Direct Mail Design With UX Thoughts

Dec, 2016

Mail design can go further than just a nice story and good looking!

Up to 40 percent of nonprofits’ total yearly contributions come between Thanksgiving and December 31. So, potential donors will receive several or more asks to donate within this period. Which one can get the most donor responses? Is the one with an engaging picture? Or the one with a touching story? These are all key factors, but we can think further. From the user experience perspective, the donors’ experience starts right after donors open the envelope. Thus, my team created a new layout to renew the donors' experience.

Design Process

People will get bored of seeing the same looking mails year after year, so will designers.
This year, the design director wanted to create new wireframes for the campaign. We viewed many direct mail samples, shared our own experience of opening an envelope and unfolding a mail. We found that people would be more delighted to unfold a mail with curiosity, and won’t wasting time on a suspected junk mail. Therefore, we wanted to innovate a design that would help attract people's attention and led them to unfold the mail.


Just like when reviewing a resume, the initial look of the mail is so important that it can almost decide whether it would be read or enter the trash. But what’s the first impression? It won’t be the whole layout at all, but how it looks when you pull it out from the envelope.

With an envelope in hand, we can open it from the short edge or the long edge. In both ways, you can only see a quarter of the mail. With large possibilities, you will see the folded mail with the short edge (the long side when unfolded) upward because of your hand movement. This is what we found and wanted to take advantage of.

Usually mails use the vertical layout. But we decided to make a horizontal layout so that the donor could have a large possibility to see the mail in the right direction. In order to increase the donor’s curiosity, we used a large image which covered 3/4 of the mail’s front side. Furthermore, only a part of the image's subject would be shown on the revealed quarter to entice the donor to unfold the mail and read the letter on the back.


We had four wireframes in total, 3 were abstracted from company’s former practices, and the last one was generated by conducting UX design practice and group brainstorming.


To test whether the wireframes work well, I created the corresponding templates showing below. I liked them and the team thought they were neat.


In the 2016 end-of-year fundraising campaign, I created and implemented 4 direct mail templates based on industry research and fundraising best practices. Other than this, I designed direct mail and email pieces, social media and web graphics for 10 national nonprofit organizations. Here are some direct mail instances.


Through our team's hardwork, we provided our clients with exciting and appealing pieces to send to their donors. The 2016 end-of-year campaign ended up earning over $14k more than in 2015. The client that used our newly developed template earned more than double what they did the previous year. However, it is hard to tell if the success was driven by strong design, since there are many components in donor stewardship. But I’d like to think it was the design.


A fundraising direct mail’s success results from many factors besides design. Even in the design, there are many philosophies and practices that will contribute to the final success: such as good balance, enough white space, large enough fonts, and etc. The new layout we developed applied these practices and it seemed to have worked well.

Exhibiting the new layout doesn’t mean the conventional ones are bad. It is just a new way to present a letter. I believe there are more fantastic ways for me to explore. I love this designing process and like the visual result.

I met many problems when implementing the templates to real designs, such as low quality images or lengthy copy. In these cases, I was able to work out one or more solutions and discussed them with the team see if it works. I learned a lot from my team, such as to be detail-oriented, the importance of simplifying designs, making design invisible, etc. Thanks to them for their mentoring and help!

Work Projects

E-commerce Website Clearance Page Design

UX/UI | PM | Research

Created a webpage for the online clearance sale. Emphasized on redesigning the site-wide filtering tool.

July 2018

Design System Establishing

UX/UI | PM | Research

Initiated and developed a design system to facilitate designers and developers in the company.

June 2018

Navigation Redesign

UX/UI | Research

Redesigned the navigation of an e-commerce website for a better browsing and product finding experience.

September 2017

Direct Mail Design

Graphic | Print | UX thoughts

Ideated a new mail layout and applied it in the print mail pieces in the 2016 nonprofit fundraising campaign.

December 2016