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Email design is limited primarily by the software used to view your email-- most times images will be off by default, for example--and your design needs to make it easy for readers to scan content whether your email is HTML or text. The first place to start with possible email designs is your own web site design. Distill the web page design into a grid and key elements, for example, logo, top navigation, and content columns. Your goal is to convert your web page design into a grid and a series of interlocking boxes.
If you want to start from scratch with an email design, there are three essential designs used in email: one column, which is typically for announcements; two-column designs, which are typically for newsletters; and multicolumn product emails, which have multiple columns and rows. All three essential email designs use a single HTML table to wrap around HTML tables and rows and columns that will make up your email design. In this case, for example, we have a single box around the email, we have a box around the header, a box around the navigation area, boxes to hold the products, and at the bottom, a box for the footer.
Each of these boxes will be in HTML table or in a HTML table cell or a table row. Not everything should go into the email design, however. You have less horizontal width in an email, so you might need to shorten the number of links in the top navigation of your email. The tight horizontal space also limits the width of any side column if you choose a two-column design. Here's a plain text email design. The main changes here have to do with no images and displaying navigation links vertically instead of horizontally, yet both the web page and the plaintext version have to use whitespace effectively to succeed.
A clean design for your emails is one of several must-haves for an effective email and email marketing campaign.
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