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The New(ish) Gmail Interface – Love or Loathe it?

Since Google released Gmail back in 2004 (yes, it’s almost 20 years old!) there have been a number of interfaces released and tested by users. Ultimately like any provider, Google has always strived to ensure that users have an easily usable interface that looks good at the same time as having the functionality required. Whether you started way back when it was “googlemail” or you’re a more recent adopter of the platform, you’ll know that it’s now part of Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) and has a multitude of other applications now nestled safely within it such as Google Meet, Google Drive, Google Calendar and Google Voice to mention a few. Last year they announced a brand new interface which became the standard experience in November 2022 but starting on 3rd February this will be rolled out for all users. In this video, Noelle discusses the new interface, how to get to grips with it, tips on changing it back to (almost) how it was and what it means for users of the Gmail platform whether for personal or business use.

No rollbacks – it’s here to stay!

Back in October, we created a video going through what we liked about the new Gmail interface. You can view that video here (link). The rollback feature has been disabled now, so as of 3rd February everyone will be using the new interface. Some of the biggest changes are:

  • Colour grades create distinct areas
  • Inbox default is a calming blue
  • Compose red text has been removed, boosting accessibility
  • Compose button area touch area has been increased

Previously, the inbox, navigation and action areas were a single colour, making navigation at times potentially difficult. The new UI gives users a much clearer distinction of the tasks they want to complete within Gmail. This doesn’t mean you have to keep the exact way Google has rolled out the new changes, there are methods to make it look similar to the old Gmail, which we go through in the video or you can read how below.

Changing your theme

To avoid what has been described as “Tiger striping” – read emails becoming difficult to differentiate in the new theme because of the different colours used, then you can change your theme using the settings cog in the top right hand corner of the screen. From there you are able to change your base theme into something more suitable for you. We recommend if you’re looking to emulate the previous default theme that you can select “high contrast” or “light grey” to emulate the old aesthetic.

How to access compose without the hover menu

In another change the compose button is now accessible on the  hover menu. If this has been a frustration, you can change this into a keyboard shortcut, so instead of opening the hover menu you can simply press “C” to compose a new email.

To do this you’ll need to enter the general settings again by clicking the top right cog icon and opening the drop down. From there, select “see all settings” and then within the next menu, scroll down to the “Keyboard shortcuts” area and toggle these on. When that’s saved, you can return to your inbox and press “C” to start composing a new email.

Some more big changes

The main focus of the update has been around the navigation of the platform. Determining that the previous interface was cluttered, the icons confusing and that there was a single hover menu used for all applications, this has now changed to ensure that users have a far better navigation experience on the platform.

There is now additional space for labels in the Gmail menu, the navigation is clean and uncluttered and the side navigation has text and more specific icons. You can also quickly create new labels within Gmail with the + button, which was harder to find previously. These are now ordered in distinct default vs custom lists where before these were only found in a singular, combined list. 

The most controversial change?

Within the old interface, it could be easy to miss new chat notifications if the sidebar was minimised. You’d have to open the menu up and then click the chat icon to open up the new chat. The new interface makes it much easier to see any new notifications and easier to access just by clicking the icon instead of expanding the menu out to ensure you picked the chat area. This is readily accessible now in the new interface and in our opinion, far easier to use on a day to day basis. There is also an option to see the chat bubble appear at the bottom left of the screen, making it even easier to instantly access the chat as it comes in. 

The reason this change has been controversial is that now the chat window opens in full screen and can be difficult to navigate back to the email area you were working in. 

This is easily remedied by opening the settings tab once more, then selecting “view all settings'' and navigating “Chat and Meet”. From the “manage chat settings” button you can unselect “open chat bubbles in full screen” which will then result in a popup in the Gmail interface instead of defaulting to full screen. You will still need to select the “open in popup” icon if using  the chat icon on the sidebar, however this will mean that you can chat away as before without any disruption.

The limitations of this can be screen size – on some screen resolutions and sizes it can become quite crowded if you have more than 3 open at one time so ensure that you’re utilising the platform in a way that doesn’t disrupt your regular working.

What if you don’t use the Gmail apps?

You are able to turn these off if you don’t use Google Chat or Google Meet, it’s a much quicker and easier fix by simply going into the settings again, selecting “customise” from the drop down and then choosing which apps appear in the sidebar within Gmail.

So what does this mean for Gmail?

This all boils down to usability for the users within the platform. Previously it might have been difficult for users to quickly navigate between functions within the platform, they could have missed notifications or struggled to work effectively in different places at the same time. What the new Gmail interface does is brings this all together neatly and in a way that enhances the user experience. There are already other functionalities being brought into Gmail such as your calendar updating your chat status within Gmail, creating easy join options to meetings within a singular window (join with Google Meet on the right hand side of your inbox when you click the calendar entry) as well as improved functionality for collaborative projects in Spaces, being able to view documents and amend them in real time within the interface window when selected. 

It’s likely we’ll see even more integration throughout 2023 as Gmail becomes more powerful and to improve productivity for users. Rather than using lots of tabs or multiple screens to get the same work done, it’ll be far easier to do this in one place. Yes, the change may be jarring initially, however as with most improvements over time the positives will far outweigh the apparent negatives and you could become more productive thanks to the changes made.

As always, we want to hear from you. Has Gmail become an essential part of your day to day operation? If you’ve been using the new interface for a while or you’ll be seeing it for the first time - let us know in the comments on our YouTube channel or contact us for more information here if you want to learn more or utilise the full power of Google Workspace or Gmail.

As a longstanding member of the Google Cloud Partner Program, Damson Cloud specialises in bringing people and ideas together through new ways of working. We champion the very best practices in remote working and change management, helping companies and their teams collaborate productively from anywhere in the world. To find out more about our services, check out our library of tutorial videos or our blog.

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The team at Damson Cloud have the expertise to support your business and help you achieve success, regardless of whether you’re new to Google Workspace or looking to enhance your existing usage.