Design Theory: Contrast

When designing email marketing the choices you make can significantly increase how users interact with a message. One defining application is the use of the design theory, contrast. By giving contrast to important sections of information your users are more likely to see that information and take the action you intend.

Contrast, in very simple terms, means being different from something else, usually something in close proximity. When thinking about the use of contrast in design there are multiple applications. You can have contrasting colors like black/white or red/green next to one another. You can also have contrast in pattern, shape, size, and scale. Contrast should be used to create a visual hierarchy and also to direct attention strategically.


Take this advertisement for True Food kitchen as an example of contrast used in several different ways:

  1. Color – To make the graphic of the burger stand out it was included in full color while the rest of the advertisement was done in black. Because the text runs right next to the image, this contrast in color focuses attention on the colorful image.
  2. Scale – There is also contrast in the scale of the typography. The first line of text is significantly larger than the line just below it. Because the scale of each line of text is so different the contrast breaks the two lines into two different ideas, or two separate chunks of content.
  3. Pattern – Pattern is also used to create contrast and separate elements. In the upper-right hand corner there are two columns of cross-hatching that visually contrast with the text separating that sentence from the surrounding text.


Here is another example, this time contrast is used in the design of an email message:

  1. Color – Color is used within the body of text to create contrast. Key pieces of information are displayed in shades of orange that contrast with the black text. The use of contrast makes those bits of content stand out from the rest.
  2. Combination of shape & color – Contrast is also applied through the combination of shape and color. Three sections of the design—the top, middle, and bottom—each have a shape with a contrasting color applied for emphasis. The shapes at the top and bottom mirror one another and framing the message. The shape in the middle is the most unique, having the most contrast and the deepest color. This is also the most important element as it contains the call-to-action.

This email illustrates one of the keys to successful email marketing: the call-to-action needs to be clearly visible. After deciding what is the most important thing you want subscribers to do, consider how you can make the call-to-action distinguishable through the use of contrast in the final design.

As you consider how to best incorporate contrast in designing your own email message, take a look at some good examples of email marketing and contrast.

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