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Design Thinking In emails
Corporate Entrepreneurship, GELLIFY

My experience of creating, prototyping, testing and shipping an end to end email strategy via content design principles for GELLIFY’s flagship event Corpotate Entrepreneurship 21.


Details of the internship project

work context

GELLIFY is Italy's first innovation platform and accelerator dedicated to the B2B market, supporting start-ups and companies. They invest in innovative start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs, with a focus on B2B Software Products. They host an annual flagship event called Corporate Entrepreneurship (CE). This features virtual events, where panelists from the innovation ecosystem stimulate new ideas to leverage smart startups and venturing methodologies, to thrive in the new economy.


Content Designer
Marketing Intern


4 Months

Macro offerings & value chain

Macro offerings and value chain including startups, investors and corporates

Their innovation areas include Entrepreneurship, Phygital Factory & Operations, Sales & Marketing, Smart Technology, Smart Human (Intrapreneurship & Cultural Change).


To increase brand awareness and meet potential customers, GELLIFY organises a seminar that provides networking opportunities with top corporate venturing experts from around the world. For this, they needed to invite people in the innovation community and engage them in conversations, through marketing, communications and Social Media (SM).

How might we Trigger existing & New Users to Register & Participate IN Corporate Entrepreneurship 2021?


Amanda Whitmore, Supervisor
Andrea Tintinelli, Intern


Active Campaign, LinkedIn
Sales Navigator, DeepL,
Canva, Bitly, Clickmeter, MailChimp, Type form, Microsoft Suite


To capture the interest of existing participants and new leads for CE, the marketing department already had a macro-funnel. This involved many activities; including but not limited to Lead Generation, Press Releases, Social Media and Direct Email Marketing (DEM). I was involved in all these activities, but I had keener interest in crafting personalised messaging and email campaigns.

The Direct Email Marketing (DEM) funnel was a mid-stage component which continued during, on the day of, and after the event. My role was to create the Information Architecture and Hierarchy, define the User Journey, design the emails with visuals and copy, and finally, send the automated emails based on segmentation of the user base. I tracked and analysed the interactions & feedback to ensure that no information was missed & the funnel were reiterated and improved accordingly.


We were able to garner 923 registrations & 372 participants including 71 speakers in 21 sessions. Apart from bringing more leads to the event, we were able to engage participants for 61 mins on an average during the event by sending personalised seminar recommendations in real time. More specifically, the emails triggered approx. 26% of the registration numbers.

208% registration and 1053 clicks


Approach, Tools & Methodology


As a first foray into Content Design, and since it is a fairly new field, I decided to collect resources and books that could elevate and cushion my work. I browsed through the works of Sarah Richards (The Content Design Book) and Beth Dunn (Cultivating Content Design) to contemplate how I can approach this “marketing” problem through the dual lens of Content Design X Design Thinking.

I decided to go with the classic time-tested Five-Stage Design Thinking model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school). The five stages of Design Thinking, according to d.school, are: Empathise, Define (the problem), Ideate, Prototype, and Test. At the time I was also reading Creative Confidence by Tom and David Keller. In addition to this, I decided to work with Beth Dunn’s framework of what constitutes a Full Stack in Content Design.

Note: I found both frameworks useful but lacking and at times, mutually exclusive. The design thinking methodology needs to be adapted for Content Design. And Beth Dunn’s full stack organises the nitty gritties without the design thinking philosophy to bolster it. So, I decided to rework them and test it out in this DEM case study with the following adapted tool.


Design Thinking
Content Design
Email Marketing
Omni-channel Strategy

Adapted Framework

Framework showing the use of design thinking and content design tools like voice, tone, consistency etc

The Content Design Thinking Framework

Using the Framework

As anticipated, most of the process was non-linear (and overlapping, at times), going back and forth depending on our learnings and needs. Overall, these are the following activities we did under each category moving from the bottom to the top:

Logo of a heart for empathise
1. Empathise
User Persona
Observation, Insights
Strategy: Overall Funnel
Journey Mapping
logo of a magnifyinf glass for Define
2. Define
Requirements Gathering
Define the Problem
Messaging & Call-to-Action
Goals & KPIs
Logo of a bulb for Ideate
3. Ideate
Brainstorm Meetings
Build on Old Ideas
Challenge Assumptions
Stakeholder Involvement
Logo of a prototype
4. Prototype
Voice, Tone, Style & Brand
Active Campaign Templates
Headline Research
New Formats
Mobile-first Designs
Interactive Prototypes
Prelim. Usability & Accessibility
logo of AB tests
5. Test
Internal Stakeholder Feedbacks
Usability Checks
Accessibility Checks
A/B Test Headlines, Automations, Copy
Design Reiterations
Improving Emails across funnel

Users & Audience

quote talking about how CEOs need to involved for change-creation

Given that this is the 4th year that CE was organised, we already had some insights, market research and knowledge regarding the kind of user personas that were interested and could be involved. So instead of proto-personas, we focused on real personas.

User persona
user persona

Real Personas instead of Proto-personas

Innovation in a company must be top-down to ensure they avoid becoming dinosaurs and are able to disrupt themselves. Thus:


Apart from error-free emails, we had a few hard constraints:


So keeping in mind our users, constraints and basic KPIs, I ideated 6 email campaigns  (linked below) across 4.5 months, with the following incremental structure of messaging:

Early Sep


New leads



Italy & Iberia



Italy & Iberia



To All New


Automated RECCOS




to  attendees & Non Attendees

DEM FUNNEL: A brief history of CE emails

In each campaign, I co-ideated with Iberia, Middle East and other internal teams and sent out 2-3 versions of the same email, differing at times in language, in scheduling times, in content, & in action points based on the segmentation of the database & the context of the user. For example, in the December campaign, we sent out a feedback survey to attendees and a link to see the event online to non-attendees, who would then receive an automated email for feedback.

Quote of Amanda Whitmore, giving a testimonial for Kasturo

Apart from this I was also managing all social media, content creation across the marketing funnel, liaising with the speakers, acting as tech support for Hopin (the streaming platform), tracking and analysing the data from lead generation and DEM, and finally, creating post-event documentation. This helped with having an omni-channel content strategy, since I was involved in most of the CE content creation processes.

What I Learnt

Some key insights

1. Designing Imperfect Emails

Prototyping emails that were clunky, cluttered and just…boring allowed me to fail fast, and come up with designs that were cleaner, livelier and more engaging. I also built on older templates used by the team.  Open rates increased from 22% to 48%, as they were better targeted and more relevant.

The DEM content design process for me was not just about creating good content but ensuring that:

  • The primary message is clear on all fronts, from the headline to sign off (including, REGISTER NOW/WATCH HERE/ VIEW VIDEOS/TAKE SURVEYS)
  • They must all point to the final CTA for the event, for the funnel to help users navigate the message
  • Mapping the user’s journey while reading the email & applying storytelling
  • Use of I & first person
  • Timing and context, for when to send an email
  • All links and buttons are in working order
  • Header and footer content is relevant & responsive
  • Accessibility via alt text on images and gifs
  • Following the brand’s voice, tone and style

And each of these aspects was iterated based on the CTRs, Open Rates and performance of the previous email in the funnel. As well as internal stakeholder feedback. We may never be able to create the perfect email, but we may come very close to it, imperfectly.

2. Text externally for fast fixes

Graph of AB tested headlines showing engagement

Subject Line a/B Tests

To test and get feedback internally is great (and a must!), but it is SAFE. By batch testing emails with a trusted external user base, can motivate you to improve faster. Little things WILL get missed. So, there’s nothing like a call from a client telling you about an error, to make you fix it immediately.

Quote of Amanda Whitmore, giving a testimonial for Kasturo

3. Emote, emote, emote

By using the personal and humanising first person you can be quick and effective in an email. People find it reassuring to think that they can reach you by replying to the same email. Similarly, using first names or by using the user’s language (via automation and segmentation), not only makes design sense, but can have a big impact on conversions. Personally, I found using interactive elements like gifs, visuals or even emojis, made corporate emails more approachable, attractive & just…FUN.

4. No substitute for instinct

As a young designer, you might suffer from a debilitating confidence gap or impostor syndrome. But what makes your work special is YOU. You can pore over a hundred books, but your instinct and distinct good taste, are very ‘you’ and they need to be championed.

Quote of Amanda Whitmore, giving a testimonial for Kasturi

5. The 6th Step

Logo of a heart for empathise
1. Empathise
logo of a magnifyinf glass for Define
2. Define
Logo of a bulb for Ideate
3. Ideate
Logo of a prototype
4. Prototype
logo of AB tests
5. Test
Logo of a pencil for Share
6. Share

Following the framework succesfully , and after completing the project, I found that there was a need to formally add a 6th step to the design thinking methodology. Knowledge sharing and documentation is a key aspect to learn from our mistakes and be better prepared. This also formalises the need to document during the project and not rely on our (fickle) memories. Further, it helps in explaining the project to newcomers or external members, and eases finding data when needed.


Mistakes & Next Steps

1. Accessibility

In all the earnestness to make everything 'look' perfect, I sometimes overlook the need to be more accessible. Yes, alt texts were included, but at times, not following the correct headline structure or colours or sizes of elements might be counter-productive for differently-abled readers.

In this case, the users were a controlled group. However, in the future I would like to brush up on my readability, contrasts, knowledge of different impairments and compliances to design better and more empathically.

2. Responsiveness

Most of these emails were designed on a laptop and tested on big screens. But now, looking back, I should’ve focused more on checking the prototypes on smaller screens, and phones. One can still see spacing issues and wonky tables, which were missed in the iterations.

I would also push to update the brand's design guidelines to accommodate newer formats that make prototypes more responsive across the organisation.

3. Testing the framework

And lastly, I would try to test the Content Design Framwork in different contexts and polish it further to help other UX writers and designers to hone their craft.

In conclusion, as I take my first few professional steps into core Content Design, I am looking to learn and unlearn as much as I can. So feel free to look through my other projects in design and other gew-gaws.

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