Outsourcing

Gmail's new look: Why did they do it and what's next?

Google is changing the look of Google apps for very specific reasons that you need to know about, especially as it concerns the future of Google+.

Google is transitioning to a new look that is based on focus, effortlessness, and elasticity. First the slick black bar appeared across the top of all Google websites, now Gmail is changing, and Docs and other Google Apps are next. The question you should be asking is why? Why is Google making these changes? What do you need to know? And what does this have to do with Google+?

Navigation Bar

All Google sites now have a dark black bar across the top of each page where users can access their account information, the apps associated with each account, and, of course, quickly share and access Google+.

Screenshot by Susan Cline

This bar helps to unify all Google Applications and to remind users which of their Google Accounts they are currently using. The clean white interface under the black bar helps draw the eye up to the red button on the top right which shows the number of new Google+ notifications.

Google has made it a point to use colors in a more consistent way. Bright colors like blue and red grab the user's attention. The user interface (UI) also has more white space which allows users to focus their attention on the important pieces of information. Gray and neutral colors are used take attention away from less important information like legal text and messages that have been read. This use of color as a way to guide users is especially evident in the new Gmail interface.

New Gmail interface

Gmail accounts and Google Apps Accounts on the rapid release cycle can now opt-in to a preview of the new Gmail UI. To preview the new look, select Mail Setttings | Themes | "Preview".

Screenshot by Susan Cline

This new look strips out unnecessary color, adds more white space, and generally looks more clean and modern. The bright red Compose Mail button and the bright blue Search Mail button help the users focus on the important parts of Gmail. Additionally, some navigation buttons are hidden until the user needs them.

Screenshot by Susan Cline

The original Gmail UI was built to display in a standard sized monitor, which is why the Gmail mailbox would display awkwardly on non-standard monitor displays. This new UI is more elastic, meaning it can easily adapt to all types of displays, mobile, PC, netbook, tablet and still look good.

Google also hopes to offer users effortlessness by combining the power of the web with design simplicity. This is most apparent in the Gmail search feature in which a 25GB inbox can be combed and filtered in a matter of milliseconds.

Screenshot by Susan Cline

New Calendar interface

Google Calendar, which is also considered to be one of the "messaging" applications of Google Apps, also received a makeover. The new UI has much more white space, and the buttons for printing, refreshing and navigating are redesigned in a soft bubbly modern looking gray.

Color is used to highlight the Create Event and the Search button while everything else is kept white or gray.

Screenshot by Suan Cline

Continuous Improvement: There are bugs

As is the nature of Google, the new UI was rolled out before it was fully baked and there are some bugs. The most common complaint is that there is too much white space in between conversations. There are also complaints that the new gray header area can distort the way a custom logo appears. Some Lab features may also look a bit strange in the new UI.

You can share your feedback about the new look with Google by filling out this form.

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What about existing Themes?

The blog post Google wrote about the new themes makes mention of even more new themes being released with a similar minimalistic structure. It is not clear whether the current themes will be retired or whether they will still be accessible to users. Some corporate users of Google Apps reply on the custom themes for branding reasons.

What does this have to do with Google Plus?

It's hard to ignore the connection between the release of Google+ and the new Google UI. The Google+ share button and notifications show in bright red and are clearly accessible through at the top right of the universal black navigation bar.

Google has often been criticized for releasing new products haphazardly, and that they get lost in the immense offering of Google services, products, apps and profiles. It is clear that Google+ is different than most product releases. It is cleanly and more precisely integrated with all of the Google Apps than any other new product rollout has been.

Screenshot by Susan Cline

Google Apps Users - Scheduled Release Track

Domains listed on the "scheduled release track" do not have the option to opt-in to the new Preview theme for Gmail. The What's New site does not have a date listed for when this theme will roll out to those on the scheduled release track. Instead of rolling out as an opt-in preview theme, it may just roll out as the default theme.

Expect to see similar UI changes appear in Google Docs and Sites any month now.

About

Susan Cline is the Director of Training and Change Management at Google Apps Parter Ltech. She is also the author of several Google Apps courses on Lynda.com. Visit Susan at her website http://susancline.com/ or follow her on Twitter @GoogleAppsSusa...

20 comments
Gene Beley
Gene Beley

When a company gets super successful and they are able to hire more designers, more isn't always better. The original guys had it right with Google's email. They kept it so simple even a senior citizen that wasn't computer savvy could readily use it. Now Google has pulled the STUPID move by making a bunch of changes that will lose them millions of users. Yahoo’s execs will laugh all the way to the bank!

sperry532
sperry532

They are changing the appearance, not the product. You still can't sort your mail in useful ways (date, sender, subject, etc) which would be of much more use. In other words, they're selling the sizzle, not the steak.

jayohem
jayohem

It works for the people who are designing the application. I guess eventually it, like many Microsoft products, will require Dummies books, O'Reilly books, Sam's books, etc. to explain just what is going on. White space? End users do have the option for the more personalized (and cluttered) iGoogle home page. I don't know that IE has that option as the user is directed to some Microsoft page chock full of stuff upon launching IE. I have to agree with Ron_007 in that the corporate people offering all these hot options on just about every Browser need to remember the needs and wants of their customers. We ain't all 23 and bored with the same old thing!

Ron_007
Ron_007

I gave the preview a try side by side with the old style. I tried the "Dense" style. Not too bad looking, but it is still missing the key feature I am looking for: allow me to control the size of the columns. Even in the Dense view, there is TOO MUCH WHITE SPACE. It uses 15 to 20% more screen space at same zoom level, while showing less data (subject line). BAD GOOGLE!, BAD! (the "non"-dense theme is even WORSE!) Quit wasting my screen space. I paid for it, I want to use it. If I have a large, high resolution screen, I want to pack information on it! I prefer the use of color in the old theme. The color scheme of the new theme reminds me too much of the new Office 2010 ribbon "gooey" Grey color scheme. Too flat, to little contrast between elements. And the wider spacing is similar to the the "new & improved" default spacing introduced in Word 2010. Frankly, I wish they would give us the option of continuing to use select the old theme. Bottom line, I agree, "If it ain't borked, DON'T 'fix' it!" The current theme is NOT broke! The new ones ARE! (by my standards).

whocares88
whocares88

Looks a lot more like OWA/Outlook.

Rodo1
Rodo1

Changing the looks of something without a substantive change in the underlying program is just plain fraud. Since I'm not paying for my Google stuff that is no problem, but I get really tired of software I'm paying for telling me it is a "new" version when it is mainly a cosmetic change with the same old crap underneath.

shryko
shryko

I'll need a lower-contrast version of the theme before I consider using it. I like the classic version, as the colours were soft, and helped focus attention. The new theme stripped almost all of the colour from the theme, removing too many borders and highlights in the process. This makes it easier for the eyes to wander from one item to the next, while a soft highlight keeps the mind subconsciously aware of where it is, or a soft border will give the eye a natural boundary. With a soft border, we don't even need to see the content to know when one section ends, and a new section begins. I used to use the "classic" because it was easier on the eyes. It was gentle and clear. When I tried the preview themes, I found they had made a new custom theme tool... so, I'm now using a custom, reduced-contrast theme. The things you can't control the colour of, like the message text (such as "The conversation has been moved to the trash"), use the light yellow or orange colouring which are not hard on the eyes.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

But naturally I fear where this is heading. Someone has to say it, so I'll say it again: Google knows too much and they want more information.

colinnwn
colinnwn

I've been using it for a couple days. In general I really like it. There is too much white space between messages in the menu of messages, and some of the grey used is a little light for my taste, but on the whole, I think it is a good improvement.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Will you be opting-in to the new Preview theme? Why or why not?

PurpleSkys
PurpleSkys

much cleaner....less ads....easy to use....

MrBeck
MrBeck

You know that you can use Gmail via any POP3 or IMAP client and gain full control of the user interface. YOu are not obliged to use the Web i/f except for settings.

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

Does it surpises you when they clearly state that their primarily business goal is to digitize ALL of the worlds data? Knowing this I think it's safe to say that this is not the end of it, it's nearly the beginning. You should know that by now...

tonymoore42
tonymoore42

Research seems to support ample white space in margins and between paragraphs and sections. It is visually appealing. And, it keeps a document from looking crowded. White space makes information appear to be less daunting. It can be used as a cue to indicate when one idea is complete and another is beginning. And, it can be used to make the document's organization more apparent to the reader. White space can be used to make headings stand out -- making the information more readily accessible to the reader. Finally, white space gives the eye a "place to rest" -- allowing the reader to absorb and process what has just been read without fear of losing one's place. My experience leads me to believe that users make fewer mistakes when when guided by manuals or job aids that make good (and deliberate) use of white space. My motto is, "Paper is cheap, mistakes are expensive!"

shryko
shryko

They could easily have used a light grey, which will reduce the contrast slightly, and thus ease eye-strain. As someone who has sat in front of a computer all day before, trust me when I say that the stark black-and-white will burn the eyes if you are trying to read for a long time. "White space" is a term from when people used typewriters on white paper. You don't need to use pure white for the "white space" your research is talking about. You are saying that white space can be good, and should exist. The original poster said there was TOO MUCH. The 2 can both be true. Oh, and research has also shown that the use of highlighting and of borders can be more intuitive than simple white space for indicating the organization. 1) If you have a solid line between 2 things, the brain treats it as a break, and will consider the 2 things as separate. White space leaves it to the mind to IMPLY that the things are separate. 2) If you have 2 paragraphs in a box of a "highlight" colour, then the brain will automatically connect the 2 paragraphs as a single "section" or "group". If you are simply relying on white space, the brain must actively work to sort the information and track which group goes where. When you are fatigued and can't focus very well, a highlight will be clear about grouping, while white space will make everything blur.

adityakhoche
adityakhoche

well i tried the new gmail look, couple of primary observations: 1) lot of white space makes things a bit too sparse. 2) use of bright colours makes the screen glare and is not at all pleasing to the eye, the classic gmail blue had a soothing colour 3) the button sizes are abnormally large and are wide spaced, cant think of a reason why this was done. gmail's new look looks like an amateur job done without proper UAT and looks hideous. Give us the classic google back!!

MrBeck
MrBeck

While I agree that white space is useful to show structure in a document, it adds little to a UI other than making finger space for the fondleslabs crowd. What it most definitely does is take up expensive real estate on my screen. The much less dense Preview requires me to do a lot more clicking to get to headlines and features which are now hidden due to a move to what is apparently considered "modern" and I call wasted space (similar to those advocating it).

adityakhoche
adityakhoche

well then it might just be me. I did not like it one bit, perhaps it is a change issue, i am so used to the classic blue theme that i cant take such a drastic change suddenly :(. i hope google does not retire the classic themes.. that will be such a waste, i really don't want to switch to hotmail or yahoo.

shryko
shryko

I can't agree more with points 1 and 2, but #3 is a bit off the mark. I run my monitor at 1024x768 normally, and it looks great. I think the issue may be how "elastic" they made the layout, as it will expand based on the width of the available screen. That said, I'm really glad that you can still use the classic blue theme, and as long as they don't completely remove the classic theme (and keep the custom theme tool), then I don't mind them changing the default (as long as they don't force anyone over to the new default unexpectedly)

shryko
shryko

My take on "modern". It's always about just changing it to make it different and new, not always make it *better*. In airplanes, "modern" means it has more unified and condensed instruments, where you don't need to look at 20 dials to get all the info, you can just look at 2 screens. With computers, "modern" now seems to mean it looks simple, even if it's harder to get to half of the commands. XP survives to this day because it was USEFUL, it WORKED, and it had OPTIONS. Vista ticked off all the tech people, because it buried all the advanced features and meant more work to do many of the administrative things that used to be easy. I guess "modern" means it's aimed at the most simple of users, and a kick to the nuts for those who do more.