Modular vs. Custom Email Design

A deep dive into when and how to use modular email design vs. custom-designed emails in your email marketing strategy. Which is better? Which will help my email content be more impactful? Which is more sustainable? Trick question — the answer is both!

Jesse Godfrey
Updated on

This is a deep dive into when and how to use modular email design vs. custom-designed emails in your eCommerce email marketing strategy.

Which is better? Which will help my email content be more impactful? Which is more sustainable? Trick question — the answer is both!

In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of modular templates as well as how customizing email content design can elevate and separate your high-priority communications from your more regular ones:

  1. A word on Templates
  2. The Problem
  3. How can modular design work for you?
  4. How custom email can work for you?
  5. Have your cake and eat it too

A word on templates:

Templates are incredibly valuable for a couple of reasons.

  • They are a huge time-saver. Having the ability to set something up once as a visual framework and prevent having to make repetitive styling adjustments or customizations to your email will mean you have time back to spend on more important things like your email content!
  • They help you categorize your email content and think within a structured framework, which helps you to plan long-range content and better prepare for how to craft your sends.

BUT! Templates can’t do it all.

  • A professor in college would always use the phrase “Garbage in, garbage out” to describe how we assume tools can solve our problems. The idea in our email landscape here is that the outcome of utilizing a template is only as good as what content you are putting into it in the first place.


Businesses want professional, well-designed, unique, and on-brand emails… But: Creating a large number of customized emails takes a lot of time and effort, sometimes without a strong/tangible ROI.

What we do is a little of both — We leverage thoughtful, modular templates to avoid spending time reinventing the wheel or grinding through redundant styling tasks …and then we layer in custom-designed elements. This lets us elevate our highest-value emails (Or the ones we want the maximum amount of eyeballs on).

So how can modular design work for you?

Google store email example of modular email template
example of a modular email design
  • Take time to invest in a design system and BE CONSISTENT. A design system is a collection of reusable components and styling standards that can be used in a number of applications.

    If you have a great website, some of this may already be working well for you. An email template can take a lot of queues from your brand presence on the web, and likely some of those web styles can easily translate to email components for your design system.
  • Consider your content needs and have a plan. If you want certain campaigns to have a cross-sell or some to drive traffic by category, think of how your template can be set up on the front end for those purposes.
  • Utilize your ESP tools to create easy-to-execute base templates for certain kinds of sends. Keep in mind a “One size fits all” approach may not work. You may want some sends to be highly visual with lots of content, while others might need to feel simpler and more human. Having multiple templates can help with this! 
example of a modular design
  • It is also key to build multiple variations of components you will frequently use to vary them through flows and campaigns. For example, you may use a tiled, 2-column layout for a “shop by category” section in some emails, while you may utilize full-width buttons in others.

How custom email can work for you?

  • Be strategic — does this product or service deserve the higher investment of time and resources for custom work?
    1. If it is a tier 1 product release, then yes — it may be worth investing in. In fact, it may be more effective as well.
  • Consider what kind of content can really stand out, surprise, and delight your audiences.
    1. What can you teach your customers about that adds value beyond just a sales or product pitch  [For some of our coffee email campaigns, we utilize brew guides and techniques as a way to educate our audiences about types of coffees and processes].
    2. Also, think about how you can visualize this value-add content to be eye-catching and clickable. Infographics, visual stories, scales, and guides are all great ways to make custom visuals feel meaningful.
  • Build a process:
    1.  partner with your creative team members or even freelancers to develop a process for designing content for email  (video content, storytelling element, animated gifs, etc.
  • Utilize tools to work more rapidly. Platforms like Canva, Creatopy, and Figma provide options for generating visual assets for email.
    1. Figma is great for slicing and prepping image-based elements for email.  
    2. Canva and Creatopy offer low-barrier-to-entry design tools that you can utilize for static and animated assets.
  • Consider the pitfalls
    1. Make sure these HTML designs scale across email clients and meet accessibility best practices.
    2. Developing and testing takes time and resources, so don’t bite off more than you can choose.

Have your cake and eat it too

The best approach for brands is to use the best of both worlds

  • The most impactful brands do this of these well. Having a design system in place with templates that allow for automation and frequent campaigns to remain feasible… while also keeping the design and presentation of content fresh and interesting. 
  • Utilize tools and templates to make life easier. But also have the resources or relationships in place to produce great creative content that elevates your business goals.
analogy of custom email design

To summarize – Brands should consider how they can templatize their email marketing while also having a plan in place for unique creative content within email their email marketing — Make sure you’re investing in both! 

Scaling all of this can be a challenge, but that’s where we come in. We can help to take some of the heavy lifting off your plate so you can keep the wheels turning on your marketing and your business.

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