How to cope with the Gmail redesign

Reports are coming in from around the Internet that the Gmail redesign, which we were previously able to stave off with “revert to the old look temporarily”, is now forcing itself upon us. I too have succumbed to the new design, and have been forced to find ways to cope. Here’s what I did to make it semi-bearable:

Display density: Compact

The default is lousy information density; too much screen real estate wasted in blank pixels. Fix it like this:

Theme: High Contrast

The “High Contrast” theme is Gmail’s grudging admission that its design is too low-contrast. Find it under Settings > Themes:

Importance markers: No markers

I don’t use Priority Inbox, but I do star a lot of messages. They’re right next to each other and they’re exactly the same color, so I have a hard time telling them apart:

You can get rid of the “importance” markers under Settings > Inbox:

Button labels: Text

Here are the new Gmail action buttons. Quick, what does each one do?

I find these icons hard to parse—too minimalist/iconic. (Worse, the buttons only show up when you have a message selected. But there doesn’t seem to be a way around that.)

You can turn the icons into more understandable text labels under Settings > General:

Disable “web clips”

If you didn’t do this years ago, do it now. The new design is hard enough to parse without news links and ads getting in your way, and you can’t even customize web clips anymore, which maybe is Google’s way of saying that even they don’t want you to use them. Besides, when you’re in your inbox, you should be focused and productive, not distracted by random links. Disable web clips under Settings > Web Clips:


Net effect

Here’s a before-and-after showing the net effect of these changes. Before:



These tips worked for me; some may not be ideal for you if you manage your email in a different way.

Got tips of your own? Better yet, a tip for a better Gmail client? Leave them in the comments.

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  • health1_au

    This will work until I migrate away from Gmail. 

    • Book Sniffer

       I have migrated away a few days ago. works beautifully (even the free version: I’m switching over to the paid one soon, probably. It’s worth a few bucks a year anyway, I think), is nice and cleanly designed, and they have excellent custover service and actually seem to listen to comments.

      I’ve also moved all my RSS feeds over to netvibes, and am now trying to use Google as a search machine only – which is turning out to be rather tricky (and that really creeps me out).

      • consumeralertreporter

        I was forced into GMail when I opened a blogger account. Isn’t that bundling? Didn’t MS get in trouble for forcing people to have IE? What has Google become? Break it up. Enough is enough. I closed the GMail account and moved to wordpress. Yahoo mail works fine for me.
        Even, the legendary search engine, is bundling and cheating, fixing results and driving business to itself. It’s all here

  • David204griss

    Ive gone even more compact, by choosing “compact” and then zooming in on the browser settings (Chrome) to 90%. 
    This gives much more contrast for unread messages.

    Then load the “Minimalist for Everything Extension” (Chrome), which allows you to hide the annoying CHAT box and INVITE box, so you get a clear list of all your folders and the manage labels tag, without having to scroll and jump in and out of the right hand lower mess that they have created.

  • Dude

    You can also change the color of the Stars which I did, so the stars are red and stand out from the yellow importance markers. 

    • jasoncrawford

      Yeah, probably a good approach if you like “priority inbox” and want to use the importance markers.

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  • Jazz

    Thanks for the suggestions. Hate the new Gmail, just want it to go back to the old, but these are the changes I made as well. I did not know about the icons to text and that helps a lot. I wish they’d add a Medium Contrast theme that is an improvement on the too light contrast for usability but is more attractive on the screen than High Contrast. They just need to give the old option back really or add more levels of personalization in this one since it seems they are determined to be stubborn about this.

  • Brian Nash

    I did all the stuff you suggested (except the importance icons – I actually use those) and also installed this great Chrome extension:   It adds a few other key tweaks, like making the archive/delete/spam buttons different colors, and giving you the option to hide some other non-essential content areas that you don’t use.  

    After all that, I think I can stop breathing into this paper bag.  ;)

  • Parsa Fatehi

    New Gmail UI have clean design and looks great, but the forced G+ is bothering me…

    • Tim

      That G+ crap will stick around until FB stock is low enough for google to buy it or Vice versa. Heheh.

  • Ragang

    how do I update my address book?

  • Michael Salvo

    You are a savior–thank you for these gmail changes! Now I can read my inbox again. I was ready to quit the internet. ;)

  • Lindsey Kuper

    The “Soft Gray” theme is a good way to avoid the “obscenely red” “Compose” button.

    • Nonprofit Tech

      I use the Soft Grey theme and the ‘Cozy’ setting instead of compact. I did just switch labels to text though. Thanks for that. I was getting use to the buttons, but much prefer the text, so I can be without the mental pause.

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  • Sarah Sakamoto

    Thanks a lot!!! o/

  • Sarah Sakamoto

    The new Gmail interface helps us in unproductiveness with this terrible mix of disadvantages.

  • Asf

    The new gmail sucks and there is no way around it other than to install a mail client and that is what I am going to do dammit.  This is HORRENDOUS.

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  • Imerion

    Thanks for this article! As many others, I too tried my best at damage control when the new theme replaced the old and good one. I found some of these things, like text size and high contrast theme, but I had missed that the buttons could be replaced with text. Good find, makes my email managing a whole lot easier!

  • Davidrobinette

    Thank you!!  Now how about recommending some Gmail alternatives.

  • Stephanie

    This was exactly what I needed to know!  Thank you!

  • Zachary

    Save yourself a lot of steps and just click Basic HTML

  • John

    First rate and has heped me no end to navigate what was a horrendous system. This makes Gmail pretty nice to use.

  • Joe

    anyone know a way to increase the contrast more?  i have a hard time reading the inbox even with the contrast theme… causes eye strain perhaps some people “prefer” eye strain and headaches but i am not one of those people…

  • Joe

    the “no marker” and revert button to text are huge, now i can figure out what to click (sometimes) and i can see which emails are starred… i’m heavily dependent on starred emails for follow up action, i couldn’t find how to do that in the settings on my own… THANK YOU!!!!!!!

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  • David Nathan Allen

    jeez you messed up my settings damn you, I should have known better

  • fredox

    I think if I followed your instructions, my optometrist and pharmacist would be very happy.  Whitespace is not a bad thing. 

  • Em Izzy

    Thanks for this! Maybe you could help me with this extra issue? I would be delighted to find an option which edits a theme’s colour, such as the background. I’m finding all options to be the wrong kind of contrast for me :-/

  • nanette22

    The new Gmail is both uglier and unusable.  Hopefully if enough of us choose the “High contrast” theme, Google will notice that the nearsighted of the world are having problems.  If there were a better free cloud email solution, I’d consider moving.

    One more suggestion: you can use a different color for your stars.  In settings, you can change the order and use more at the stars menu.  This helps differentiate from the awful yellow flag problem.

    Google: sit up and take notice.  Your brainy, nearsighted users are really upset!

  • Jen Herrmann

    Thanks… the compact/cozy/comfortable view won’t change on any of my computers since my screens aren’t large enough or something.  Changing the buttons to text was so needed, that helped a lot.  I really wish they’d make a lab or a theme that is “old style” and let me keep having a choice… let the people who like it use it…but for those who find it harder to use and harder to read… let us make a choice. *sigh*

  • Emily O’Meara

    Ahhh so much better.  Thank you so much!

  • petertest1

    The most annoying change, for me, has been the slider at the right side  of the folders. It’s really hard to find it. The Gmail designer seems to has tried to play hiding the slider  when you don’t have the cursor on it.
    Of course, when you open your inbox it takes you several minutes moving the cursor in a blank area trying to get the slider visible.
    One negative consequence of not having visible all the time the slider is that you can’t see , and of course, reach, the folders.
    Why is this?. Let’s have the slider visible all the time and easy to reach. !

    • symoj

       Yes. This is the worst. Also, if you have a slider why do you need a “more” selector? That just makes for extra input hassle. Plus the list keeps shrinking down to a few items just when I’m ready to select something and they are in alphabetical order instead of importance to me so this small subset is random from a want-to-see-all-the-time perspective. Can I change the order in one of these preference boxes?

  • blindspot

    Guess I was in the minority, but I found Web Clips a good “distraction” because I had tuned mine to really relevant stuff to my industry, a sprinkling of relevant items from my favorite RSS feeds. I’m sure most people just saw them as advertising spam and never figured out that they could adjust and personalize them or turn them off as well. You can still turn them off, but no further adjusting. Boo. :’-(

    • jasoncrawford

      Yeah, I did that for a long time myself. But now you can’t even customize them, which sucks.

  • Aileen Rodriguez


  • Aileen Rodriguez

    I will start out by saying…I know that this is a free service, BUT…PLEASE, BRING BACK THE OLD VERSION…..or at least make it so I can modify it back if I want and let the people that like it keep it the way it is!!!!

    I have been complaining to them about the new version since they started rolling it out. It keeps signing me out, they removed all my contact pictures, I hate the “hover” over the folders, contacts, etc. The only good thing that they have changed was that I can now login to many accounts at the same time.

    If they do not change something, I will be taking my 28 accounts elsewhere, and trust me that will be a pain.

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  • Julyssa Diaz

    Thank you for the tips! At least this layout is a little better then the new one! 

  • Les Livres The Books

    you can always just use the basic html option…

  • NStat

    You can change the color of the stars you know

  • vishalvirsingh

    thanks most helpful

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  • rotkapchen

    If on Twitter, please share @gmail alternatives for online email UI and tag it with #abandongmail

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  • Stephanie Chen

    I actually tried out gmail’s new interface for a couple of months before I realized there was a “revert to old” option. I am by no means an earlier adopter, and actually hated when I was first converted. When I finally realized I could revert back, there was a survey that asked what I didn’t like about the new interface. I think many users had similar complaints and I’m happy to say that they were able to improve the clutter and visibility, even with my cartoon-y theme. They really do take input seriously, down to my complaint about where the scroll bar for gchat list is placed, and having the option to adjust the visible height of the contact list (I gave them a laundry list of what I didn’t like!).

    I will say that my biggest annoyance with the new version at the time was the unlabeled icons, and how long I needed to hover over each one before I could figure out what they were. However, now it’s second nature, like clicking on a floppy disk icon to “save” or a folder icon to “open file” in a word document. Not saying icons are better than text links, but my brain actually didn’t even notice the conversion when I first opened my gmail this morning, it’s that ingrained, so there’s hope for people like me!

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