My Initial Impressions of Google’s New Gmail User Interface

Google launched general access to their first significant Gmail user interface (UI) redesign in many years today. It’s rolling out gradually — when it hits your account you’ll see a “Try the new Gmail” choice under the settings (“gear”) icon on the upper right of the page (you can also revert to the “classic” interface for now, via the same menu).

But you probably won’t need to revert. Google clearly didn’t want to screw up Gmail, and my initial impression is that they’ve succeeded by avoiding radical changes in the UI. I’ll bet that some casual Gmail users might not even immediately notice the differences.

This will all come as a great relief to many Gmail users, who have watched with increasing alarm the recent march of Google UIs toward low contrast designs that are difficult for many persons to read (e.g. as discussed in “Does Google Hate Old People?” –

I certainly won’t take credit for Gmail not falling into that kind of design trap, but perhaps Google has indeed been taking some previously stated concerns to heart.

The new Gmail UI is what we could call a “minimally disruptive” redesign of the now “classic” version. The overall design is not altered in major respects. So far I haven’t found any notable missing features, options, or settings. My impression is that the back end systems serving Gmail are largely unchanged. Additionally, there are a number of new features (some of which are familiar in design from Google’s “Inbox” email interface) that are now surfaced for the new Gmail.

Crucially, overall readability and usability (including contrast, font choices, UI selection elements, etc.) seem so close to classic Gmail (at least in my limited testing so far) as to make any differences essentially inconsequential. And it’s still possible to select a dark theme from settings if you wish, which results in even higher contrast.

So overall, my sense is that Google has done an excellent job with this interface refresh, and I’m hoping that the philosophy leading to this design — particularly in terms of user interface readability and ease of use — will carry over to other Google products and services going forward.

My kudos to the Gmail team!