06 November 2011

Un-occupy Gmail

If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, Who's Baby's Daddy?

Why We Won't Switch Voluntarily to the New Gmail UI

Over the past week or so, we've read all the blogs, news, and comments about the roll-out of Gmail's new look.  In the pursuit of truth, justice, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound, we even tolerated a couple of videos, and this is what it comes to:  until the G-men force us to change to the new look, we'll skip it.  It can roll right past us, thank you.

First, the "new and improved" Gmail UI is rife with advertising distractions.  The subtle "oh, by the way" is bye-bye.

Second, the new UI landscape is bland and anemic.  In our work, we spend a major part of our workday in email, we need strong colours, lots of self-designated customisation, and plenty of differentiation.  For example, when Gmail made it possible for us to create a custom theme -- in our case, based on the company logo -- we were quick to take advantage of this development.  Gmail's Lab tweaks were another big plus.  When introducing new users and clients to Gmail, we touted the Labs as a compelling reason to switch.  I hide my Labels, but keep Chat open 24/7; but, each of my colleagues' preferences vary from person to person.

With the new Gmail UI, the field of personalisation options has shrunk, with fewer themes (and no custom theme possible) and more clamped-on "features" (chat contacts and labels).  Caveat actor: the "Switch to the new look" link appearing in the bottom right of the Gmail window is an irrevocable choice.  Once you go there, you can't come back to your former view.*  :::grrrr:::

As for the wan grey scrollbars and buttons usurping our own high-contrast selections:  really, really, really not liking that.  Did I mention the scrollbars are too skinny and "slippery"?  Woe betide users with even slight vision or range of motion limitations.  Gmail is not sympatico with your impediments.

Many of the improvements (e.g., advanced search within email, thread author pics, etc.) could easily have been made opt-in choices, user-by-user, via a Labs treatment, without forcing universal change.

Email is a highly personal tool.  It is my workspace, your workspace, your neighbour's and your colleague's workspace.  Users should be able to personalise the appearance and functionality of their email page with as much variance as there is in handwritten signatures, workstyles, and industries.  If you like the new spare, lean, and pale Gmail UI, no problem.  Some people sip tea, others of us stoke espresso, strong and black with a lemon peel twist.  Choices, people, choices and options.

Five years ago, we made a wholesale evacuation of Yahoo when it became clear the company and its webmail developers were unresponsive to users, spending far too much time in contemplation of their corporate navel.  After much research, experimentation, and trial-and-error, we chose Gmail.

Borrowing a note from protesters of another stripe, we're kicking off our campaign to Un-occupy Gmail.  Nota Bene, Google & Gmail developers:

Help is only helpful when it's welcomed and/or requested
by the recipient.  Otherwise, it's interference.
As of this needless UI overhaul,
Gmail has committed self-serving interference.

*A lucky few have reported being able to switch back to their former page, however, it should be noted that this is a temporary option, soon to vanish.
See you on the patio!

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