Is your baby’s button ugly?

Another way effective email design can make your campaigns more effective: Get all your buttons to look just right.

I know the feeling. You've crafted what feels like the perfect email. The photo totally complements the concise and appealing description of your new service. The label for your call to action is clear. You just know people are going to click it and take that next step. Everything's ready. You take a deep breath, and send your baby out into the world. You've worked hard, and you're proud of that baby of yours. You wait for good things. And you wait. And you wait some more. But nothing happens.

What went wrong? Why aren't people clicking your call to action? Well, it's time to get honest with yourself. Your baby's button may be ugly. The label is fine. But that button design isn't going to win her any ribbons at the county fair. You see, that button doesn't have enough perceived affordances. Don Norman is credited with introducing this term to the design world, and it refers to "those action possibilities that are readily perceivable by an actor." In other words, there are certain qualities of an object, in your case a button, that help people understand what they can do with it.

Let's take a closer look at a button. Maybe you're creating a campaign to announce your new lunch menu (because your new paninis are quite tasty). Besides showcasing a great photo of said panini, you really want your customers to click that button so they can check out the new menu on your website.

The first question to ask yourself is whether it looks like a button. Not really. It looks more like a rectangle with a border. Second question, does it look clickable? Maybe. It's pretty flat, but it is different than the photo and the text. Of course, no one wants to settle for maybe – fortunately, it's easy to add perceived affordances and make that button more effective.

This revised button looks more clickable than the old one. (The fancier way of saying this is that it demonstrates a higher level of affordance.) I know it's tempting to be totally unique from a design perspective — and you can be if you keep affordance in mind — but it's often more effective to use a design convention that's already out there instead of dreaming up something new.

Sure, your button might look similar to another one, but who cares? Your audience members know that it's a button, and they know what usually happens when they click one. They don't have to figure that out. It's one less thing for them to think about. Using a button with more affordance eliminates a barrier. And let's face it, you're competing with a lot of other noise out there (digital and physical). Why not help your subscribers get to your content – and to those delicious paninis – more easily?

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