You don't know what you've got til it's gone. Gmail, I'm looking at you!
April 18, 2012 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I hate the new GMail and have finally been forced to upgrade. How can I force the new interface to be less hate-worthy?

I've been a faithful user of GMail for years. I've enthusiastically welcomed many of the changes over time. However, I hate the "cleaner, more modern" look with a passion.

I have a few specific gripes but don't know how to get past them. Or, is there something like user styles that I can override the craptastic new colors and options?

"Compact" is fine, although the semi-transparent backgrounds on messages make things difficult to read.

I have used the Marina theme (here's a gallery, Marina direct link) and I love it. I have synaethesia, so color is important to me.

1. I found the setting to change the buttons to have words, not generic icons. However, they are still context-sensitive and I'd rather have them always display like before. How do I override this?

2. How do I get my beloved Marina theme colors back?

It may be time to pay someone for an interface I don't hate. Is there another service worth jumping ship to, even paid?
posted by bookdragoness to Computers & Internet (38 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

It's probably not a long-term fix, but I've still been able to switch back to the old view. Of course, now that I'm in there, I don't have the button that allows switching; it was near the top right of the page.
posted by inigo2 at 12:10 PM on April 18, 2012

Response by poster: My "gear" menu no longer has the "Revert temporarily" button, unfortunately.

I've tried out a number of the provided styles, but the fact that I use "right-side chat pane" rules a lot of them out due to white text on white-containing backgrounds. The few pastel options are the "wrong" colors (too gray or green, typically). Many themes are semi-transparent behind the message titles/blurbs.

"Compact" format makes the visual spacing better, and I've been using it.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:16 PM on April 18, 2012

I HATED the new gmail at first. HATED HATED HATED it. Then I discovered compact (which I see helps you as well), and I still HATED it, but with less fire.

Now, a month later, I don't even notice it at all. It's fine. So, I wouldn't jump ship for another email service yet.

I realize that this does not address your question of how to make it better, but there is hope that you will get used to it.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:24 PM on April 18, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe it doesn't fit your scenario, but one of the benefits of using a local mail client for getting your Gmail is that you can avoid Google's whimsy but enjoy their awesomeness.

I love Thunderbird for this, because there are lots of Gmail-friendly add ons (for threading and contact sync etc), calendar sync, and the search functions are as good or better than Google's. And it's portable, so you can run it off your flash drive wherever you are and stay synced.
posted by quarterframer at 12:35 PM on April 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You don't mention what browser you're using, but if you're using Chrome, I HIGHLY recommend the Minimalist for Everything plug in.

You can pretty much delete or change everything in the new interface.
posted by THAT William Mize at 12:36 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I found that "compact" with the "high contrast" theme makes it feel less unnecessarily spaced out, and clearer.
posted by zadcat at 1:04 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Chrome plug-in "Better Gmail (Unofficial)" really gets rid of all the MySpace-y graphics and intrusive ads. Gmelius looks to be a similar add-on for Firefox.

I also hate it so much that I have moved everything to Zoho's suite is pretty comprehensive and just as robust as google's. It's also significantly less pushy about what services it wants you to use and has no ads in your inbox.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:32 PM on April 18, 2012

Best answer: Are you a Eudora fan? There's a Eudora interface for Thunderbird now.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:33 PM on April 18, 2012

I think I'm on the same slippery slope as insectosaurus. I hate it, but quite a lot of that hate is coming from resentment at the idea of being forced to waste time on fixing it.

I think fiddling with Gmail just moved into the same basket for me as shaving weight off my bicycle (removing 10kg from me works better than removing 1kg from the bike).

Fuck it. They're giving it to me for free. I'm already blocking all their ads. They can have their shitty color scheme and their too-clever-by-half hide-everything-by-default bullshit UI. I'll live. And if I do prove too inflexible to adapt in a couple months, there's always the option of going back to installing Thunderbird on every PC I use.
posted by flabdablet at 6:21 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I had this exact misfortune today. I'm now on the waitlist for an invite to (sleek looking web UI to gmail) and in the meantime I got the Sparrow client for my mac.
posted by miscbuff at 8:05 PM on April 18, 2012

Best answer: The Minimalist for Everything plug-in also solved my problems with Google Reader (enormous space-eating searchbar that has no use). Thanks!
posted by The River Ivel at 3:33 AM on April 19, 2012

Whenever Google forces a new layout/look on me, I look at it this way:
Google has in their employ multiple interface designers who are much more knowledgeable than I am (via schooling and job experience) at knowing what makes a good, productive, intuitive interface. My past experience suggests that I will eventually grow to like it, and wonder how I ever used that old crufty setup.

As a recovering IT Manager, I saw this cycle in users whenever we upgraded them to a new piece of software. There would be groaning and resistance, and then eventually acceptance.
posted by PSB at 5:41 AM on April 19, 2012

Response by poster: I've tried out a bunch of the suggestions, and Minimalist for Everything works pretty well to solve some of my color-related woes. I'm going to see if I can waste spend enough time to figure out how to get the right background colors on it.

I use Chrome and Firefox (and the Android app).

PSB: Heh, I do understand the upgrade cycle (hell, the ribbon interface didn't even faze me), and quickly reached the point of "If only they had the RIGHT COLORS, I could take everything else." The image backgrounds that have the "right" blues are also unreadable due to white chat-list text on white/light/noisy portions of the background, and the solid backgrounds aren't close enough.

I don't understand why the developers didn't either port the old themes or continue to allow theme customization.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:23 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for taking the time to help!

Another resource I ran across was a plugin called "Stylish", which got me pretty close. I tried it before Minimalist for Everything and ended up preferring those options.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:26 AM on April 19, 2012

Best answer: HALLELUJAH
posted by flabdablet at 8:21 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Was just coming here to suggest what flabdablet suggested. I'm using it and it's pretty good so far.
posted by jessamyn at 9:40 AM on April 20, 2012

Best answer: As an additional tweak to the Return of Old Gmail user style, I right-clicked on a few of the contact pictures that use up irritating amounts of space in the mail thread view, and blocked them with Adblock Plus. The resulting rules are these:


This also gets rid of them under Chat and Contacts, which I personally find to be a more than acceptable tradeoff.

I've also gone into Settings (under the new six-toothed gearwheel) and changed Button Labels from Icons to Text.

Gmail looks clean and smooth again! I'm a happy camper.
posted by flabdablet at 6:38 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I understand what you blocked flabdablet, I think maybe turning off the people widget in the settings might have taken care of a bunch of that as well. (It still seems to waste that whole side of the screen, but maybe that's just me.)
posted by inigo2 at 6:58 AM on April 22, 2012

Best answer: Keep in mind that if you're really color-sensitive, the styles in Stylish are editable. So you can use some sort of a color tool to figure out what the color is that is not working for you and just go in and edit the "return of old gmail" script to change it to a color that works better for you. I like my email as color-free as possible and was able to basically make my inbox look like this. If you're synaesthetic this may be a lifesaver for you for other sites as well.
posted by jessamyn at 7:13 AM on April 22, 2012

Best answer: I think maybe turning off the people widget in the settings might have taken care of a bunch of that as well

No, they do different things. The stuff I blocked is the avatar pictures (both user-set and default) which I prefer not to have cluttering up my conversation views and making them all indented and stuff.

Actually this filter rule


is a little overzealous - it even gets rid of the Google logo, which I quite like. So I've changed that rule to


which just gets rid of default avatars.
posted by flabdablet at 9:41 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

to have buttons with both icons and text included at the same time - install stylish and then install the Gmail - Add labels to toolbar icons style, it works a treat for me.
posted by kev23f at 3:31 PM on April 22, 2012

Best answer: This article How to cope with the gmail redesign might help (via hackernews a few days ago)
posted by motdiem2 at 12:06 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You know, all I really care about is being able to change Gmail to whichever color I choose. Why would they take that away? I try to not bother with plug-ins and skins and things, but without being able to choose my own color...they're forcing my hand, here.
posted by redsparkler at 6:00 PM on April 23, 2012

Go to the top right, and select "Compact". This helps a lot.

Wait a week. Just use it for a bit. This *also* helps a lot.
posted by talldean at 6:55 AM on April 24, 2012

Best answer: I look at it this way: Google has in their employ multiple interface designers who are much more knowledgeable than I am...

I look at it this way: Google employs a bunch of geeks with no design sensibility who test out 41 shades of blue.

I'm using Minimalist for Everything on Chrome, but I'm going to follow flabdablet's lead when I have the time to fiddle with Stylish.
posted by holgate at 2:02 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I look at it this way: Google has in their employ multiple interface designers who are much more knowledgeable than I am...

As a product designer on some big complicated things, I'd encourage you to not assume this. Least of all about the new Gmail design. I'm either getting older/crankier/less able to deal with change, or else the new design is actually bad. Likely both. Some adjustment is always required, however the new look is a few steps short of good in my opinion. I certainly don't think that transparent reading panels, minimal contrast around important interaction bits, and cluttered controls are the pinnacle of good design. This version of minimalism without actually removing features is a very, very difficult recipe to get right.

Switching the buttons to text helped, as did removing the priority inbox flags. Having those empty flags munged up next to the empty stars and nearly invisible empty checkboxes was definitely causing a substantial amount of my angst.

These suggestions helped, thanks.
posted by pkingdesign at 11:28 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did you find a way to remove the priority inbox flags using their Settings UI? I couldn't, and had to settle for adding another Adblock Plus filter rule:

posted by flabdablet at 6:35 PM on April 29, 2012

Best answer: Okay, I've spent some time with Minimalist for Everything and Stylish, and I have uploaded my own rendition of Marina Resurrected!

If anyone knows how to export the Minimalist for Everything style (author has it on his to-do list), I'd be happy to share it with you - it's more complete than my Firefox "export".

Turning off the empty priority inbox flags is available in Settings > Inbox > Importance markers. I turned them all off, because anything "important" will show up in the top of Priority Inbox anyway, regardless of displaying the flags.

How curious... my themes in Chrome just started displaying a "Marina" option...
posted by bookdragoness at 11:21 AM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: Never mind, it went away as I reloaded to disable my custom Marina. It had a bunch of ones like "new blue", "smooth steel", etc. Maybe someone re-enabled the old themes by accident, or maybe we'll get new ones again soon. If I see it again, I'll take a screenshot.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:23 AM on May 2, 2012

Nice work! Your layout and borders are better than The Return Of Old Gmail, and you work better with Right-Side Chat, but what I mainly want back is the old colors so I'm sticking with TROOG for now. If you did a style with Marina Resurrected's layout and the old Gmail's Classic Blue color scheme (including calming down that stupid red Compose button) I'm sure you'd make a lot of people very happy.

Thanks for the Settings->Inbox->Importance Markers tip; one less Adblock Plus change to propagate across all my browsers is a good thing.
posted by flabdablet at 7:11 PM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: Looks like there's a way to allow for customizable colors (like I do with Minimalist for Everything), so let me see if I can get that working. I'll let you know if I get something put together with customizable options or a Classic Blue theme.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:37 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: I updated my theme to include options for a solid background (and user-selectable colors).

To avoid the red Compose button, select a non-white theme in the Themes options (the colored ones all have gray Compose buttons) and apply the Stylish theme in your preferred colors.

I added disable-able options for "Better Attachment Icons" and "Hide Ads" as well.

To anyone interested in this, feel free to MeMail me or add discussions to the style's page. I'm going to mark this resolved now that I've managed to restore colors to the Gmail universe.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:57 AM on May 3, 2012


I've left the red Compose button in place for now, because turning that off with a theme also turns off the cheerfully colored Google logo, which I like. Will fool about with the other color settings. Thanks! You should mark your own comment as Best Answer :-)
posted by flabdablet at 8:59 AM on May 3, 2012

So, now I'm using your version 1.2 with selectable Compose button colors, and colors picked from this PNG of the old default Gmail theme:
  • Gmail background: Solid color
  • Solid background color: #FFFFFF
  • Section line color: #6694E3
  • Google bar background: #FFFFFF
  • Google bar link text: #2A5DB0
  • Compose button text: #FFFFFF
  • Compose button background: #6694E3
  • Compose button gradient: #6694E3
  • Mail section header: #E0ECFF
  • Current label background color: #6694E3
  • Current label text color: #FFFFFF
  • Border around mail view: #6694E3
  • Mail view background color: #FFFFFF
  • Mail: Row selection and hover: #E0ECFF
  • Mail: Unread rows: #FAFAFA
  • Mail: Read rows: #F0F0FA
  • Mail: Checked rows: #F8F8AF
  • Mail: Starred rows: #F3F3D6
  • Mail: Row separator borders: #E0ECFF
  • Enable Better Attachment Icons: No
  • Hide sidebar/top ads: Yes
and now I scarcely hate it at all! Well done you.

How hard would it be to get rid of the last bit of hideous jarring redness (in the "Gmail" menu above the Compose button) by coloring it the same as the Compose button?
posted by flabdablet at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, glad you like it! I've been able to assign the Gmail text and menu text color to the same as the Compose button, but the down-triangle is eluding me thus far.

Yeah, v1.3!
posted by bookdragoness at 12:59 PM on May 3, 2012

Looks like the down-arrow is a PNG rather than a stylable element. I can live with that.

Thank you!
posted by flabdablet at 7:03 PM on May 3, 2012

Response by poster: I went looking for the black down-arrow from the colored themes, but attempting to override it just made it entirely transparent.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:01 PM on May 3, 2012

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