The new-look Gmail debacle. An un-usability case study

April 18, 2013 •

Well, the new-look Gmail sux. 🙁

In fact, in all my years, I’ve never seen such a big step backwards in usability when ‘upgrading’ to a new version of a product.

Sadly, I’m sure I’ll find plenty more examples over the coming days/weeks/months/years, but here’s a list of the things that jumped out and bit me on the nose from the get-go…

1) Can’t see signature without clicking

Google’s been ‘trimming’ content (i.e. signatures) from received emails for a long while. That was bad enough! But now they’re trimming it from emails WHILE YOU’RE REPLYING too. That may sound like a good idea, but in practice, it’s a nightmare. What if my signature hasn’t been added correctly? What if it’s the wrong signature? What if it hasn’t been added at all? Without clicking the ‘Show trimmed content’ button, you simply can’t tell…

You have to click this…

Usability problem with the new-look gmail and signatures

… to see this!

Usability problem with the new gmail and signatures

And once you’ve displayed your trimmed content, you can’t hide it again (which leads to the next problem)…

2) I added an attachment. Where did it go?

This is the worst issue I’ve noticed so far. When you add an attachment it now goes to the bottom of the email instead of appearing in message header section. This is fine for a new message, but in a long thread, WHERE YOU’VE CLICKED TO SHOW TRIMMED CONTENT, it’s a nightmare! You have to scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll, just to see if it was added correctly. And who doesn’t have long threads!?

Image showing top of email thread

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.
.
scroll
scroll
scroll
scroll
scroll
scroll
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.
.

Image showing end of email thread

3) Extra click to format your email

“Want to format your email? That’s great! We’ve made it harder for you!” Instead of simply clicking the relevant tool in the header/toolbar section of the email, you now have to click the ‘Formatting options’ button first, to reveal them.

You have to click this…

Image showing usability issue of new formatting functionality in gmail

… to reveal these

Second screenshot showing usability issue with new formatting functionality

4) Extra click to see the sender account

This is a problem if you send from multiple email accounts. When you’re composing a reply, and you want to see or change the account you’re sending it from, you have to click the recipient’s name. The RECIPIENT’S name! Then the sender details are revealed.

You have to click this…

Image showing what you have to click to see sender details

… to reveal this

Image showing where sender details display

5) Extra click to reply-all

When you’re composing a reply and you decide it should be a reply-all, you have to click ‘Type of response’ to reveal the Reply-all option. (This used to be a one-click operation.)

You have to click this…

Image showing where you have to click to see Reply All

… to reveal this

Image showing where Reply All is

6) Extra click to add a canned response

When you’re composing an email and you want to add a canned response, it’s now a 2-click operation…

You have to click this…

Image showing what you have to click to reveal canned responses

… to reveal this

Image showing where the Canned Responses option is

Where’s the usability testing?

I can’t believe any of this was put through serious usability testing! Not with serious users, anyway.

Have you seen any other usability issues with the new-look Gmail?

If you’ve seen any more usability issues with it, please comment below. I’m sure there are plenty! Have at it!

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Belinda Weaver wrote on April 18th, 2013

I wholeheartedly agree Glenn. As a big fan of Gmail I find all this extra clicking extremely annoying. Along the same thread as your comment about Reply All, I edit subject lines quite a bit. You know, you start talking about one project and then you're quoting on another. I like to keep those threads separate so I can find them easily but now I have to click click bloody click. That and the attachments are my main aggravations. What I did get from your post, apart from a stiff neck from nodding, was the whole canned replies functionality. Who knew that existed? Well everyone apparently, except me. I have a text doc with email templates but this seems sooo much easier. Well, it would be if I didn't have to click click bloody click to use it.

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comment avatar
Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 18th, 2013

Oh no! I hadn't noticed the subject line thing. GRRRRRRR! Ridiculous. And canned responses... They're great, but the usability was already poor. I have a long list of canned responses, and finding the one I want is always difficult. But that's a whole nother story!

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comment avatar
Belinda Weaver wrote on April 18th, 2013

I might stick to my little text file of email templates. Simple. Uncomplicated. Fast. Talk about over-egging the pudding GMail. Sort it out!

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Donna wrote on April 18th, 2013

Oh, I so agree! The attachment thing is the one that really drives me crazy the most! But all of the above are annoying! Thanks for making me feel less alone. :)

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 18th, 2013

Hi Donna. Haven't caught up with you in ages! Yeah, it's good to have others to bitch with, eh? ;-)

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Donna wrote on April 18th, 2013

Is nice to catch up with you, Glenn. Hope you're doing well.

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Vicky Claringbull wrote on April 19th, 2013

I've got to say that your article had me nodding my head in empathy. Very recently my entire company - around about 20000+ employees worldwide - migrated to gmail. Needless to say there are A LOT of frustrated workers missing their meetings and losing emails. Miss my outlook and its demanding way of making me manage my inbox!

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comment avatar
Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 19th, 2013

Hi Vicky. Thanks for your comment. It's definitely hard when you shift from Outlook (particularly if you didn't have a choice). But I can honestly say, I find Gmail a gazillion times better than Outlook, even with these usability issues. I remember sooooooo many times, as an Outlook user, growling at the computer, because my email was stuck in the outbox, or because Outlook crashed and lost my draft, or because I had to come into the office to check my email, or - worst of all - because of a corrupt PST file. Ah the bad old days... ;-)

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Mazil wrote on April 19th, 2013

The attachments problem is my single biggest gripe with the new Gmail compose. If you drag in just images, then Gmail will insert them as inline images instead of attachments. This is not great for people sending screenshots or, in my case, huge design mockups! This is real pity, because the drag and drop attachment functionality was/is pretty fantastic. The only way around the problem is to click the attachment button and manually choose the file (fiddly file browsing / extra click), or to drag in a non-image file (e.g. a html, pdf, text or doc file) along with the others, and then delete it from the attachments upload section. *mumbles grumbles*

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comment avatar
Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 19th, 2013

Hi Mazil. Yep, I noticed that when I originally trialled this feature. It was one of the main reasons I promptly rolled back. Insane, isn't it?

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Roberta Kedzierski wrote on April 19th, 2013

Glad it wasn't just me not understanding. On the subject line thing, how do you change it when you are in a threaded conversation? I obviously didn't click the right clicks!

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 21st, 2013

Hi Roberta. As far as I'm aware you can't change the subject line in a threaded conversation! Crazy, right?!

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Belinda Weaver wrote on April 24th, 2013

Hey Glenn, I've just realised another "feature" that makes me grind my teeth. I hit compose and start typing the recipients name ... only to find that the cursor has jumped down to the email BODY. I have to delete that text and wait for the cursor to find its way back to the recipient field. *shakes fist to Gmail*

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comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on April 24th, 2013

Hmmm. That's not happening for me, Belinda...

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Belinda Weaver wrote on April 24th, 2013

So I'm just being persecuted by Gmail?!? Ok. So maybe I'm being a tad impatient too....

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George wrote on May 15th, 2013

Try to use the Gmail app: it gets worse... If someone forwards you an email you will not see the content of that forwarded email. How stupid is that? You get the email that says "Hey, look what X wrote" and you cannot see what X wrote. Suggestion to Google: just trim email contents at random. At least I'll have a chance to see contents of emails every once in a while. Much better than now: NEVER

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comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on May 15th, 2013

Hi George. Yeah I think And if they could just . And then the butler said, "But I didn't even know the chimp was a minister!"

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Moon wrote on May 23rd, 2013

Sadly, I think Google is following the same path Ubuntu and Microsoft have gone down (Ubuntu 12.04+ and Windows 8, respectively), hiding as much information from the user as possible in order to maximize the ease of use of a tiny screen (read: cell phone) at the cost of desktop monitor useability. It is baffling that they should do this, even if it does make UI creation simpler for them, given how unanimously hated this trend is by the public at large. The (already existing) issue with Google trimming signatures is the most insulting thing they've done. Not to mention mind-bogglingly stupid. If I don't want my recipient to see a signature, I'll leave it out myself. I don't need Google to cut it for me. Here, I'll demonstrate how retarded it looks. Correction: how retarded it makes ME look. Thanks for this blog! Sincerely,

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on May 23rd, 2013

"If I don’t want my recipient to see a signature, I’ll leave it out myself." Couldn't agree more! And yeah, it's weird if they're doing it this way for mobile, especially as they could simply make it responsive...

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Guestblo wrote on July 9th, 2013

Hi Glen, I completely second you in nearly all the points you mentioned. But the one seems to be most irritating to me is the one with the "formatting option"! Who does have so much time to click and then wait for the next options to come? One more thing is with the attachment; if you drag them in, they are not attached properly!

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Neil wrote on February 23rd, 2014

I agree with everything you mention in the blog. Great observation. I am contemplating switching from gmail to Yahoo or another service. Gmail is turning into a usability nightmare.

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Glenn Murray wrote on February 24th, 2014

Thanks Neil. Not quite there for me. I still love Gmail, I just hate some of its usability issues. I'm sure they'll resolve them sooner or later. It's still a LOT better than Outlook! :-)

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Cheyanne Weldon wrote on March 10th, 2014

All of these issues have been irritating, but what's really dangerous is that twice now I have been on cell using mobile site and replied to an email thread from my gmail (and the thread originated with my gmail)... and my pop3 signature block gets added to the email. It doesn't show so I don't see it until looking in my sent mail. Very not cool. I only did it the 2nd time this morning to check if it was a fluke. I can't get the signature when I use the pop3 on mobile, but it adds it automatically to the gmail... SMH

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Glenn Murray wrote on March 10th, 2014

Ugh! That's not good! I never use the mobile site, so haven't encountered that. Also I use Google Apps, so that may make a difference...?

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