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GMail: designer arrogance and the cult of minimalism (jonoscript.wordpress.com)
251 points by centro on Apr 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 223 comments

It's funny, a couple of years ago I was reading articles about how Google's design teams were supposedly hamstrung by their culture of incessant testing. I remember anecdotes about a/b testing 41 different shades of blue and designers being made to provide data for their choice of border width.

Now a whole bunch of people who haven't seen Google's test data are adamant that their redesigns are a usability disaster.

Unless something has radically changed within Google, I'd be very reluctant to question any of their design decisions. I'd be doubly reluctant to call them arrogant whilst panning their design based on nothing but instinct and supposition.

Redesigns of a heavily-used UI are always "usability disasters". People spend many hours perfecting their workflow in one environment and FLIP THEIR LIDS when someone changes it. It's not a rational thing (nor, frankly, an unjustified one). What surprises me is that we haven't figured this out yet and rehash the same flame war every time.

The desktop environments show this best: c.f. Gnome 3. Also Gnome 2. And Gnome 1 for that matter (vs. KDE2). And KDE4. And KDE3. And Windows Vista. And OS X Lion.

I actually find the redesign quite nice. I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it when I first switched to it, I "temporarily reverted back" which helped me "map" the old functionality to the new. Stuff the blogger is ranting about are all easily "fixed" back to the old look and style, but he hasn't gone to the trouble of looking. In fact, the 2nd comment on site tells you how. The demarkation thing, I haven't used the default theme ever since additional ones were available, I see his point but just adding a background solves that. There is also new functionality for display density, i used the one which reverted to the old look.

But at least they have provided the functionality to go back to an old style look (albeit i had to dig around a bit and the average user may struggle, GMail settings are not the most user friendly IMO). I very rarely use it, but I still struggle with the ribbon style menu in MS Office, and that's been around for years!

I heavily disliked the new Gmail setup at first. But what it did do was kinda force me into learning all the keyboard shortcuts. (as I still don't know what half the buttons do...) Makes my workflow so much nicer. because of this, I do enjoy gmail even more.

(I'm still not a fan, as I can't use my old custom color scheme, but that's another matter)

> I still don't know what half the buttons do...

Do you have JS disabled? They all have tooltips.

fair enough. I guess my point was, I learned the keyboard shortcuts for those actions, so I never need to use the buttons. It was an exaggeration, the trash can icon isn't hard to figure out. But I don't even see them anymore, it's the "I don't use it, so I don't see it" blindness.

I highly recommend picking up the keyboard shortcuts, they are so amazingly fantastic. deleting, reading, labeling, archiving, marking important/unread. they all work wonders.

You can switch from icons to text labels in the settings.

> People spend many hours perfecting their workflow in one environment and FLIP THEIR LIDS when someone changes it. It's not a rational thing

I've had some thoughts on this recently, and wholeheartedly disagree. We spend aeons engineering stability into every other interface within a software ecosystem, since it's supposed to improve stability, reduce surprising breakage, improve engineer efficiency, discoverability, etc., but when it comes to interfaces in the user plane, it's like the only established methodology is FUCK YOU Driven Development.

In these systems, and Gmail, the user is not considered an intelligent, complex actor in the system, but instead something more like a child sitting in a cinema whose only criteria for synchrony is to be repeatedly dazzled by confounding changes to the way it interacts with the system.

This is fundamentally wrong in so many ways. Not least, the user is the main purpose for the existence of these systems (er, right??), and yet the user's interface to the system is the one most likely to functionally break without warning.

You cannot address the reliability of the entire system without considering the last mile - dropping a change the size of the Gmail redesign on millions of users without a multitude of small iterations, or with a huge amount of fanfare and warning, is an unmitigated disaster for the reliability and efficiency of the overall system.

I don't give 2 fucks how much of the scientific method was abused to create the new system up to that point, if it doesn't comfortably fit the millions of delicate tendrils that have grown between my mind and it, then from the user's perspective the change is much closer to an abject failure.

I suspect in years to come this will be an increasingly important area for study, and I pray the outcome to some extent will simply be that corporations will need to give up achieving quick feel-good wins by arbitrarily fucking with the user-machine interface, although I could be wrong. We could always be further reduced to that mindless entertainment-only child in the cinema, responsible only for the most basic direction of the outcomes of our interaction with the overall system, the tacit attitude of the large corporations as they drop huge changes like this without warning.

The outcry we hear over these changes isn't just bored people being picky, it's the sound of a trillion dying neurons in a million interconnected biological systems. Much as a fully grown cat wouldn't fare well being stuffed into a jar, the users here suffer just the same. Thin the cat's diet slowly over time, widen a border here, replace some text with an icon there, and the small bits of death and shrinkage that occur over time will mean that cat will soon be ready to contentedly purr its way into that jar and fall into a dreamy slumber all of its own accord.

Gmail gave people months to use the two interfaces side by side before dropping the old interface. And they flooded users with notifications of every incremental change, and were roundly mocked for that too. It is impossible to satisfy everyone all the time.

Keeping the old interface was a good move, although it only (at least for me) leads to procrastination. The same problem exists, which is the mental adjustment that you need to make at some point.

Another interesting angle is that in the new interface, they had to add a dropdown menu to control the amount of padding used on UI elements (compact, cosy, comfortable). Had they gradually moved from compact to cosy, then to comfortable over a longer period, the need to provide an option might have been removed entirely. So some of the complexity avoided in having incremental changes over a fixed term has instead become software complexity needing maintained over a potentially longer or indefinite period.

In either case, a gradual transition would avoid the need for all this. For me, the two biggest gotchas with the new design was the text->icons change and associated relocation of some buttons, and the border change. Had the text->icons change been introduced distinctly, and allowed to stew for a few weeks - months, then the border size changed from compact to cosy for a few months, I possibly would have had no reason to complain at all (the amount of adjustment/effort required for each individual change is amortized over time, and by the time a new change appears, my comfort level has already returned to maximum for the current state of the UI).

The approach is good, but the time given is too short. Compare with how long XP was kept alive alongside Vista.

The outcry we hear over these changes isn't just bored people being picky, it's the sound of a trillion dying neurons in a million interconnected biological systems.

You seem to be suggesting that having to learn something new is like having your brain die. That seems inaccurate. Isn't learning a (not very) different interface more like having to exercise a muscle a little bit that you were hoping not to exercise? I mean, not a cool thing to do to your users if the new interface is worse, but not inherently a bad thing.

I completely agree.

It's the sort of thing that happens when a priesthood in a field comes to possess the One True Knowledge. They start to issue statements like "you can't trust your intuition" and "you don't understand this enough to like it yet"

It's an email redesign, not the Holocaust.

The flames die down when people realize that there are design improvements that help them down the road.

OS X Finder UI is a mess anyway, so changes that make it easier for non-technical folk are probably net positives.

I don't have a good public example in mind, but the users at my employer often flip with volcanic rage when applications are changed -- even godawful VB5 legacy apps. Usually you can discern the "I hate change, and am typing up a memo of complaint" arguments versus "you made things worse" arguments based on who is complaining.

With respect to GMail, when people like pg who get the big picture are saying that the UI sucks, it probably sucks.

> With respect to GMail, when people like pg who get the big picture are saying that the UI sucks, it probably sucks.

this very website proves that that is not necessarily true.

This website's UI is not the prettiest, but it's extremely intuitive and functional. That's much more important in most cases.

Agreed of course, and actually I don’t mind the look.

The problems are: small unreadable font, small controls/buttons, content too wide to read comfortably, doesn’t correctly support mobile, links that rely on cookies that expire (what is this? 1998?).

> Redesigns of a heavily-used UI are always "usability disasters". People spend many hours perfecting their workflow in one environment and FLIP THEIR LIDS when someone changes it.

That isn't a usability disaster. That is a habit/memory disaster.

You say potato, I say potato. To someone who spends their working life in gmail (or whatever) having it suddenly go away, being replaced with a different tool which requires different workflows is certainly a "disaster" in some sense. It's an equivalent annoyance, for example, to losing one's laptop or phone and having to restore a new one from scratch (assuming you have working backups anyway).

What it's not is incontrovertible proof that the new one is "bad". It might be great, but it's still a net loss of productivity while the users learn it.

You're begging the question.

If we take what you say is true every redesign is good, which is patently false.

A perfect example is the Office Ribbon UI, an unmitigated disaster. Also putting Vista in your list there, mmmmmm. Wasn't exactly a great redesign was it.

The Google redesign is also pretty much a disaster.

Am I the only one that actually likes the ribbon? I can actually find the options I want to use in Office 10 instead of trying to dig through dozens of drop down menus.

I love it too; much easier to find features I don't use regularly.

Fair or not, I feel like people who complain about it today (years after it launched) are just announcing, "I'm bad at adapting."

"Am I the only one ..."

The answer to this is always "no."

Except this time.

Amusing, but untrue. I took a (long) while to like the ribbon, but I have to say that I find it a large improvement in usability, and it makes it vastly more likely that I will accept "other than the basic/defaults".

It actively encourages exploration. That's good for some use cases, and it's certainly good for Microsoft.

I love it, I used to be on the fence until I discovered the magical ALT key

> Office Ribbon UI, an unmitigated disaster

Are you kidding me?

the ribbon is the best thing MS has done in a long time. a ballsy move, but absolutely needed to have a UI that is able to guide users through the very complex functionalities of excel, etc.

use ms office daily, love the ribbon.

I use excel every week or so and I grumble at that stupid ribbon every time.

I _was_ a proficient excel user once upon a time but now I feel like I'm trying to cook in my kitchen after some "organization expert" came in and moved all my stuff.

IMO, life is too short to have to re-learn stuff you already know.

Same boat. I was a very proficient Excel user. The ribbon completely fucked my workflow. In addition, they broke just enough of the shortcut keys to break my flow.

What shortcut keys did they break?

I don't recall exactly. I'd been away from much use of Excel for a few years, then had occasion to use it helping someone else. Whereupon I suddenly went from an early 200x version (lastly 2003, I think?) to 2007.

The ribbon was annoying enough. But then I started manipulating using shortcut keys. And a subset didn't product the expected results.

I spent some years working heavily in Excel, including extensive on-the-fly worksheet structure modification (shoving data around, adding and deleting rows and columns, copying values or just the "text" portion of cells, etc., etc.). So those shortcuts were second-nature, or "muscle memory", as they say, if a bit stale.

It was a one-off, helping that person. I currently do a little budgeting in Excel, but without much such manipulation, so I haven't continued to trip across and so recall in detail what broke.

I do continue, in my more spiteful moments, to hope they reserve a special level of hell for the people who make such UI changes. For a subset of people, Excel is a heavy-duty industrial tool, and dicking with the UI is tantamount to dicking with their livelihood, not to mention peace of mind. At a minimum, implement and insist on backward compatibility (as an optional mode, at least), no matter how much your "rock star" designers piss and moan, or your Management pisses and moans about supporting multiple interfaces. You have a responsibility to the user base that has propelled your product to such success while integrating its functionality into their subconscious actions.

I think, given the diversity of opinions in the responses to your post, you might want to rethink some of this. I certainly said no such thing. Some redesigns are "good", and some redesigns are "bad". But that decision is personal and subjective. You can't change a UI without annoying someone somewhere. And any UI that lots of people use regularly (gmail, Office and desktops are all great example) is going to have a metric ton of loud complainers every time they change.

And that applies whether or not the change has merit. It's inherent in the process. So any analysis of a UI that starts with an "I HATE THE CHANGES!" blog post is flawed and (in the scientific sense) biased. Show some testing, write your own rant, or just sit tight.

The Ribbon UI is one of the best improvements to Office in years.

I think that the office ribbon redesign was rather brave for MS. As a non-expert user of Office, I found it easier to find commonly used features--I can imagine how for experts it would be annoying--but for new users, it really helped with discovery and I'm considering the idea for some of my own projects...

I actually like the ribbon, especially when working on tables, charts, and the like. My only complaint is that it takes up so much vertical screen real estate.

You're probably thinking of Doug Bowman's classic "Goodbye Google" post: http://stopdesign.com/archive/2009/03/20/goodbye-google.html

I think two things are entirely possible here: One, that in reaction to Bowman's high-profile indictment of Google's design culture, there has been a shift over the past few years toward Apple-like, auteur-driven design at Google, that was misapplied in this case, or (I think more likely), every detail of the new Gmail UI was extensively tested by itself, but there was no final arbiter to say "you know what? This one part sucks; let's change it despite the data."

So you think the possibilities are that either google ignored the data or the data is wrong with no affordance to the possibility that you are wrong?

A third option is they tested each individual change in isolation, and then grabbed all of the high-performing changes and lumped them together. Just because the individual changes may have been improvements within the context of the old UI doesn't mean they're still good once put together with all the other changes.

That said, I have trouble believing that changing the buttons from labels to icons could have possibly tested as an improvement. I'm with the OP; I have to mouse over every button and read the tooltip to find the Report Spam one.

FYI, I found this article really helpful:


It shows how to: get rid of "importance" markers, add some contrast back to the colors, remove superfluous whitespace, and most importantly, change the impenetrable icons back to text.

Maybe Gmail 's spam detection is too good. It's the octagonal "stop sign" icon.

When something is as viscerally, obviously bad to me as the new GMail UI, I go with my gut. Google has no track record of great UI that would make me question that feeling. They built the world's simplest home page not because of some profound respect for minimalism; they just didn't have anything else to put on it.

This is wrong. The minimalism of the front page was, in the early days, a point of pride and something that engineers fought for (note: I worked for Google for 3 years on a team with a fair number of old-timers).

I'm failing to come up with a link at the moment, but I remember a widely circulated bit of folklore about how an unnamed engineer within Google set up a cronjob that anonymously e-mailed the entire team a single number every day. After a while people figured out that the number was the byte count of the front page, the implication was that it was a metric that needed to be watched carefully.

And even this seems to me to be not quite right. There was a talk, Marissa Meyer gave on Velocity '09:


Just watch from 1:00 to 2:00 -> One Minute will answer the question.

Here she tells the story, how the first Google Design came to live. It is quite interesting. It seems, that minimalism wasn't a rational choice and that it came to stay only, because the data proofed it to be the right lucky choice.

I can understand, that the minimalistic homepage was a point of pride. I would be proud, to minify the homepage of the company I work for.

Yeah, it's really the last point that I was making - that it was a point of pride to keep it small, even after there was all sorts of "stuff" that could be added to it. The fact that it was small to begin with was probably a combination of luck and intuition.

> The fact that it was small to begin with was probably a combination of luck and intuition.

Which was the point I was making.

Well, these things are matters of opinion. Personally I'm happy with the new user interface. I find it works fine. (I did switch the buttons from icons back to text - credit to them for providing that option.)

As for the world's simplest homepage, that was the reason I switched from AltaVista to Google in the first place. I only started noticing the better search results after I switched to avoid the clutter.

That's not fair, they could easily have overloaded the home page with junk at any point.

They just realised that users came to google to perform a single, clearly defined task and decided the home page should reflect that.

I wouldn't argue it was "respect for minimalism" but it was respect for functional simplicity.

Everyone complains when Apple changes anything too. Google nailed that part.

When Brin took the lead, the design culture inside Google changed.

My facts may be slightly off, but Brin essentially gave a lot more freedom to designers. As part of the Google redesign (or +ifying), Brin gave all the design responsibilities to the same division that's been producing some Google's commercials. This is undoubtedly a division that appreciates design more, but arguably doesn't appreciate the data as much.

After this, we all saw the obvious redesigns across Google's products. With such a drastic redesign, I am doubtful they did any large scale a/b testing that they typically do (for individual features or otherwise).

Its pretty evident something changed, and I personally have no doubt it's due to changes in the way Google goes about design. They've swung from one end of the spectrum (data obsessed) to another side that's too focused on 'artsy' design.

Um...Page took the lead, not Brin.

...Oops. Thanks for the correction.

that also explains why my any of my searches failed to come up with any sources. anyways, if anyone wants to go here: http://googlesystem.blogspot.ca/2011/10/more-about-googles-n... it explains some of it. The division I was referring to is Google Creative.

I'm not sure that the fact that something has been thoroughly A/B tested makes it indefensible. It is possible that overuse of A/B testing results in a local maximum, with sweeping changes needed to reach the global maximum.

It is possible that overuse of A/B testing results in a local maximum, with sweeping changes needed to reach the global maximum.

That's not overuse - that's just bad use :-) There is nothing to stop people split testing radical redesigns.

It's actually a more subtle problem: if you test a radical redesign, there's a higher likelihood it will fail even if a subsequent series of small changes to it would have produced something better, just because the incumbent is so well optimized.

So, so right.

What I was trying to say was that the problem isn't with A/B testing - it's with overly simplistic usage and interpretation of A/B testing.

On the other hand, the tendency for users to become attached to existing ways of working also leads to getting stuck in local maximums.

I have heard the same thing about Google before, but obviously there seems to be a change. The old Google would not "push" a new interface when there is so much resistance to the new design. I may be suffering from a sample bias, but no Gmail user around me likes the new design. If they did test this stuff, maybe they cherry-picked their target population to get the results they wanted to please the designers. Who knows.

To give a counter example to your first point regarding the "old Google": A year or two ago they did a major redesign of the Google News page. There was a huge amount of negative and often thoughtful feedback in the user discussion forums, but it was all seemingly ignored, and the new interface was implemented ostensibly without change.

The page has since changed again, I believe, and it's even more of a mess. Scanning the page while scrolling is nearly impossible unless you've very carefully placed your mouse pointer over elements that do not expand on hover. (It's really maddening and I barely use the page anymore because of it.)

Thanks for the addition. Well when I refer to the "old Google" I am not sure where to draw the line, it may have started earlier than the recent G+ integration anyway. It has more to do with my perception of an "old Google" organization which used to be open to user feedback rather than the more recent one, blatantly pushing changes with seemingly no passion about their established user base opinion.

I may be wrong. To confirm whether things changed or not, we'd need to get Google insiders to speak out on that subject.

My history of closely scrutinizing Google products doesn't go back very far, so I couldn't say where the line between their old and new approach might be drawn. It also might be something that varied between product teams...

There is another possibility, that direct (verbal) user feedback is discounted as being "anecdotal" and not included when making "data driven" design decisions. But as you mentioned, this is all speculation without an insider's POV.

My intuition, however, is that their data-driven technique over-optimizes the various minutiae while allowing broader flaws to persist. I'd chalk that up to a lack of design vision to guide the testing.

It seems that the design elements were built progressively, while adding new features, by getting user feedback on what works and what did not. That was partly the reason why "Google Labs" existed in the first place.

I think there was a clear line drawn at least with the G+ integration, since they started consolidating the appearance of all services under the same UI and same color codes. There is a now a clear "design vision" in Google (even if it clearly sucks bad) and it's clearly not as Engineers-driven/Fonctionality-driven as before. Having Icons without text next to it is not just a style issue: it's a well known flaw in terms of usability. Everyone knows icons+text are superior to icons only. Especially when your icons are dark grey on light grey background. No differentiation whatsoever. I can't believe someone was actually paid to do this.

We use testing to discover when what "everyone knows" is wrong.

Sample size of one, but I love the new Gmail UI, personally.

Is there some kind of site somewhere that could simply gather votes on simple questions such as "do you like the Gmail UI ?" so that we can talk numbers, if possible with a large enough user base to avoid the sample-size bias ? I'd be interested to know if there were. That way, we could really compare if most people have a problem or not with the Gmail UI.

At least, we can see there was a significant increase of "Gmail interface sucks" articles when the new UI came out. That has to represent some part of the users, to the least.

Is there some kind of site somewhere that could simply gather votes on simple questions such as "do you like the Gmail UI ?" so that we can talk numbers

The problem is that the numbers don't matter in isolation. It's wrapped in two assumptions:

* That it's possible to make something that the vast majority of the population likes. Especially for something as complex and context dependent as email. No matter what Google does some section of the population won't like it.

* That it matters to Google (or any other company) that N% hate a product. I don't care if 75% of the world hates my product if the remaining 25% love it - and shovel money in my direction because of it.

The general problem with this is you don't know if you're sampling fairly or not. Perhaps the easiest way to do this (although there may be a sampling bias) would be to search twitter for 'gmail', 'gmail sucks' 'like gmail', etc. to get an idea of what people who tweet about it think.

I'm a sucker for clean layouts with a lot of whitespace, gradient-free themes and monochrome icons, but here there's just too much space wasted, especially with the bars in the upper part. That's my only real gripe with this Gmail and Reader redesign.

I'd argue that something has radically changed within Google.

Personally, I don't mind the new interface that much -- once it's in compact view and you change to a darker theme. They did make some significant improvements for folks who live in multiple Google Accounts, and I think the Google+ integration is pretty slick.

But, there is no way that incessant testing produced metrics leading to the default white-on-white theme and non-compact view configuration. Maybe they surveyed people with poorly chosen questions or did something else that caused the testing to fail. But they didn't do a meaningful usability test that involved using a mail app.

GMail originally moved email UI forward with the conversation view -- I think they saw this new look as a similar thing, and pushed it out.

You should never be reluctant to question things.

From my experience, the new design is horrible for usability. The lack of definition between the menus and the content makes it much more difficult for me to pay attention to the emails. --I've had to switch to a theme, which helps a bit, but in my opinion it's still much harder to use than the older design.

There is absolutely no way they tested their design on anything smaller than a 15" laptop. I don't need to see their test data to figure that out; loading Reader or Gmail on my 10" netbook is good enough.

Agreed, the content pane gets reduced immensely on my 12" screen. Thank FSM for Stylish and Google Reader Absolutely Compact ;)

Try the mobile layout,and ask them to change their amuser agent detection.

I thought the general consensus was that all the Google usability testing actively resulted in bad designs.

I for one still get confused with their icons. I mean, Archive doesn't look at all like archive, Spam looks like a quota warning error, "move to" looks more like "view another folder", and the lack of borders makes my eyes wander outside of the text all the time. And I have to agree about the uselessness of the importance icon. All my mail is marked as important, yes, i know that, how does this help me? It's more useful to know whether you 've replied/acted on an email instead (that could be a nice feature). Not saying the redesign is absolutely bad, after all it's not a radical departure from the previous one, just some things need fixing.

I really like the importance system. My inbox is in 3 sections: Important, Starred, and Everything Else. I look a Everything Else once per day and can typically blow it all away without reading in a couple of clicks.

edit: As for knowing what you've acted on, I always archive an email when replying. There's a Labs feature called 'Send & Archive', which makes this easy.

You can go too far with A/B tests, and maybe the Google execs realised that. You just end up with a fragment of your user base who like everything and convert well, and likely a majority who don't (to varying degrees, of course.)

To make a 'good' product, you've got to make some tough design and feature choices on your users' behalf. Case in point: Microsoft vs. Apple. Microsoft are well known to test extensively with "real" users, and Apple, well…don't!

What is a conversion in Gmail?

A click of an ad. Their ideal user is be somebody who regularly uses the service through the website, rather than mail clients, doesn't use an ad-blocker, and clicks the ads.

OK. I'll call them inept and pan their design based on months of USE. As far as I'm concerned, there's only one example needed to prove the failure of this new design:


Click the square/arrow to the right of any label, there are a plethora of options, including when and why a label should be shown at all costs. Frankly, the label functionality that exists now, in the redesign, is amazing.

Ok, upon closer inspection of your original screenshot, it appears you need to hover the padding-area between "Chat" and the border line above -- a separator between labels and the chat modules. You should notice a resize cursor and an ellipsis icon; this separator is movable and reveal more of your labels, without having to hover the labels area to reveal them.

Important tip based on what I see in this thread from multiple people:

If the response is "oh, no problem, just try to find this button, or hover on this very small area to trigger a non-obvious behavior"... we're probably not talking about good UX.

Why would I move the cursor to an area in which there are no visible controls?

Thanks for your response, but this is shitty UI. Is the user supposed to sweep the entire screen, pixel by pixel, looking for Easter eggs?

You've never hovered over the chat area? Nonetheless, the bar could could probably use a hint when also hovering the labels area. I'm still unsure how you have written off the designers as simply inept. I could take down any UI with such an attitude.

Excuse my language. But are you fucking kidding me ?

That is the worst UX I've seen in a long time. Since when is blank space considered a target area to hover your mouse over.

Wince every OS (MacOS and Ubuntu and Google anyway) adopted on-mouseover scrollbars and click corner to resize?

You might be also interested to learn about this new peripheral that you put on your desk and wiggle, and--get this-- it makes a pointer on your screen move. Crazy, right? It will never catch on! Touch your desk to interact with the screen? What brain-dead idea will they come up with next?

I get a scrollbar in that pane when it's too small to display all the labels. That makes it pretty obvious, it's strange that you don't have one.

You have never thought to click the edge of a box to drag its border to enlarge the box?

Ya, one of the worst changes of the new design. You have to hover over edge of the last folder to see all of them. They could have used simple accordian instead of all this mess. The new Gmail causes me nausea when ever I use it.

This is my major gripe as well ...

Go to Settings > Labels, then pick the ones that you want to show. Pity your "months of USE" didn't take you that far...

WRONG. All of my labels/mailboxes are set to show:


Any other wrong advice you'd like to try to contradict me with?

You can hide the chat box. Look for a button at the bottom center of the sidebar (so lower left of the entire screen).

That should show you as many labels as possible. Because of the new multi-panel approach, you'll have to scroll down the sidebar if you have more labels than fit (like an iframe).

Thanks for the chat-box info.

This is more bad (Easter-egg) UI: There's no visible control next to "chat" (or any of the other labels) until you've already rolled the cursor over it. Why would the user roll the cursor over there, if there are no visible controls?

It's incredible that we're LOSING common UI sense at such a rate.

That's a very common UI mechanism on the web. The alternative is to have a bunch of handles and buttons plastered over everything.

Most desktop UIs are the same - there's all sorts of right click options on various UI elements, and have been for years. Drag and drop, drag to select, dragging stuff into your recycle bin or onto another folder to copy them.

How are you supposed to know that? By experimenting with your UI and learning how it works.

But it's one thing to learn a UI for your whole OS. You learn it once, and you're done.

For websites, it shouldn't be necessary. I personally abhor the "hidden until hover" buttons that are becoming increasingly popular. I spent ten minutes trying to discover why GitHub had removed it's "edit issue" functionality until I realized that I had to hover over the issue text for the button to appear in the corner. It's horrible.

Well, it works just fine for me. Look, non-eyeburning theme, different coloured stars, non-hidden mailboxes.


Just for kicks, I switched to the default theme - same deal, mailboxes hide properly, etc. The red button's annoying, but hey, that's why I switched theme.

Perhaps you might want to quit flaming people (and Google) and fix your settings or browser or whatever the hell is wrong with your PC?

Nice downvote, but compare his screenshot and mine. There's something pretty clearly wrong with his stylesheets or browser or something. There are no visible controls in his new GMail section - something that nobody else seems to have.

Further, he doesn't seem to be even the slightest bit interested in figuring out what's going wrong.

There's something deeper going on here:

The: Gmail, Unity, Gnome, etc.. redesigns that we've been seeing recently all seem to have a pattern. A lot of these designs are benefiting and emphisizing the designers desperate attempt at garnering attention and acclaim rather than helping the users. You can tell by the constant tweaking of things that were never broken (the Start button), critical and heavily used elements being hidden or tucked away behind several clicks for the sake of "minimalism", incorrectly correlating a sterile white page with "simplicity". And they won't stop until the whole page is white and empty with one button and a line of text.

These designers are doing whatever makes them look off the wall bat-shit-creative (of the Lady Gaga variety). Many of these designers have stopped caring about a/b tests and the users and are focusing their designs solely on how it makes them look to the community. They want to be the next Steve Jobs, now that he has passed. And they are going to mimic his arrogance, take his risks, and think it will get them to his level. It will not, it's just pissing us off.

On a shallow level, and to the untrained eye, these redesigns are pretty and minimalistic but on a deeper level they are deeply flawed. Explaining to the average person why the new gmail UI is abnoxious is like explaining to the average person what's wrong with Michael Bay's films.

Sound similar to the "designing for the industry, not people" syndrome seen in the world of architecture discussed here: http://www.shareable.net/blog/architectural-myopia-designing...

The worst offence of this type I've come across is in JetBrains' latest crop of IDEs.

In WebStorm, they completely removed the scrollbar in the code editor, and replaced it with this "hidden until you mouseover it" slider thing. That means you have no visual cue where you are in a document, scroll-wise. And no way to quickly grab the scrollbar with the mouse since you have to hover and wait on the right edge of the screen before you can see where you're headed.

Making it worse, they have (normally) really useful gutter over there that displays colored bars describing the health of your code. Those are cool, but they now live on top of the scroll bar so even when its visible it's still pretty hard to find it.

Compare that to their (awesome) ReSharper plugin for VS.NET that preserves the original scrollbar and adds that helpful gutter bar next to it. You can quickly see the health of your code AS WELL AS where you're scrolled in the document. Perfect.

I filed a bug against WebStorm about this and had it immediately closed as "by design". Worse UI. Intentional. And not even a setting you can uncheck to fix it.

I actually uninstalled my paid copy of WebStorm as a result. It'd be an awesome product, but all its advantages are wiped out by not being able to navigate around files at times when I have a mouse in my hand. One bad UI choice to turn a good IDE into shelfware.

>These designers are doing whatever makes them look

I doubt Google would let a group of self interested ego fueled creative's override rational principal and analysis. Especially considering this is a flagship Google product with 350M users.

>On a shallow level, and to the untrained eye, these redesigns are pretty and minimalistic but on a deeper level they are deeply flawed.

I'm a designer. I've never properly critically analysed the new Gmail design. But I haven't felt the need to. For me it just functions really well.

Haven't you faced any problem with the toolbar buttons ? they are all lumps of coal with minor variations!

Took me literally a few minutes to adjust. Like a lot of UI elements the association of function is formed over time. Everything I do in Gmail is second nature to me now and the UI doesn't impede much if anything. I do wish email attachments would appear on the right of the email thread.

Yup plus you don't need the precursor of knowing the English language.

That's a poor excuse, Google knows how to do internationalization.

My problem is not with the lack of text. It's not always possible to include text with icons. What I find depressing is the lack of color. There must be a reason humans evolved to see color and these monochromatic icons cause nothing but mental overhead. They are also pretty poor in details. I wish at least the spam button is red/yellow.

Are you serious? I see 5 symbols up there. First is a box, for selecting mail. Next to it is an arrowed circle for refresh. No Problem yet. After that it's 'More', which is text. No problem telling the difference there. The others are eon the right hand side, clear chevrons next to numbers telling me where I am in the list. The last is a distinct settings cog.

Am I missing something?

You need to open a message. There will be a icon showing something toaster-like with a down-arrow in it, a roughly octagonal surrounding an exlamation mark, a trash can, a pull-down button with a folder, and a pull-down button with a label.

Two of those icons make no sense at all (the toaster with down arrow for archive, and the octagon for spam). One makes no sense in the context of Gmail. It turns out that it is actually for manipulating tags just like the adjacent pull-down menu.

The trash can is pretty good though.


I don't think hiding the labels on the buttons and making them stand out less helps casual users at all.

When I was handed my first challenge of doing design for a web site (being up until that point a pure coder) I encountered a striking tendency in myself to want to neutralise colors. If I didn't know what color to make something, my default choice would be to desaturate it until it no longer offended my eye. On a fine level it works and you can solve a lot of individual UI "problems" this way. The problem is that as you accumulate these decisions you end up with a design that says nothing, has no motivation, fails to speak anything to the user. This is one way I know that I'm a mediocre designer. Great designers make bold decisions that challenge and energise the user and still they do it well.

I feel like Google has suffered from a similar problem - the solution to every UI problem these days is minimalism. Remove borders, accents, highlights, colors. On the surface it looks clean and simple but scratch beneath that and it seems to have no soul and no reason to exist.

I think the same issue goes directly to functional aspects as well - the functions and features on the page should feel alive as if they are speaking to me. I should be attracted to them, immersed in them, like they've been incorporated as parts of myself - but I'm not - I can barely differentiate them from the inactive, static parts of the page. Most of Google these days feels like I am filling out an IRS tax form. At best it is boring, at worst it is aggravating.

I'm looking forward to when we get through this new style of design from Google.

>> I encountered a striking tendency in myself to want to neutralise colors. If I didn't know what color to make something, my default choice would be to desaturate it until it no longer offended my eye. On a fine level it works and you can solve a lot of individual UI "problems" this way. The problem is that as you accumulate these decisions you end up with a design that says nothing, has no motivation, fails to speak anything to the user.

Interesting observation... this is something I struggled with as well coming from a coding background and trying to do design -- at the individual element level the colors seemed great, but pulling back to the larger picture everything looked washed out. Did you ever come up with a solution for this?

The solution is to find one or two contrast colors that you use sparingly. you would be surprised how much an icon or some text or a couple of elements in a contrasting color will make your design pop into life.

Think about it (loosly) the way you think about inheritance in OOP. What is the parent, what are the ancestors.

All elements on pages have a priority. That priority should be the guide of your visual heiarchy. This can be done with size alone but it can also be done with color.

Also black or almost black (#222-#333) as copy is always a good way to make sure your page has contrast. But again it depends on what you are doing.

I really need to finish my book on design for developers. I think I have found a way to create the bridge between being a developer and a designer. When I get to new york I will have more time.

The solution is to learn color and how it works. Start with something like color theory:


Kuler is a great tool for this sort of thing.


Great designers make bold decisions that challenge and energise the user and still they do it well.

I'd say that depends on the subject. I don't want bold decisions to try and energize my experience with my text editor.

In other words, the new design looks like its designed by machines in the matrix film. Everything uniform and soul less.

Aka getting the chrome out of the way and letting the content take focus.

I can't fault Google for experimenting, but the 'all or nothing' approach they took to the rollout was an example of false choice. The classic coloring could have been offered as a theme to lessen the impact of the UX changes.

In case you miss the old color scheme, try this Stylish theme:


Follow Jason's post to fix icons and spacing:


I have no issue with the new design. But I think this is a fair criticism considering how polarising the change has been.

This user style puts the text back on the buttons: http://userstyles.org/styles/57677/gmail-change-button-icons...

There's an option in general settings to add text button labels.

All or nothing? They gave users an entire year to transition!

One of the main problems why the 'clean design' has not actually benefitted users is because of gmails feature creep. Where once I could just write and recieve mail, now, by default, I have 'stars', 'circles', 'importance markers', '+ share', 'notifications', 'gadgets'... etc. all confusing my view of my mail. Most users don't want any of these things, and they certainly don't want to have to spend mental energy realising they dont want them, then hunting around in settings menus to see if you can actually turn them off...

There are some good design additions in the revised gmail too, but IMHO the above is really what makes gmail feel much more cluttered and cumbersome than it was before....

Personally, I love the new GMail interface and have been using it for months. I like that is less cluttered and that I can more easily configure what is displayed. I've changed the buttons to be text in the settings as I did find the icons hard to pick at a glance. I also love the new themes.

It's interesting to me to see so many people grumble at interface changes whether it's Facebook or Gmail.


All of the things that he's complaining about are changeable in settings. And not even buried three levels deep -- they're right on the first settings page!

1. Pick a different theme. I have one with a blue background, not the default light/white one.

2. Go into the general settings, and change your star to a different colour, ie. enable the red, or blue one, or the green checkbox. Now they stand out.

3. Go into the general settings. Change the 'Button Labels' radio from 'Icons' to 'Text'.

If you're going to bag someone's interface, you should at least spend some time figuring out how you can change it...

Thanks, changing the labels to text is a big help. I didn't even notice it there in General settings. It still doesn't change the tiny "..." link to a text label (the thing you click on in a message to show previous messages in the conversation). See my other comment here about Fitts' Law.

While the button is tiny, is it really highly utilized, with the entire conversation being in the threaded view?

I use it all the time. I've found that clicking on the previous messages in the conversation view is much slower (requires hitting their servers, which are usually slow). But clicking on the "..." must not require a server hit, because it's instant.

I don't find it that slow - but you can hit 'expand all' in the top right (next to the printer icon) to download the whole thread at once.

I really do buy the "change aversion" theory. I never used Gmail before the current design, and now I use it every day without problems. I click an email and I can read it. Importance and starring work as expected. And, the interface is very smart about not moving things out from under me when I make a change, much like Chrome's tab bar. Except for the slowness, I think this UI is a fine way to handle email.

I use it without problems too, and so does the author, but our eyes are not happy and our brains are less relaxed. We never used importance and we don't want it cluttering up our stars. We need visual queues, like lines.

You can turn it off. Under Inbox in Settings.

the fundamental problem I have with the redesign is the fact that it introduced usability problems that weren't there before. I'll admit the redesign may have solved other ones, I admittedly didn't notice them at the time.

The three points the author pointed out are some glaring usability issues that can be a problem for a big chunk of people. Just because you or I can use it without a hitch doesn't mean its a great design.

It's certainly possible that this is the reason, but I agree with the author that it's arrogance to assume that disliking a change can always be attributed to change aversion.

Well, I thought the old design sucked, so I welcomed change.

Guess what? The new design sucks far more.

I have no problem with the new Gmail. After the initial adjustment period, I find myself enjoying it more than the old version. I have developed a reflex for using the buttons that didn't exist with the text versions. It just happened.

Well at least there's a giant red COMPOSE button, because every time I see a giant red button, I think COMPOSE!

I'm hoping that they'll do another revision soon to make it look more like the recently updated G+ design, which actually puts some visual separation between content and navigation (and also doesn't have giant red buttons).

There isn't on my GMail, because I figured out how to change the theme...

As did I, but the defaults shouldn't be awful.

Who says they're awful? You just don't like them.

Fair enough that you don't, but putting your opinion forward as fact (like most of the people here and the OP) doesn't really advance the argument. Perhaps a lot of people have trouble finding the compose button on first use?

> Who says they're awful? You just don't like them.

Well yes, but he is the guy who wrote Gmail, and that does add a little bit of strength to his argument.

It shouldn't be a free pass though ;)

"A big red button is awful." isn't much good compared to "A big red button is awful because ..." or "Instead of a big red button you should do ..."

I think the reason was implicit. Red has a meaning in UIs, and it's not "Compose".

I, like the author, abhor the new GMail interface. Thankfully, I found a workaround, explained at bottom.

In fact, I found it difficult to explain to my parents how to navigate the new interface. They were quite upset at the changes and were considering about how to revert to their old providers (thankfully, I set up an email forwarding domain for them years ago so they can change any time they wish). It really is that appalling!

The contrast in usability to almost any other web mail service is shocking. Check Hotmail or Fastmail.fm or even Yahoo mail and "feel" the difference yourself!

Workaround to GMail's new interface:

0. Make sure you have a browser or plugin that supports site-selective scripting, e.g. NoScript.

1. Disable scripting for google.com

Then when you login, GMail offers a "basic html" interface. This is amazingly straightforward, fast, everything clearly delineated with strong colors, all new information extremely obvious, and just the basic design that matches closely to the old design.

If Google manage to mess up even this basic interface, then I guess, I and my family will have to find alternatives, e.g. switching to mail clients or for those who travel a lot to Hotmail.

Levying "designer arrogance" on Google is laughable. Google has never made decisions based on the principles of design before, so why would one assume the design process is to blame here? I think this is a result of people who don't understand design abusing style and visual trends.

The authors criticisms are legitimate and directly related to the design, but to assume an arrogant designer is at the top pushing these changes is frankly offensive. It's the same old engineers calling the shots at Google. But now, they just seem to be trying to keep up with other well designed products, like a little kid putting on his dad's Italian suit, wondering why he doesn't look great. Pleas, don't blame the tailor.

I hate the new themes. My question is: why couldn't they have provided themes that at least look similar to the old ones? I tried most of the available themes and there only one that I find vaguely satisfactory is the high contrast theme. Some of them, like "Wood" are laughable -- is this an old Myspace page I'm seeing? And better yet, you'd think a company with Google's talent pool could make the themes configurable at a more granular level.

Thanks, Google, for making me contemplate abandoning gmail for the first time. (I know, I know... it's free, right? So what right do I have to complain? I guess I'm mostly angry at myself for growing so dependent on it (and recommending it to my friends/family.))

Now, personally speaking, I don't like a bunch of the changes (those damn icons being the most annoying - and yes I know you can change them to text and I have :-). I can certainly criticise some stuff that gets in the way of my personal workflow. But hey - I'm not the 'average' GMail user. Expecting Google for optimise for me is daft.

A couple of random thoughts from usability tests I've done over the years:

* People are treating the changes to gmail in isolation. Google has changed and integrated design over all of their products. Some parts of a system can get "worse", but still help the overall system get "better". I've seen this when we culled some specialised hi-density layouts on a particular part of a larger system that pissed off some expert users who spent all their time there - but opened up the functionality to be used by a much larger population who were more familiar with the "normal" look.

* People don't know what Google is optimising for. Usability and usability testing isn't necessarily about "making things nice for the user". It's about meeting the business goal. For example I've seen users hate the fact we took some layout and colour preferences away from them, despite the fact that overall satisfaction went up, and efficiency increased even for the users who hated the change.

* I 100% guarantee that the people commenting here are not "normal" as far as Google is concerned. Does it matter if the geeks like me hate that they can see less e-mail at a time, if the other 99% of the market is jumping for joy that they're not repeatedly clicking on the wrong e-mail? Sometimes you just can't make everybody happy - so have to make a decision over which audience you want to be happy. You will generally have a more successful product if 60% of your audience goes "yay" rather than 100% going "meh".

* I spend a bunch of my time talking to "normal" users. I've noticed the general reaction to the new GMail be very different from the general reaction here. They either liked it, or just not noticed/expressed an opinion. I suspect Google cares about that user group more than it does me :-)

Also, and this is complete guesswork on my part, this feels like a first stage to me. Currently the various apps are very lightly integrated with a mostly pure visual design makeover. I wouldn't be surprised to see more functional integration appear over the next year or two as more people perceive the various Google apps and systems as an integral "thing".

"I find the (algorithmically-applied) importance marker completely useless and would remove it if I could, but I use the stars quite heavily."

You can remove the importance markers: Settings > Inbox tab > Importance Markers.

And there is also a setting for having text labels in buttons instead of icons.

I'm incredulous that one of the goals of the redesign was to make more powerful themes. New-style themes are much, much less powerful than the old-style themes - cf. the new Terminal theme, which can't even change the text color or font, but is rather a hollow shell of itself with a small gif of a blinking green cursor in the upper left corner the only remnant of its old self. A preview of the old page in my Opera speed dial is all that remains of my old green-on-black monospace friend; I have set it to never update.

Incidentally, the new UI for video calls makes the 'end' button the same color as the background, and it is very difficult to see.

Sometimes when I read HN I feel like I must be the only person who really likes most Google products. I think the design is pretty good. I don't analyze it very closely, and... I don't know, it works and it works very well for me.

I have been using Yahoo Mail for a number of years. I find the interface to be far superior to that of GMail. More usable and practical. In many ways it mimics Outlook. They have some nice drag-and-drop action, right click menu tools and, my favorite, an Outlook-like reading pane. Last time I touched GMail it felt clunky. Because of this I have never felt compelled to use it.

Please, for the love of Loki, can we all stop equating our subjective opinions with objective truth? Your tastes are different than others. That doesn't make them "arrogant" - at least, not necessarily.

Does anyone else find it humorous that OP's site is ugly and hard to read? it doesn't diminish he's point (I could take or leave the new Gmail) but maybe his credibility.

Don't shoot the messenger - Who cares if his site is not easy to read? It's all about the message. He does not pretend to be a UI designer or something.

Because maybe he doesn't know what he's talking about. Personally having used the old Gmail interface and the new Gmail interface extensively, I think the criticisms do mostly boil down to change aversion.

Just to take one point: the icons are confusing at first, but mail is something you daily for years, and Gmail has always been optimized for power users, so even though it might take you a week or two to get used to the icons, it's a benefit because now a greater percentage of the words on the screen are actually your email content.

What did you find hard to read about the site? I was able to read it just fine. (just double-checked).

Nice big text with high, but not too high, contrast. What's not to like?

I'm sorry but the text is tiny! It looks no bigger than 8px. Are you reading it on a mobile device perhaps?

Yes, I see the small text now. :) Looks like firefox remembered the text-zoom setting i must have set for some other subdomain of wordpress.com.

To be fair to the blogger, he probably is also a victim here: he's probably reusing a theme (edit: yep, scroll to the bottom) whose designer committed the tiny-text idiocy.

At least he didn't do low contrast and tiny text like most other sites do (e.g., posterous). :)

It works! I love you.

The thing that drives me crazy with the new design is the separate scrolling areas, when I use the mouse wheel or hit the up/down arrow keys I want the entire thing to scroll, not whatever chunk I happen to my mouse in. This is especially annoying as I have a low res screen (old computers) and thus I can't much of any of the chat list, I used to just be able to scroll down to see it. I wish knew CSS magics to try and fix it with stylish or something (I'm a c programmer all the way)

I posted this in the comments of the blog yesterday but it hasn't been approved yet, I imagine there are a lot of comments to get through. Please excuse the second person singular grammar, I'm copying this straight from the notes app on my phone:

Your last two points I agree with, but given they are optional and can be switched off I think those criticisms are not only misplaced but suggest a sense of entitlement similar to the designer's arrogance you bemoan.

On your first point though you are simply wrong.  The thing you incorrectly call 'visual texture' is actually clutter.  

The borders for individual table rows are superfluous as the baseline of the text draws that line regardless. Additional borders duplicate these baselines and demand that a user reads twice as many visual elements in order to interpret an interface.  

The same is true for coloured backgrounds.   If a distinction of utility has already been inferred by shape and proximity then to add an additional visual cue adds little more than another layer of complexity.  This is unnecessary visual information that a user has to decode.  Time that could be better spent performing the tasks they've actually come to the app to do.

I'd suggest having a read of Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information to get a better grasp on these concepts.

I've long solved the Gmail web interface issues by accessing it only via IMAP. On the rare occasions when I have to use the website or Android Gmail clients they seem so unproductive to me. I think it is an information density thing - my desktop client (Thunderbird these days) is able to do a far better job of showing me more information at once. It also has the ability to manage state a lot better than web apps so my different panes can have differing contexts.

Forcing users to relearn an interface without providing any added value makes no sense.

I ended up moving to Mail.app (which isn't perfect) because of the hideous in-page scrolling forced on me in the new Gmail interface.

Desktop experience is unbeatable; snappier interface, better performance, wider access to system resources, better integration with the OS, and you don't have to rely on the browser to be open all the time. I find this advantageous especially when composing emails.

I overwhelmingly agree as a UX guy w/the comments in this thread about the poor choices from a design perspective.

But since this new design rolled into beta I've found myself slowly depending on Gmail more and more vs. my desktop client.

I don't know why but the "lack" of proper interface design here makes it feel blazing FAST to me, which is really the #1 thing I care about when trying to keep up with a slew of email.

I never had that sense in the previous version.

Anybody else?

Nope. The asinine hiding of most of your mail folders makes it way slower to navigate. And there's no indication that they exist. No control with which to reveal them.

This regression in UI standards that evolved and stayed in place for decades reveals that there aren't enough decent designers to do the required work today. And they don't have even a moderate level of experience or common sense, or they wouldn't make such glaring errors.

I hobble through that feature so often. You'd think a team that dogfoods this stuff would want to fix it.

That being said, I know the feeling the parent is talking about, but I never got that feeling with Gmail. It was something that worked and that's what I appreciated about it.

Click on the little arrow next to your folder/label. Under the 'In label list:' part, select 'Show'. Now your folders appear all the time. Also, you can click the "More" at the bottom to expand it.

Why is that so hard?

EDIT: No really - why is it so hard? Better than 90% of the complaining on this page could be solved just by spending a few minutes going through settings, tweaking GMail to your liking. There's even a settings page where you can see all of your labels in one place, and set each folder to show/hide/show if unread. It's specifically designed for the parent's use case, and yet he pretends that it doesn't exist.

This entire discussion is a nice demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger effect -- everyone's suddenly a designer with more skills and common sense than Google staff.

GMail is so much faster all the way around if you use keyboard shortcuts. Because I'm rarely using the mouse and the keyboard shortcuts don't change, the experience feels largely the same to me.

In the case of labels especially, gl followed by a few characters from the label, then Enter gets me to the label page before I would even have time to figure out where my mouse cursor is.

I think I'm the only user who has found the "important" filtering to be remarkably helpful. I don't have a few dozen filters set up, and don't empty my inbox, so the flagging serves as a useful lossy compression of my email stream.

The best part of it is having Gmail on Android notify you only about important messages. It's great to get notifications about emails from friends about things going on tonight, but not get bothered by email list messages that can wait.

I've also found the "important" filtering very useful. It's fairly rare now that I get an email that really matters and is not marked "important". I think that it takes a while for it to figure out my patterns (yay for machine learning), but after that it works great. I bet most people just weren't patient enough to train it properly. (Of course some may just have more complicated ideas of what an important message is than me.)

Contrast this with Yahoo Mail, which hasn't had a major design change in a couple of years. It's also crying out for some basic feature/usability improvements that gmail introduced in the 2000s (for instance, "always display images from xyz").

(I still use Yahoo Mail for online account signups, as well as friends and relatives going way back -- I opened the account in the 90s)

Has effing tabs so you can have a "compose" tab open and reach your email for info to copy-paste in your message.

Something as basic as this is missing in gmail's default interface. Having to save and go back to drafts is cumbersome, as are other work-arounds.

Pop the compose into a new window and/or tab? The assumption is probably that tabs and windows are built into your browser, why build another layer of tabs?

This is not the default behaviour. Popping it out will send you to the main page, having two full email tabs and no good clue about which is which. It's worse than Yahoo's way, or the basic html interface in gmail.

Eh, I think Yahoo Mail was upgraded a year or so ago. I prefer it to GMail.

I'm in the same boat, and think the usability of the new interface is terrible. And the pretentiousness of the "form over function" design still makes me gag. But Chrome plugins like "Minimalist for Everything" make it almost bearable.


This and similar tools let hide and modify GMail with custom CSS and Javascript. Instead of trying to convince Google to behave rationally, it's easier to try to warp the new interface into something usable. I think about half the things in the article are already covered.

If only I could figure out a way to get the "stars" on the same side in the message view as on the overview...

This one is driving me INSANE for past 2 days: Google Chat Title Bar Colors

They completely REVERSED it!!


Blue - No new message

Orange - New chat message


Blue - New chat message

Black - No new message

Orange worked perfect -- it grabbed your attention. Blue doesn't really cut it, even worse that it is opposite to what it meant previously. BAD DESIGN. Period.

On the topic of bad colors, I like facebook's old colors of "offline" and "online": A green circle for online. a Gray-green circle for offline. On a screen with bad gamma, they looked almost exactly the same.

Designers designed the old look; designers designed the new look. What makes them arrogant now?

Design and UX may be a science or "science". But, it heavily involves taste (in the Steve Jobs sense, not "likes" or "preferences". And peoples tastes vary widely from "good" to "doesn't have any". It is ludicrous to believe any design / UX will leave large percentage satisfied. Also, many create valid, correct design / UX and yet are devoid of taste.

To further elaborate on taste; Engineers often refer to this as "elegance". Two bits of code can meet all specifications and requirements. Engineers with taste will feel the one which has elegance to be superior.

Great analogy between a designer's idea of "taste", and the engineers equivalent "elegance".

To take it further, just as the shortest code isn't always the best, the most minimal design is also not best by default.

There's nothing wrong with minimalism. Minimalism is about making things simple, but knowing when to stop.

Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Or as Alfred Whitehead said: "Seek simplicity and distrust it"

I agree with #3. I have a lot of problems deciphering the icons, in the browser client and the ipad client.

They added a setting to change the icons to text: http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2012/03/customize-gmails-bu...

You could also use Gmelius to use icons and text plus lots of other options like removing ads. I'm enjoying so far.


The part I find interesting is that whole "minimalism" part. Simply removing stuff or add icons in favor of text buttons have nothing to do with minimalism necessarily.

I don't claim to be a minimalism expert, but more often than not people who talk about minimalism seems to think it's either cleaning up your house or removing stuff that "People don't really need", without figuring about what the basic needs actually are. Removing all door handles from your house doesn't make it a minimalist home.

    > I’ve certainly encountered this attitude before. Mozilla UX designers
    > like to use the example of tabs-on-top: when we moved the tabs above the
    > navigation bar in Firefox 4, many users balked at the change. But nobody
    > could give a reason why tabs-on-top was worse — they just didn’t like it
    > because it was unfamiliar.
It strikes me that the problem was in this case an interchange of mental model. Tabs on top implies that the location bar belongs to this tab. People were balking because they had mentally yoked it to the browser as a whole, "this is the part of the browser which tells you where you are," and now it was a part of the tab which mentioned where the tab is presently pointing.

I think that's important to remember. The UI designer is always trying to give you a mental model for how their device works, and how the parts are causally connected. The "designer arrogance" is much more understandable when it applies to people who are merely upset that their mental model is changing. That is not the case with the facelift choices of changing text labels into icons, or removing borders and highlights. Those cannot be a valid occasion for this sort of arrogance.

I just don't get this article from the sense that I have used GMail as my primary email client for the past 5 years and I their redesign didn't affect me at all. The things this author talks about seem to be more of personal preferences than actual objective thought. There has only been one thing that has ever really bugged me about GMail and it has nothing to do with the visual design. I don't like how they treat Folders and Tags as sort of the same thing. In my mind, they are two separate things. I want to organize my mail into folders, but I also want to tag them with keywords that have cross-cutting concerns (ex. folders Work or Home, but tags like Expenses that could be on emails in both folders).

Now, I understand that what I am talking about is sort of a personal preferences as well, but I guess my point is that I would care more about changes to functionality in GMail than small, minor visual changes like the ones this author describes. I sort of agree with their mentality that people eventually figure out the new UI and then it is no longer an issue.

I always have though GMail is subpar at best when it comes to interface. I feel no desire to justify this opinion, just my personal feelings.

Did you ever learn the keyboard shortcuts?

Why I love Gmail is combining 80% of the power of CLI mail clients like mutt with 80% of the visual presentation of native clients.

I process hundreds of emails a day, and that's on top of the coding work I'm expected to do. Being able to work through them with vi-style keyboard shortcuts for everything including rapid labeling is the killer feature that nothing else comes close to.

Same here. I have always preferred native mail clients (originally Thunderbird, and now Mail.app on OS X/iOS).

Pretty horrible list IMO...

1) Try a different theme, it may help if it really affects you that much. But this is the only one I somewhat agree with as being possibly an issue; but nothing I really thought of when first looking at the new UI

2) The marker is more than far enough away to make it easy to scan through IMO. This feels far too subjective to just throw out and be like "yea this is definitely a bad change" without doing some testing first. Either way, you can disable this from settings. (Disable snippets iirc?)

3) This too can be disabled: go to settings and change it to text labels instead of graphical labels?

As much as I used to hate the new look too, I think it's improved enough since its first iteration to get out of the way and let me do my thing. Though, I still REALLY hate the fact that you can't click on the "Google" logo at the top left to go back to the main page for whatever application you happen to be at. I have no idea why they would remove that...

many of these issues can changed to be more old-gmail-like http://jasoncrawford.org/2012/04/how-to-cope-with-the-gmail-...

1) remove important markers 2) add labels to actions/buttons


Even closer revert-to-old via the Stylish plugin and CSS hacks.

Sure, you could change it back to the old way, but should you have to? I think this is a good question to ask whenever some bothersome thing happens such as a poor redesign.

You /could/ fix it, but should you have to?

Look at Apple's e-mail interfaces for a fine counterpoint. Even their iCloud web client, while kludgey in some respects, is a sight for sore eyes after using Gmail. They use different shades and textures to bring my focus squarely to the most important elements - the e-mail list and the e-mail/draft in focus. They even let you hide the inbox/draft/sent menu for an even more focused view. The Calendar is a similar story - focused and crystal clear where Google's product is a jumble.

I hope Apple stays competitive/serious about iCloud - they clearly have a few things to teach Google (and vice versa, of course).

Actually they don't have much choices on dropping some specific email features to make UI better. Anyways I think it's just like MS Metro. One cannot say OMG this is cool as we say with Apple properties but people continue to use those (inferior) UIs.

As much as a I dislike the new Gmail design, I'm fine with it, why? I almost never use the Gmail site. I'm either getting my mail with Thunderbird or my tablet or phone. I almost never have a reason to do otherwise.

What I hate most is that when typing an email it is contained in a fixed size box. I can't fill my screen with my email, I have to scroll inside the box to move up and down.

My wife and I think they are optimizing for women. No empirical basis for this, it just seems like every one is aping UI elements and styles from Pinterest these days.

It's spelled "Gmail", lowercase 'm'. Source: the Gmail blog, http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/

I feel completely opposite, if anything I think gmail should go back to being simpler and more minimalist instead of more complicated.

So no mention of the font size of this blog's content? The comments are larger than the content

The new icons remind me of visual studio's new redesign.

Monochrome icons, no text. Ugh, horrible to use.

What I don't like is colour as a premium feature, you pay with your social profile

thank gawd - someone needed to say that . we're all helpless with google's arm-twisting us to accept the new email-look, or going back, forcing youtube users to start using a gmail id ..

change is good in general. this change to gmail's interface is good in general. all 3 points in the article can be adjusted by changing a user setting.

I totally agree with you. Another specific change that is hard to defend is the new "..." three dots to expand hidden parts of the conversation from previous messages. It used to be text that was clear and large enough to click on. Apparently the Gmail team hasn't learned about Fitts' Law, and the new target is pretty hard to hit with a mouse.


Fitt's law is useful for two insights: The obvious one is that things you want to be easy to click should be large/close, but the less obvious one is that things you don't want to be easy to click should be small/far.

The "..." dots is probably an example of the latter - I'd guess that Google wants people to view entire conversations by expanding the conversation view, not by clicking "...", so they make one way much easier than the other.

That trimming is extremely poor as well -- doesn't just clip parts of the conversation from previous messages, but parts of my current message! It drives me up the wall. I have had it trim my entire e-mail, then have to awkwardly explain to the recipient that they should click those three dots to see what I'd written. It's insanity, and when I called Google tech support about it... oh wait, LOLsupport.

On an unrelated note:

I noticed people always complained about GMail having bad service (like me, when I couldn't open particular pieces of mail for a few days at a time).

How do these problems change when we become paying customers of Google? When I get a Google drive, do I get help in fixing problems? Or is that a lie I want to believe in?

You get proper email support if you are paying for gapps for domains. I don't know if that's what you mean by paying for gmail.

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