This article made me finally bite the bullet and convert. I've been using the new design for the last several hours. I happen to have a window open with the old design, so I know it's not merely my imagination that the new one is worse. Not enormously so, but definitely worse.
Read mails are more legible in the old version, because there is more contrast between black letters and the old light blue background than between black and the new gray.
It's also harder to parse the list of emails visually in the new design. In the old one, the 3D checkbox acted like a bullet point, and the name of the sender was closer to it. Now the heavy checkbox has been replaced by a faint square, and the sender's name is about 2x further away from it. So scanning my email is no longer like scanning a bulleted list. It's just rows of text.
That's a big deal functionally. There's a reason bulleted lists exist as a format, and removing the bullet points from the average bulleted list would make it significantly less legible.
It's a bummer to see Google making things work worse in order to make them look better (or worse still, more consistent). That's the sort of thing big companies do. Which I suppose Google now is. But they had at least been trying not to act like one before.
I think the reason is simpler - Larry Page is in charge now. His approach is to trust the designers not users. And that approach results in products designers like and users don't. See http://vimeo.com/29965463 for discussion on how things have changed in Google w.r.t design.
What I am saying is that new Google design is not a pathology of a large company, but a result of a single executive decision. Before red primary buttons would have failed testing. Now this testing is simply not done. New way is faster.
An intriguing possibility is that Larry knows they are producing garbage, but thinks it will work out long term, like Android.
You seem to have an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Google's product design, well beyond that of an average software engineer at Google like myself. I'm curious how you came to be in possession of such insight, since it apparently surpasses my own as a lowly Google employee.
This almost exactly matches not only my complaints, but the feedback I gave when Google claimed to be interested in such things.
Another thing I've observed is that non-expert users are utterly confused by the various actions not being visible (though greyed out) when documents are not selected—they simply assume that they will never exist and don't see them after a selection is made. I can't see any way in which the new design is as good as, let alone better than, the old.
So you believe that consistency among UI screens should take a backseat to usefulness? I agree with this but I know there are a lot of people who believe the opposite - that consistency is more important to good design. And this isn't limited to big companies.
There's different kinds of consistency though. Make everything use the same palette? That's a kind of consistency.
Make everything use the same interaction design? That's a kind of consistency.
Years ago I had to use a piece of visualization software that was designed around consistency in the interaction model for the software. It sounded nice, but what it meant was that where there was intersection in the interaction models between visualizations it worked well, but where there were differences they either chose to just not implement that function, or bury it in some menu somewhere.
It was infuriating to know that a particular kind of visualization should offer a certain feature (like finding the average on an axis of a scatter plot), but because some other completely different visualization (a semantic graph) didn't have such a concept they just simply left it out.
I'd argue that a consistently poor interface is preferable to an inconsistently well-designed interface. I can get used to a poorly-designed UI if I only have to learn how to do so once. It's when I have to learn different ways to do the same thing that it becomes annoying.
Personally I really like the new design, despite the fact I have actually implemented most of the things mentioned in the article. However, I thinks that this shows that gmail is an amazing app that it provides this level of customisation, and this doesn't include any of the stuff from the labs feature set.
In my experience, they're usually far more customizable. Clients I've used include KMail on Linux, The Bat! on Windows and Mozilla's Thunderbird, all of which offer myriad options to customize the appearance and behavior of message list, message pane and folder lists, though the first two apps much more so than Thunderbird. You also get to modify things like toolbars much more freely, and OS/toolkit theming usually also beats the GMail theming system.
You could argue that GMail has a higher customization potential given the fact that you can muck around with the document client-side (though Thunderbird extensions are similar, and if you really go down that road: I can also change the source code of KMail and recompile it), but we're talking in-app options here.
And so I find the notion that "GMail has impressive configurability because it has the options described in the article" amusing. Somehow the world has forgotten just how sophisticated an experience a regular old desktop app running in the context of a regular old desktop environment can be.
I'd also argue that regular old desktop toolkits and libraries still require a lot less investment of effort to achieve such levels of sophistication than the web development environment does at the moment. Like I said, thought-provoking.
You can do this with Gmail just fine since it supports both pop3 and imap out. But I join the chuckling at the notion that "this demonstrates gmail's flexibility". If it was really flexible and customizable, I would still have the old theme.
> You can do this with Gmail just fine since it supports both pop3 and imap out.
Gmail's IMAP works, though it's had a number of minor-but-irritating bugs for years (these bugs even affect the official applications too). I wish they'd fix them - I get that it's not in their interest to support nonstandard clients for which they receive no ad revenue, but that's no excuse here, because they still cause some of the same problems on the Android and Blackberry apps.
You're missing out on a ton of great Gmail features if you are using a desktop mail client. Integrated hangout/voice /text chat, phone, conversation view, the social pane with contextual information..the list goes on.
>I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would chose gmail over any native application for mail
I can't speak for the 350M other people using Gmail. But here's why I use Gmail(some of these aren't exclusively Gmail):
- Conversation View
- Calendar Integration
- Very good Labelling/Grouping system
- Online Storage
- Browser access
- Very Powerful and effecient Search
- Great filter system
- Autosaves unfinished emails
- Integration with multiple third party tools including Attachments.me, dropbox, google docs, taskforce
I used to use Thunderbird, and it was great. But I had big 3 problems with it: 1) I never got comfortable with searching emails. 2)I couldn't access my email from other devices/computers etc 3)My emails starting chewing up a lot of HDD space.
I'm not arguing that gmail isn't good at what it does. But it is at an inherent (huge) disadvantage of being executed in the browser.
Just some comments. Thunderbird became dramatically better at searching a couple of years(?) ago. I frequently feel limited by search in gmail, I've assumed that there are advanced features lurking around somwhere but the UX is so bad I just don't.
I don't see how storage can be a problem. With gmail you hit the limit at <8 GB, that can hardly be a problem on a workstation. If anything it's an argument against gmail.
But, perhaps the most important one, I don't get why everyone seems to believe it's native or web, never both. Of course you have both... The question is why you'd want such a blunt tool for something as important as mail on your workstation. Yes, browser access is still awesome - that's why you have both.
And when you consider security it's borderline to irresponsible being logged in constantly in the browser and since I value instant notification that alone is a dealbreaker on my WS.
And if you're on a laptop with a bad connection relying on gmail or something similar is a sure way to get a heart attack.
if you are limited by search in gmail, you are doing it wrong. you are saying gmail is inferior to thunderbird for search? over google? c'mon. you also take issue with apps running in the browser, which is counter-culture. you are refusing to accept that there are specific advantages to the additional functionality we have gained in the browser, while claiming your machine is more secure than Google's data centers. sorry but you're not making a sound argument.
Read in what context I said that gmail search is inferior to thunderbird for search. But yes, how do you, without googling it up, search for a message in gmail from address x, sometime in the year of 2010, where the subject began with y and the content contained z.
Counter-culture? Few would argue that native apps doesn't have advantages over browser apps. The best you could say about a browser app is that it is "good enough". But obviously they suffer greatly from being in the browser just because all workstation operating systems are centered around native apps and not apps within the browser.
Which means that I can click on my mail-application in the taskbar/whatever but whereas in a browser I have to navigate through all my browser windows to find the one with mail in it, which doesn't even have to be in it's own window but hidden somewhere with lots of other tabs.
Again, I never said that my machine is more secure than googles data center servers. But any native application has security advantages over something run in the browser (and potentially drawbacks as well, but the inherent issue with being logged in on a web app doesn't exist in a native application).
Outlook has conversation view as well, and Microsoft Lync (formerly Office Communicator) integrates the rest of the feature set (yes you're vendor-locked, but you are with GMail too). In my opinion GMail executes better on most of these features, but they're not the only ones to offer them.
Its a constant wonder how Google and other large companies can't actually realise that their design departments are not doing a great job. You'd think that Apple's successes might actually make them realise that great interfaces (especially if they can outdo the competition) are hugely valuable.
Some things about the new design are defensible, however others are definitely not. My particular pet hate is that all the things that are not mail services (but you can still access within gmail) are splattered around all corners of the screen. Chat is in one corner (along with 'gadgets' - whatever they are). G+ is in the opposite. And in a third (behind a button that is very unhelpfully named 'gmail') are contacts and tasks. Where is the sense in that???
>large companies can't actually realise that their design departments are not doing a great job
There are obviously a lot of unhappy users with legitimate gripes. But Google would probably be looking at the growth of Gmail to validate what ever the design department is doing. That growth is pretty impressive.
Growth? Gmail grew 3 or 4 years ago. I wouldn't recommend Gmail to anyone now, it's just another Hotmail type service, there's nothing special or good about Gmail anymore.
What really surprised me is how few of my friends get the 'conversation' view even in 2012. After too many awkward conversations and now their 'we've got absolutely no design skills and can't design for shit' redesign, I'm just shrugging when people say their hotmail account has been hacked for the 15th time.
fastmail's non-free service, maybe? I got it a very long time ago, mainly for the .in email address. It's been no-frills, fast, and (mostly) reliable. I'm still not sure I'd recommend it to a gmail user, but its been a good email account to have.
Careful - don't rely on fastmail for XMPP. I switched to them based on them having that, since I used it a lot with Gmail. Then I found out that fastmail is running some super wobbly XMPP server which kicks you off any time you really get going really quickly in a conversation.
I've opened multiple tickets, and all they can say is "sorry" and "we know about it" and "we're working on it", but actual fixes still haven't come. Having a solid chat experience obviously is not high on their priority list.
Late reply, sorry. I never even knew they had the option of an XMPP server. For what it's worth, I find the mail experience to be both reasonable, and pretty much fat-free, which I guess is all I really need.
I moved my domain and imported all emails from Fastmail to Google Apps because of:
1) Deficient search, the more email you keep, the more you rely on search to find something from few days to few years ago. Incredibly painful with Fastmail.
2) Lack of calendar. It's just so more convenient to have your calendar integrated with email.
3) Lack of Exchange ActiveSync support (as in protocol). This protocol allows to sync email, calendar and contacts from the same account. All these things I want to be synced to my phone. Keeping contacts and calendar in Gmail (because it has ActiveSync support) and email in Fastmail was becoming more and more frustrating.
As a publicly traded company, their published estimates of gained users over the past year are probably extremely solid. I wouldn't worry about bias, they would be in heaps of trouble if they lied about these numbers.
andrewfelix was prompting you to elaborate. Just replying "that's not what I said" is completely unproductive - this is meant to be a conversation, not a game of twenty questions. We shouldn't have to guess at your meaning.
Sorry. I thought about this, but it seemed obvious to me. Maybe it isn't. I'll give it a try.
Of course past performance of a product is a factor worth considering in determining the future success of someone in any field. However if you really want to excel at this field, past performance is not likely to be the _primary_ factor (though it could be a smaller factor) in how you 'validate' future worth.
For instance, I can easily measure the past performance of stocks on the stock exchange. However if I really want to succeed in trading shares, 'have the stocks of foobar gone up in the past' is not likely to be the primary way I validate whether foobar is worth investing in.
Hope that helps you :) I didn't mean to sound as indignant as perhaps I did.
I ended up leaving Gmail a few months ago (knowing this was coming). The new design works really poorly with browser zoom. I need to view the page zoomed in to 300% or so most of the time (I don't have good vision). Zooming really worked pretty well on all of the past iterations, up until this one. There are a number of panes that stay visible when scrolling, so the content area on the web page becomes really really small. (I'm not usually one to complain just because things changed, I didn't like the mystery meat icons either, but I can get over something trivial like that.) It just doesn't work.
I couldn't really figure out where else to go, but OWA 2010 doesn't have these problems, so I went to Office 365 for my own domain (and forwarded Gmail). I never thought I'd pay for email but considering how vital mail is, having real support is a nice piece of mind.
I remember how awesome webmail seemed in 2003 (when I switched from Outlook to Gmail), but now that I've gone back to Outlook, I see all the awesome stuff that I was missing. This is really not to credit Outlook though, I'm sure Gmail (threading) influenced them greatly in the past 8 years. I know you can just use Outlook+Gmail, but sadly IMAP isn't nearly as good as Exchange.
I use this regularly now, but I'm still dead set on moving back to having email in my workstation. Now, Google seem ruthless in their hunt for your information and this alone should be enough to make a decision. But it's a bigger problem than just that: you are at their mercy for any change they introduce, and they are a critical component of the internet for many if not most of us. Namely this interface change, or the availability of that simple html option. One could argue that the same can be said for any "cloud service" but email is typically a bit too critical to many of us. It definitely is for me. And they would push their integration plans whatever your opinion is and whatever the consensus is. This modus operandi seems to be the new standard at Google.
The last straw was a recent incident I had with my Android phone. So apparently in one of the recent updates of Google Talk they realised they could just log me into their one-and-only Google Account with gmail, etc. included. I had very carefully avoided Gmail's app (which they won't let you delete). I had refused to "sync" anything or add my Google account. Now, Google wouldn't let me log-out or delete my account.
I don't have any particularly compromising information in my phone. I don't have any "secret" numbers and the labels make sense just to me. I have it set up so if I lost it, it wouldn't be a big problem. But now I had my email forcibly open in my phone for anyone to see. Now I had to lock the screen and be extra-careful. Google doesn't let you delete your account from the phone easily. They provide this "option" but if you click on it they will let you know that you can only delete your account from the phone by doing a factory reset. Goodbye installed apps, settings, highscores, everything. So I did, and proceeded to create an account just for the phone.
Now, searches are getting painfully slow and they're quite poor compared to Thunderbird. But I'd still prefer gmail for the convenience of having it always available and always synced from anywhere, if only they weren't so insisting in upping their stakes and in forcing people into an all-or-nothing situation. I bet it makes business sense for them, it just doesn't make it for me.
I lost my youtube account when they stopped allowing independent accounts (had it locked to someone else's Google account and couldn't get this person to release it). I cannot afford to risk losing my main email account, so I'm taking preventive action while they still allow a relatively easy migration back to the desktop.
agreed. for those of us who feel that gmail is a necessary evil this definitely helps ease the pain. I just wish I could pay for a commercial service or install a server-side app that had similar functionality.
the default settings in the new gmail design are really bad. at least the gmail team should have some kind of migration wizard that allows users to easily figure out to configure the settings to make the new design work as well as possible for them.
It's slow because all the UI elements in the new themes have alpha transparency and rounded corners. It increases the amount of work your browser has to do to paint it tremendously (though GPU acceleration will help).
Aha! I must thank you for your original design. I have a question, though: did you intend for people to frequently click "select unstarred" (or similar) and [archive] at the top to cull the list? I used to use it that way to deal with the flood of mail coming in (prod lists, oncall pages, etc.) and it always just felt right. I've always wondered if that was intentional or just something I happened to land on.
When they pulled that out in 2010, that was the beginning of the end for me. "0.07% of people use select unstarred", apparently.
I quite like the new design, and I've been using it since it was in "beta" a couple of months ago.
It certainly provided a couple of frustrating days before I got used to it, but I find it much more soft on the eyes - to me the old layout now looks pretty harsh; giving the impression of being just "functional".
A lot of non-technical folks I work (and live!) with find the new design much, much more pleasing. Bear in mind these are the folks that use hotmail, yahoo etc - so they really are after the "eye candy" more than the functionality; and with google's new social push I can assume this is now the target audience.
My only complaint would be about the icons; regardless of wether you've used Gmail before - you will get caught out; a few days ago it took me a good few minutes before I could find out how to get to my contacts.
It took my months of using the new design before I realized this. My impression before was simply that the design was “broken” on my desktop computer until one day I resized the window and discovered this issue.
I'm finding this hard to believe. You didn't notice when the Send button went from the bottom of the message to the top? Maybe you meant that you noticed but didn't find it jarring enough to cause a lot of confusion?
I'm not sure I follow. I don't avoid it. They just happened to have not changed the way I interact with it. I confess I did find my old theme a little more pleasant to deal with, but I'm already at the point where I don't remember it anymore.
I'm curious what "important buttons" you are referring to.
I'm also curious how folks that get this worked up over their email client don't go into shock when they get a new car. Consistency is not the norm in life. Seems it is really only a norm when it was dictated by function.
Not that I feel you shouldn't get worked up over what ever you want to get worked up over. I just don't understand it.
When you get a new car, that's because of a choice you are making or a consequence of your actions (such as if the previous one was totaled.) When a website that a person frequents which "seems to work fine the way it is" changes, people get worked up because they see the change as unnecessary.
Similarly, if you are a developer, you might feel the same way if the company you work at randomly decides to switch bug trackers or wikis, when the new ones aren't really any better than before.
I wonder if the anger could be redirected by the realisation that if they were running their own client software, they would be in control of the interface. To realise the dream of free software. But I suspect most of the "rage" will blow over in fifteen minutes.
I'm obviously in minority here, but I don't stress too much about the design as long as unread messages are in bold text. But this might be due to me working mostly in terminals and text/code editors, where design never was a top priority.
The things I care about most in gmail are:
1. reliability, speed and lots of space
2. good spam filtering
3. web view of various office documents (I used to cringe when someone sent me .doc or .xls, not anymore)
4. fast search which also includes gtalk conversations (invaluable)
If one or two of these things goes away, then I'll probably switch.
I have never been so frustrated with a UI redesign as I have been with Gmail and Analytics. Unfortunately, I was already using all of the settings pointed out in this post, and I still can't get comfortable with the new design. I can't separate how much of that frustration comes from the large degree of change and how much comes from my long history of use, but the frustration is huge.
I know that many Google employees were similarly frustrated when they were eating their dog food last august. Yet the new look was rolled out anyway.
So I can only assume that the company had solid UI data showing that their target group of users prefer the new design. And I can therefore only assume that the target group of users does not include users like me.
Consequently, there is an opportunity here for somebody to do email right for the people frustrated by the new gmail redesign. I would happily pay for an email interface that makes sense and doesn't change against my wishes... especially if it doesn't require switching to microsoft.
Until then, I will be very grateful to the person who pointed out the 'slow-connection' interface is still available.
Hm, it seems strange though that they're not keeping the old interface, which is what many people were using Gmail in the first place (even if their target group prefers the new interface.) Come to think of it, it's also kind of sad that HN users are obviously not their target group...
I really didn't like the new Analytics interface when they first rolled out the optional beta. I switched a few months ago to gain access to real-time measuring, and now I love it. For me at least, it just took some time to adjust.
Its not just GMAIL. Google analytics is painfully ugly. The first screen before showed a list of all the sites and traffic. Now it shows just the list of accounts. Its awful. There is no way anymore to use the classic design.
Also, once I am in google analytics it is just a UI mess. They cram every feature possible and make it unintelligible. They are ruining the UI for gmail,google search and google analytics.