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Email Design Guidelines

Best practices

  • Use photos that fit the content while also being uniquely Bentley, if possible. Even small hints, such as a Bentley branded mug in the background can make a difference. For exterior photos, it helps if there is a recognizable campus building or object in the frame. 

  • When using stock photography, opt for images with genuine emotions, candid moments, and unique perspectives. Good photos will have a more realistic and less polished or staged feel.

  • Crop your photos with consistent aspect ratios suitable for the content. 3:2 (or 2:3 for portrait orientation) is recommended. 

  • Do not place large amounts of text in images.

  • Research has shown that many users merely skim emails. Control this process by providing emphasis (bold or heavy font weight) in certain areas of your copy. ​

  • Too much emphasis is detrimental. If you emphasize several sentences at a time, you reduce the impact of the emphasized area. Focus on single words, short phrases, or the final sentence in a paragraph instead.​

  • Well-placed emphasis has an aesthetic appeal that adds to the design. ​

  • Do not mix different forms of emphasis unless there is a grammatical reason to do so. ​

  • Never use an underline for emphasis — this is reserved for links.​

Clear Space
  • Good use of clear space allows your content to breath. When elements are packed in closely, the overall design can appear cluttered, making it difficult for the user to focus on the message.​

  • Insufficient clear space also impacts readability, slowing down your audience and increasing the chances they will move on. The space between lines (leading) should be considered. ​

  • While it's a good idea to keep a call to action above the fold, don't be concerned about an increase in vertical scrolling.​

  • In addition to clearspace throughout your content, keep the email margins in mind. A good design keeps text at least 30 pixels (px), or equivalent, away from the boundaries of the email body. ​

Dark mode
  • A newer feature in email is dark mode. There are a few ways to control dark mode programmatically, though support in various email clients (applications such as Gmail or Outlook) is mixed.​

  • Often, an email client will supply its own subjective rules for what dark mode is, making it difficult to control the user experience. ​

  • You can take advantage of dark mode by designing with it from the beginning. ​

  • An email that does not account for dark mode runs the risk of becoming inaccessible as some colors shift, while others remain the same.  

  • Many email applications (including Anthology) provide the tools and coding necessary to automatically make a simple email responsive. ​Make your email responsive to give the user the best experience possible regardless of the device they're using. 

  • Mobile doesn't have to be secondary to a desktop experience. For example, if you're emailing a young alumni audience at an event where you expect high mobile use rates, create specific content for phones that is otherwise hidden on a desktop. ​

  • A good responsive design allows you to build a wider email on desktop. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all best practice email width of 580px or 600px, though you can still do that for simplicity.


Before working on an email, you may want to familiarize yourself with the University's brand guidelines

  • When choosing a lockup to include, typically you'll want to go with one designed to work in a horizontal format that can be placed in the header or footer of your email.

  • Choose brand colors that work with your content. 

  • Use the font "Arial" for your body copy. 

    • For developers: you can use the appropriate brand font for body copy as long as "Arial" is part of the font stack. 


Color, contrast, and legibility​

  • Generally, stay at or above a font size 18 pixels (or equivalent) for body copy​.

  • Do not use color for copy — you’ll want to reserve it for links.​

  • If you're not underlining links, provide at least two visual cues for text-based links. For example, you may choose a separate color and font weight as a link style. An underline is the strongest indicator of link behavior. ​

  • Make sure you have enough contrast between the foreground and background of your content. You can test the accessibility of colors using a variety of tools, such as the WebAIM contrast checker. ​

Using alt text

Alt text, short for "alternative text," is a concise descriptive attribute added to images to provide textual context for those who may not be able to view the visual content. It serves as an accessibility feature, ensuring that individual screen readers can comprehend the purpose and content of the image. Alt text should convey the essential information and function of the image, making web content more inclusive and enabling everyone to participate fully in the online experience.

  • Alt text is essential for screen readers, however, it is even more important in an email because many email clients will not load your images by default—meaning the first impression will include alt text where your images would normally load. ​

  • Keep alt text short and descriptive. 100 to 125 characters is ideal. ​

  • Certain versions of Outlook will make alt text disappear if the text is longer than the image width. If you can, try to have alt text remain on a single line. 

  • Information-dense images (like infographics) should provide alt text and a secondary description elsewhere in the email.

    • For developers: other methods like longdesc or ARIA attributes can be used. Contact for more information. 


If you have questions regarding email design or development, reach out to or