Reviewing the New Gmail UX

Everyone loves Gmail, and there’s a reason for that. Over the past decade, Google has gone from being a slightly novel search engine alternative to Yahoo, to becoming one of the biggest producers of SaaS and free solutions around. Even Microsoft’s worried about Google, with their browser, mobile OS and extensive web services, totally free to the public, making vast amounts of revenue and dominating the user base. With that said, how is the Gmail UX itself? Does it actually meet the standards to which UX professionals hold the science when you strip away the prestige and popularity of anything made by the big G?

Well, the Gmail UX has changed quite a bit over the nearly ten years they’ve been around and in that time, they’ve had some successes and failures. These experiments have culminated in what it currently has to offer both in interface, layout and functionality. It has some positives, and it has some negatives, so let’s talk about both.

The biggest positive about Gmail from a practicality standpoint, is the live scripts that run on the page, so that whenever a new email arrives, it shows up on its own, with no refresh necessary. This is something everyone else has implemented, so we take it for granted now, but let us remember that there was a time when email did not do this. Thank you, Gmail, for implementing this.

Another positive is the compartmentalization and sorting system which you can, at will, choose to configure for priority mail, unread mail and the like. It’s very efficient, and few other email systems actually have this kind of flexibility. Gmail knows everyone sorts and thinks differently, so they made sure everyone’s inbox can be personalized. They’ve also made a theme system, which while I don’t actually use it, I can it see being a nice touch for a lot of people, not unlike customizing a desktop.

The integrated phone system is also very convenient, and easy to use, with its little panel in the lower right corner. I use it exclusively, since it makes outgoing calls. Add to this the fact that a Gmail account can be used to log into YouTube, and several social networks, and you have a very handy skeleton key for your internet experience.

Now, lets’ talk about some things they’ve done wrong lately.

The new design for composing email or replying to it uses a similar corner panel to the phone and chat systems. Now, that kind of design works for a lot of things, but I can’t honestly say I think it works for this. Composing a document, which an email very much is, needs to be presented a certain way. People expect a clean, full screen and centered presentation in which to write, and this off center little panel is disjointing.

Their insistence on integrating Circles into the email system, forcing the user to become part of a social network whether they want to or not, is also a poor decision. Its integration with Circles is actually great if you want to use Circles. Not everyone wants to be part of every (or sometimes any) of the social networks, and will find the noise they bring with them to be a burden. I use a couple of social networks myself, but not Circles, and I do get tired of getting “people you may know” spam from Google themselves frequently.

All in all, the Gmail UX is quite well-done, they just need to fix a few obvious flaws. Google is good about that, unlike their subsidiary team working on YouTube, so we can expect them to address these complaints as writers like myself, and users, like you, continue to make them.