Bad Changes In The New GMail Version

9 Dec 2007 - 4:14pm
6 years ago
9 replies
1043 reads
Leonardo Vernazza
2007

Google has launched a new version of <https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2>
GMail with some good new features. However, what really surprised me were
the very bad changes in the user interface of the contacts "subsystem".
Google has a very deserved prestige in providing dead simple and very well
designed user interfaces. However, I think they couldn't repeat themselves
this time. Luckily I
<http://groups.google.com/group/Gmail-Problem-solving/msg/63233555308ee894>
am not the only one
<http://www.mydigitallife.info/2007/11/17/how-to-switch-back-and-open-gmail-
in-old-versionformat-as-default/> this time; users care about usability and
as always, problems have more repercussion.

I was not going to post about this, but then I thought it could be a very
interesting example to show how the right models/tools can help to avoid
this kind of errors. Last but not least, I strongly believe you have to fall
into a lot of mistakes in the process of creating a great user interface,
but if you use the right tools and you are describing things at the right
abstraction level, they become evident, and you can quickly walk through the
continuous
<http://www.himalia.net/blogs/leovernazza/2007/10/continuous-prototyping.htm
l> prototyping process to achieve a successful design.

What's Wrong With The Contacts Design In The New Version Of GMail ?

The main problem is it has a bad layout. Layouts should be simple and Google
knows it more than anybody. Not only simple, they have also to be familiar,
recognizable (yes, copy them from other user interfaces). Layouts aren't an
innovation area and simple layouts have been all already invented.

So, What's Wrong With The GMail Layout?

Well, first of all it has too many areas. An area is the part of the screen
where you will present a UI concept. Actually, you should have so many areas
as concepts you want to present on screen at the same time. And you don't
want to expose your user with dozen of concepts at the same time, so you
don't want too many areas. In the new version of the contacts subsystem they
have 5 areas (just in that part).

However, five areas wouldn't be a problem is they weren't so poorly
orchestrated. Area orchestration, or Layout Behavior (as I lately redefined
it) is the way you assign a hierarchy to the different areas on the screen.
The main pattern you should know in this field is called Visual Framework
<http://designinginterfaces.com/Visual_Framework> . I will translate it in
this way: "Try to keep the area hierarchy always, never mind which concepts
are you presenting at each time in each area".

The Layout Behavior can be defined using with transitions that are
represented as arrows (this
<http://help.sap.com/saphelp_nw04s/helpdata/en/cc/1f6f3ee3c33f7ce10000000a11
4084/content.htm> is a very natural representation). Each arrow means that
the target will be refreshed when any action is fired in the source.
Typically you expect that top menus refresh second layer menus, left or
right bars refresh the content area and so on. This approach is very
interesting because you don't need to think it in terms of events and other
programming-related stuff. Just answer: when an action is fired in one
specific area, which area(s) will be refreshed? If you can find a simple and
recognizable orchestration for your areas, it will be good enough. Back to
GMail, have you seen this kind of orchestration in some other place?

<http://www.himalia.net/blogs/leovernazza/images/BadChangesInTheNewGMailVers
ion_13D79/GMailcontactsnew.jpg> GMail contacts new
<http://www.himalia.net/blogs/leovernazza/images/BadChangesInTheNewGMailVers
ion_13D79/GMailLayoutBehavior.jpg> GMailLayoutBehavior

Other problem with the chosen transitions are the transition jumps. The one
from FirstTopArea to the RightArea is anti-natural because broke the logic
sequence. The same happens with the transition from LeftArea to RightArea,
but in this case you should add that it provokes a a little inconsistence
because there is another transition from LeftArea to CenterArea.

Other good advice to take when possible is to define the transitions
targeting contiguous areas, in order to facilitate the focus flow of your
user. Why jumping to the other side of the screen? Users don't want to
guess where to look after clicking something. In this case, the user is
forced to jump his focus from the left to the right in one jump. When you
press something, the refreshed area should be the one the user is expecting
to be, and users don't expect to move their heads all around like playing
Simon <http://www.freegames.ws/games/kidsgames/simon/mysimon.htm> in a big
wall.

Also, there is a very ironic problem, the very strange behavior in the
search box. When you search a contact, a new item is added in the left list
(groups and other stuff list), while the results are added in the center
list at the same time. Why? What's the purpose of the left list with two
fixed items, all the groups and an intermittent search result item? Why
adding that item there? Why just not showing the results as Google taught us
in a dead simple way?

Finally, probably the most annoying error is the inconsistence. Consistence
is THE fundamental behind all great designed user interfaces. When you press
the "New contact" button you are directed to the RightArea, but when you
press the "New Group" button (placed just at it side) a popup appears on the
top left corner of the screen, while other popup's appear centered on the
screen. Added up, it provides a baffling experience for the user.

Random isn't a good friend of user interfaces. Actions presented in the same
style and grouped together, are expected to produce the same kind of
feedback in the user interface. If they are going to provide different
experience they should be separated or presented with a different style (see
examples below).

<http://www.himalia.net/blogs/leovernazza/images/BadChangesInTheNewGMailVers
ion_13D79/GMailSearch.jpg> GMailSearch
<http://www.himalia.net/blogs/leovernazza/images/BadChangesInTheNewGMailVers
ion_13D79/WinXPStartMenu.jpg> WinXPStartMenu

So, now you may be thinking: ok, user interface guru-wannabe, how would you
improve this? But I will answer it the next post, because it is already
quite long ;)

--
Posted By leovernazza
<http://www.himalia.net/blogs/leovernazza/2007/12/bad-changes-in-new-gmail-v
ersion.html> [at] himalia.net at 12/09/2007 04:15:00 PM

Comments

10 Dec 2007 - 9:20am
ldebett
2004

I love gmail but have gone back to the previous version because of the
feature where when you hover over someone's name, you get this GIANT contact
card which obscures half of the content of the email below it. This is
especially painful when I'm reading the IxDA list. I click on someone's name
to collapse their post to read the next one but the contact card for the
original person covers the top of the second post (and so on). Argh.

~Lisa

10 Dec 2007 - 2:12pm
Christian Crumlish
2006

I also find that Gmail no longer remembers my frequent recipients for
autocomplete purposes, forcing me to break my flow and dig their
address our via search.

Other problem include when scrolling to the next or previous message
not being put at the top of the page. Several other minor annoyances.

-x-

10 Dec 2007 - 2:50pm
Matt Nish-Lapidus
2007

in response to the original comments about the new address
book/contacts in gmail... i actually like it. yes, there is more
going on and there are a lot of different content panes, but it now
acts like all other desktop address book software and offers all of
their features, which makes me happy. it means that i can (finally)
move my full address book into gmail.

On Dec 10, 2007 2:12 PM, Christian Crumlish <xian at pobox.com> wrote:
> I also find that Gmail no longer remembers my frequent recipients for
> autocomplete purposes, forcing me to break my flow and dig their
> address our via search.
>
> Other problem include when scrolling to the next or previous message
> not being put at the top of the page. Several other minor annoyances.

--
Matt Nish-Lapidus
email/gtalk: mattnl at gmail.com
++
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mattnl
Home: http://www.nishlapidus.com

10 Dec 2007 - 3:29pm
Chris Maissan -...
2007

I've also noticed a new "Inbox" button in the email header with an "X" icon.
Visually it appears to be a single button, but is actually two.

"Inbox" returns me to the list of emails in my inbox, while the X "removes
the inbox label". Once the "inbox label" has been removed the email vanishes
from my inbox. A dialog informs me that it has been "archived", but there is
no reference anywhere in the UI to an archive.

It's unfortunate. I've always liked the Gmail interface.

Chris

10 Dec 2007 - 4:54pm
Kivi Shapiro
2007

This makes more sense if you consider that in GMail, "Inbox"
is just a label.

Those new buttons have two quite different actions. By
clicking on the label, you view all conversations with that
label. This was also true in the old interface, except it
had a hyperlink instead of a button. And clicking on the
"X" removes the label from this particular conversation.
I'm not sure there's room on one button for two such
different actions.

Anyway, removing the "Inbox" label is also what the message
about archiving refers to. Other email clients use the word
to refer to a different action, so yes, that's confusing
too.

There is an Archive button in the UI, with bolded text to
boot. It's exactly where you'd expect to find a Delete
button. This was one of the most controversial features of
GMail at the start, that they made it hard to truly delete
messages.

The change in paradigm from folders to labels, especially
"Inbox", does seem to take some getting used to, on the
developers' part as well as the users. I like the new
paradigm a lot, though, and will be excited once they've
ironed out all the wrinkles.

Kivi

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On
Behalf Of Chris Maissan
Sent: Monday, December 10, 2007 3:29 PM
To: 'Leonardo Vernazza'; discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Bad Changes In The New GMail
Version

I've also noticed a new "Inbox" button in the email header
with an "X" icon.
Visually it appears to be a single button, but is actually
two.

"Inbox" returns me to the list of emails in my inbox, while
the X "removes
the inbox label". Once the "inbox label" has been removed
the email vanishes
from my inbox. A dialog informs me that it has been
"archived", but there is
no reference anywhere in the UI to an archive.

It's unfortunate. I've always liked the Gmail interface.

Chris

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11 Dec 2007 - 7:34am
.pauric
2006

I started using the gmail local client http://mailplaneapp.com/ after
the gmail upgrade which caused FF to crash as well as some of the
other bugs.

Mailplane, which is webkit I think, does not seem to have the same js
'enhancements' so you see the old address book, etc. Killer feature
of the client is the offline mode.

I was initially apprehensive in pulling gmail out of the browser, now
I will never go back.

regards -pauric

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss?post=23351

11 Dec 2007 - 10:08am
.pauric
2006

Very good point Jan, also, I'd like to refine my statement on
mailplane's offline mode. mailplane is a local 'html' version of your
gmail.com view. I like the consistency. POP clients will have their
own layout and might lack the great search and other nuances?

however, a pop client has a fully working offline mode, mailplane only
allows me to browse and has a minor bug refreshing... its still beta.
So.. not totally awesome, but a very nice hybrid - local-ish mail
client with web view consistency.

Also I'd like to thank Leonardo for starting the discussion, I
appreciate seeing someone else's in depth review of the problems -
thank you.

regards - pauric

11 Dec 2007 - 9:50am
jan cohen
2007

Hi all,

New to the list and learning a great deal :^).

Though the original intent of this thread had to do with qualifying Gmail's online email interface, since Pauric brought up the use of a local client with Gmail, I was wondering if everyone knew that most commonly used clients can be configured for use with Gmail?

See http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=12103 for more information.

jan cohen

----- Original Message ----
From: pauric <radiorental at gmail.com>
To: discuss at ixda.org
Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2007 7:34:28 AM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Bad Changes In The New GMail Version

I started using the gmail local client http://mailplaneapp.com/ after
the gmail upgrade which caused FF to crash as well as some of the
other bugs.

Mailplane, which is webkit I think, does not seem to have the same js
'enhancements' so you see the old address book, etc. Killer feature
of the client is the offline mode.

I was initially apprehensive in pulling gmail out of the browser, now
I will never go back.

11 Dec 2007 - 12:45pm
Ari
2006

what's nice about mailplane is that you can use custom CSS stylesheets to
remove ads.
of course, various FF extensions such as CustomizeGoogle also allow this but
none of the various Gmail extensions make it as easy to switch between
accounts as mailplane does.

On 12/11/07, pauric <pauric at pauric.net> wrote:
>
> Very good point Jan, also, I'd like to refine my statement on
> mailplane's offline mode. mailplane is a local 'html' version of your
> gmail.com view. I like the consistency. POP clients will have their
> own layout and might lack the great search and other nuances?
>
> however, a pop client has a fully working offline mode, mailplane only
> allows me to browse and has a minor bug refreshing... its still beta.
> So.. not totally awesome, but a very nice hybrid - local-ish mail
> client with web view consistency.
>
> Also I'd like to thank Leonardo for starting the discussion, I
> appreciate seeing someone else's in depth review of the problems -
> thank you.
>
> regards - pauric
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
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