  • “DEEP DIVE

  • “THE HEADLINES”

  • “PRESENTED BY <SPONSOR>”

Section headings should be:

  • Your brand's primary color (not black)

  • Above the headline

  • All caps

Section headings make it easy to skim newsletters.

3) Boxes or dividers

Separate each section with a box or divider.

Spice things up with a custom image divider (like the one in this newsletter).

4) Table of contents

Let readers know at the top of the email what is below.

Tease the content in the newsletter and create an open loop so people keep reading.

5) Headlines and subheads

Make it easy to find an article or jump into the middle of content with headlines and subheads.

6) Brand emoji

Use the same emoji in the subject line of every newsletter you send.

Morning Brew is famous for the coffee emoji: ☕

I use the email emoji (📧) to help make my newsletters stand out in the inbox.

7) Read time

Add this to your intro if your newsletters are always under 5 minutes long. It shows you’re saving the reader time.

Don't add this if your newsletters are consistently longer than 5 minutes.

8) Branded Signature

Put a small, round picture of you or your team at the end of each newsletter.

This helps your audience remember you and your brand.

In my opinion, it’s not a must-have, but it helps.

9) Colors

Don’t use a background color.

Black text and white background is the most legible.

Then, in your images, section headings, links, and borders, pick one primary color to feature throughout the newsletter.

10) Link design

Your links should be bold, underlined, and a color that stands out.

Bonus points if you make your link underline a different shade of the primary color (like this).

This link style will increase CTR.

11) Fonts 

Your body font should be Arial or Helvetica. Your heading fonts are up to you.

Just don’t get fancy. Simple is better because simple is legible

12) Width and columns

Wider text is hard to read.

Newsletters with multiple columns are hard to read on mobile.

Your newsletter should have the following:

  • 600px body width

  • One column

Bonus: Beehiiv Newsletter Design Template

I hope this helps!

If you want to see how I designed my newsletter, here are the exact specifications, image templates, and design settings I use:

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