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Go headless.

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

For years, I had a masthead my personal newsletter. That small step (which often took quite a while to decide on) was something I thought looked pretty good and made the newsletter more pleasant to read.

I may have been wrong.

I'm not a designer, but I do follow some great designers through their blogs and newsletters. I've been noticing a trend in recent years among these designers to simplify and clarify their newsletter designs. Instead of the elaborate mastheads and illustrations we've come to expect from corporate newsletters, they're opting for plain text or very simple images.

This makes sense. In fact, I remember research, 10 years or more ago, stating how much better text emails performed vs. html emails. It perplexed business owners who wanted the fanciest, newest designs that "popped." But readers don't care about "pop," they care about value. That research often went ignored at the cost of subscribers and sales.

The strategy behind the new wave of minimalistic newsletters to better communicate to the reader:

  • I'm a real person.
  • This is a letter to you. This is not an ad.
  • You can respond to this email.

Designer/Entrepreneur Tobias van Schneider put it perfectly when discussing his popular newsletter:

"I’ve only done 1 major redesign of my weekly email. And, to be honest, I sometimes think it’s a bit too nice. I like to keep it simple; I want it to look less like a newsletter and more like a personal email. I tried keeping a balance between something designed, but also not too designed."

"My email is more personal, more raw. It’s not as polished. It should feel like I’m with you in the room, telling you what’s on my mind."

Designer/Author Frank Chimero wrote recently about header vs. footers in web design:

"I’m a caboose guy—I will happily design footers all day. But headers? I would prefer not to. More hassle than they are worth. Let a young, eager designer who wants glory and visibility have at it. Navigation at the top of the page turns a lack of conviction and corporate incohesiveness into a real estate problem. What a nightmare."

After reading that, I started notice headless design really taking off in newsletters. Of course, if you're using Substack or Buttondown, this is probably nothing new to you.

As a long-time MailChimp user, it's a newer idea to me, even though the MailChimp guru himself, Paul Jarvis, is also sporting a headless newsletter design.

My last two emails have been headless, and I think I love it. We'll see if the readers agree.

Check out the rest of this month’s posts on creating email newsletters.