While this dropped into our hands last Thursday, I’m only getting around to sharing my thoughts now. In coordination with the Google-wide initiative to make things look hipster, the Gmail team is sharing the future of Gmail’s interface in a theme preview.
So my first news of this was in a tweet from David Walsh:
I swear, Google’s new design is my new p0rn. Like a good-looking Amish girl; sexy and hot.
And I replied:
@davidwalshblog Reminds me of that Windows 8 video. Boxes, boxes everywhere!
I think that sums my thoughts up nicely. It looks very much like that Windows 8 preview-video. It’s the future! Boxes, boxes everywhere! Soft, rounded corners? “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout foo?” It’s the future.
Okay, enough joking around. Time for some heavy duty impressions.
Real, Honest, Impressions
The regular non-dense view is a joke. Things are just too spaced out and the amount of scrolling to even just watch a half-full Priority Inbox is atrocious. The margins and paddings are huge. Maybe that’s fine for a huge monitor, but the last time I checked, Gmail was going to be used and displayed on tiny Chromebook monitors. Oh wait…
After switching to the dense preview theme, things got a little better, but it’s still a little bloated in my opinion. I still have to scroll to see the everything else section in the Priority Inbox despite only having four important and unread emails and a single starred-but-read email. That’s not at-a-glance-friendly.
Starting with the sidebar. The huge compose mail button is great. The margins though between the items on the sidebar is too great though even in dense-view. It feels like the sidebar has a thinner width than in the classic theme, which should help, but then the space is eaten by the useless left-side margin anyway.
The actionable-buttons along the top, like Archive, Spam, & Delete are now floating and annoying. That might be useful, but it’s still annoying because again, it obstructs my view. But the design is nice – wide and thick buttons that are easy to press. The new refresh-button is welcome. I wonder when someone will figure out how to make Archive, Spam, & Delete and the others into icons so that words won’t be necessary in the action-bar.
The email-lines, the check-box, star, sender, and subject lines. Those, despite dense-view, are still to thick. It’s not dense enough. The colors are fine, it’s easy to tell what has and has not been read, at least if you’re coming from the old Gmail.
The inbox-ad used to be only on top. Now it floats with you. Annoying you. Annoying me. Annoying humanity. Ads should not move. They sit and wait to be called upon. And nothing more. I am serious about this. If they do not make it stationary, I will remove it myself.
Conversation view is about the same. The expand/contract, print all and pop-out buttons that used to be text-links are now icons. That’s good, but even I had to hover over the expand/contract one to realize it was what it was. That annoying bar continues to float around and the ad-bar does too. The agony.
I think that’s about it. It is what it is. It’s just a theme and I suspect they’ll eternally offer the classic themes as well. But before I close, let me just interject on point about making a modern but flexible theme for Gmail. It must still function at narrow widths. It must.
What am I talking about? I often split my screen in Windows with snap and that will split my thin monitor resolution on my laptop from 1366 for one full window to two windows at about 683 pixels across for each. There is no reason there is a 30 pixel margin on the left side when this happens, there is no reason the action-bar does not properly wrap around, there is no reason for horizontal scrolling.
In their blog post, the Gmail team admits they will be refining their initial work for the foreseeable future. Google is trying to re-image itself and this is a step to do that. It’s a hard thing to do right and they have to get it right as millions use Gmail and only a handful know how to change themes. So, honestly, it was a good first attempt but there is still work to be done.