Category: Gmail | Dec 6, 2011
Posted by Mark Striebeck, Engineering Director
Editor’s note: This post is more technical than most posts here, but we thought some of you might find it interesting to look inside how development on the Gmail team works.
Let’s start with the first one: conditional features. This is our ability to make changes to the Gmail code that get deployed, but not executed. You can think of it as a lot of if-statements around the new code that get enabled when the conditional feature is on. The conditional feature flag itself is set outside of the deployed code. These flags can be set in various ways: as a percentage of overall users (if we want to rollout a feature slowly), for Googlers only (if we want to use a new feature internally), for individuals (if we want to give users early access to a features) and in many other ways. In short, conditional features allow us to update our production systems separately from releasing new features. This way, Gmail developers can make changes, but don’t have to worry about their unfinished changes being released before they are ready.
Using these technologies, we can make sweeping changes in Gmail without those changes going “live” before they are ready. Plus, since we can turn pieces of code on or off, we can enable new features in specific environments, such as Google, or for specific users, like the Gmail team, without changing the code itself.
Category: Gmail | Dec 5, 2011
Posted by Jason Cornwell, User Experience Designer
One of our goals for Gmail’s new look was to make Gmail feel more like a native application with independently scrolling panels rather than a website that scrolls as a single page. This design approach brings with it many advantages: the search box and primary navigation are always in the same place, your inbox unread count is always visible, etc. As with any design decision there were challenges with making this change. People with lots of labels might have their chat contacts pushed entirely off the screen and those with gadgets, like the Google Docs or Calendar gadgets, might have to scroll the left panel past both the labels and the chat contacts in order to see them.
We went through a number of different design revisions to try and address these issues as elegantly as possible. We experimented with several accordion designs, which stack sections on top of each other but only allow one or two to be open at a time.
We also experimented with designs that involved only one scrolling region, but showed fewer entries per section.
The final design combines aspects of both approaches. It is a ducking accordion design with only two sections. The bottom section has two tabs, one for chat and one for gadgets, with room to add more tabs in the future. The upper section, which contains labels, expands to show all of the visible labels when you mouse over it. This allows you to see chat contacts but still give quick access to the labels. Best of all, you can easily adjust the balance between labels and chat to fit your own personal preference by dragging the divider between the sections up and down.
This design went through a number of iterations as well. We carefully adjusted the timing and triggering behavior of the expanding labels section to minimize accidental triggering. We noticed in usability testing that having the labels section expand when you are mousing over the Inbox label delete didn’t work for everyone. We tweaked the system only to expand if you moved your mouse below the inbox label and keep it there for a moment. We also tried to ensure that if you are moving your mouse to click on a particular label or chat contact, that label or chat contact will never move out from under you.
The end result is a system that is more flexible, more responsive, and always keeps your chat contacts and unread count visible without adding a lot of complexity or requiring too much clicking around.
Category: Gmail | Nov 28, 2011
Posted by Oleksandr Kyreiev, Software Engineer
How often do you have something scheduled at 3am? What about 10pm? If the answer is almost never, you might want to try out the Hide morning and night lab in Google Calendar.
With a simple drag of a slider you can fold all those empty hours into a single row to set the time range you want to hide. The folded rows still show all your events, just in more compact form.
We’re launching this in Calendar Labs (Settings > Labs) to gather feedback on how people end up using this feature. So don’t forget to tell us what you think about this latest addition.
Category: Gmail | Nov 16, 2011
Posted by Matthew Izatt, Product Manager
Two weeks ago, we introduced our Gmail app for iOS. Unfortunately it contained a bug which broke notifications and displayed an error message, so we removed it from the App Store. We’ve fixed the bug and notifications are now working, and the app is back in the App Store. For an overview of what’s available in the Gmail app for your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, check out this blog post.
In the short time the app was public we received a lot of helpful feedback and feature requests. This included requests for everything from bigger features like multiple account support to customizations like improved notifications and mobile specific signatures.
We’re just getting started with the Gmail app for iOS and will be iterating rapidly to bring you more features, including all the ones listed above plus many more. Based on your comments we have already improved our handling of image HTML messages – they are now sized to fit to the screen and you can pinch to zoom in.
To try out the Gmail app today, install it from App Store on any iOS 4+ device. Those who already have the Gmail app released Nov 2 must uninstall or log out of the old app prior to installing the new app.
Category: Gmail | Nov 10, 2011
Posted by David Choi, User Experience Researcher
When building Gmail’s new look, our goal was to make the most engaging, accessible, and most of all, easy to use email experience possible. To accomplish that, we had many real Gmail users try out changes to the look and provide feedback during its development.
One of the most important ways we obtained feedback was through usability studies. In these types of studies we observe people trying out our products in a controlled environment. We invited Gmail users from all walks of life to participate in usability studies and used the results to find problems and identify improvements before we launched.
For Gmail’s new look, we started very early. Long before any Googler began using or even building the new look, our designers created an early prototype. We then had Gmail users participate in a usability study either by coming to one of our offices or remotely connecting from their homes.
|An example of one of our usability labs. People in usability studies use our products on the pictured computer while they are being observed through a one way mirror and video cameras from the room next door.
The study participants evaluated the early prototype by doing many of their everyday Gmail tasks, such as reading, sending, and replying to emails. We then looked at how easy or difficult it was to complete those tasks, and made changes based on this feedback. For example, one of the things we found with our prototype was that we had put too much emphasis on conversation level actions at the expense of per-message actions. As a result, our study participants had difficulty finding the reply button on each message. In response, we changed its appearance, size, and location to make the reply button easier to see.
As we continued to develop the new look, we evaluated our progress through additional usability studies with even more people. Much of what we captured from these studies was users’ first reactions to the new look. But Gmail is something people use repeatedly, not just once. So in addition to first impressions, we were also interested in seeing how people adjusted to the new look as they used it repeatedly in their daily lives. To find that out, we conducted a different kind of study called a longitudinal study. Longitudinal studies are used to observe the longer term effects our products have on people’s usage.
The longitudinal study consisted of turning on the new look for a group of Gmail users. We captured their initial reactions after their first experience. Then we let them use the new look in Gmail as they normally would as part of their everyday lives. As the days and weeks passed by, we periodically checked with them to see how they were adjusting to all the changes. Like with anything new, there were some changes that our participants initially needed time to adjust to, but later came to prefer as they used the new look more. On the other hand, problems that were not seen during the first couple times of use later emerged after more prolonged use. For example, many of the changes we made to the new left navigation were the result of people reporting their repeated experiences using labels and the chat area over time.
These studies have been absolutely critical in helping us build Gmail’s new look. Much of how it looks and behaves is a result of people participating in these studies and giving us their feedback. If you are interested in becoming a participant in a research study about Gmail or any of Google’s products, you can sign up at google.com/usability.
Category: Gmail | Nov 9, 2011
Posted by Jason Cornwell, User Experience Designer
One of the most visible improvements in last week’s Gmail update is the entirely new theme system and the new high definition themes that it supports. This refresh to themes both simplifies them and makes them more immersive. You can browse what some of the new themes look like below:
Themes are now implemented as semitransparent layers on top of a large background image. Each theme uses either a dark or light variant of most UI elements to balance legibility and visibility of the background image, allowing the background image to peek through and provide color and personality. Background imagery can also change based on date, time, or weather. Bringing all these changes together really makes the new themes shine:
In addition, these changes also reduce the technical complexity of the theme system, which will enable us to create more beautiful and unique themes in the future.
Like the new themes? You can switch to the new look today by clicking on Switch to the new look in the bottom-right of Gmail.
Category: Gmail | Nov 7, 2011
Posted by Jason Cornwell, User Experience Designer
When our design team looked at tackling a redesign across Google properties, responsive design was high on our list of priorities. Responsive design implies that a page or application should dynamically re-adjust itself based on the your environment. The specifics of the device that a user is using, and in particular the size of their browser window, should have an impact on the way the application presents itself. To put it simply, Gmail needs to look and feel great on a tiny netbook screen, on a high resolution 30” monitor, or anything in between.
You can try this out yourself if you are using Gmail’s new look. Open up Gmail and make your browser window much smaller. Everything should crunch down as you adjust to give you a better experience in a smaller window. No matter what size your browser window is, Gmail should look and feel great out of the box.
We also thought quite a bit about the density of the information on the screen in the new design. Gmail’s old design packs a huge amount of information into a small space. While this is perfect for some, many people appreciate a more airy design with more whitespace between lines and elements on the page. This is especially true on larger monitors.
We wanted Gmail to be more attractive and easier to read by default, so if you’re on a larger monitor you will see that the items in your inbox are spaced farther apart than they were in the old design. We believe that this results in a better overall experience, but it does take some getting used to. In our internal testing we found that most of us adjusted to the new spacing after about a week and found the old spacing cramped and uncomfortable when they looked back at the old design.
Others, however, found the original spacing to be ideal and wanted to see as much information as possible without scrolling, even on a large monitor. We added a density setting to the gear menu in the toolbar to make sure that everybody can find a setting that works for them: Comfortable, Cozy, or Compact.
Comfortable is the spacing that we recommend for most people. With your density set to Comfortable, the display adjusts fluidly based on screen size.
Compact is the densest setting and matches the line spacing that existing Gmail users are used to. With your density set to Compact the display will stay dense no matter what size your window is.
Cozy is somewhere in the middle. With your density set to Cozy the display will get a little denser when you make your window small but the changes aren’t as dramatic.
Mathletes among you may recognize that the density setting is really a ceiling function.
We think Gmail should be smart enough to always make itself look good on your screen, so we incorporated responsive design. We also think you should be able to see what happens when you change your settings, so we put the density settings in the gear menu right next to your inbox. When you make a change, you can immediately see what it looks like. Our density settings reflect our design philosophy that Gmail’s new look should be more responsive, personal, and beautiful.
You can switch to the new look today by clicking on Switch to the new look in the bottom-right of Gmail.
Category: Gmail | Nov 7, 2011
Posted by Sarah Price, Community Manager
Today, the Google+ team launched Pages, a new way for you to build relationships with the things you love. We’re looking forward to connecting with you on our new Gmail page on Google+.
When you add the Gmail page to your Google+ Circles, you’ll see updates from our team, including launches, tips and tricks, and more. You’ll be able to discuss those updates with other Gmail users in the comments on the posts. Mention +Gmail when you share your own tips — if we see a really stellar tip, we might reshare it. We’re also planning to hold regular Hangouts, so you can shoot the breeze with Google community managers, engineers, product managers and designers.
In addition to Gmail news, we’ll feature some of your other favorite Google products, including Google Calendar, Google Voice, Google Chat and Google Tasks. Be sure to add the Gmail page to your Circles and let us know what you think.
Category: Gmail | Nov 3, 2011
Posted by: Lode Vandevenne, Software Engineer
Creating an event is easy, but finding a time that works for everyone is sometimes tricky and time consuming. To make this easier and save you time, we’ve added a new ‘Suggested times’ feature to Google Calendar.
To get started, create a calendar event, add guests and click Suggested times. The resulting list will include upcoming times where all participants are available. For example if you want to create an hour long meeting with Kara, and she already has an hour long meeting at 3pm, then times like 2pm and 4pm will be suggested.
As part of our ongoing commitment to accessibility, the list can also be navigated using the arrow keys and is accessible with a screen reader.
For more information, please visit the help center.
Category: Gmail | Nov 2, 2011
Posted by Matthew Izatt, Product Manager
Update: 11/2/11: Earlier today we launched a new Gmail app for iOS. Unfortunately, it contained a bug which broke notifications and caused users to see an error message when first opening the app. We’ve removed the app while we correct the problem, and we’re working to bring you a new version soon. Everyone who’s already installed the app can continue to use it.
Waiting. Walking. Watching TV. Working out. Winding down. Waking up. We check email pretty much everywhere these days. And when we do, we want easy access to our important messages so we can respond quickly and get back to life — or slinging birds at thieving green pigs.
With that in mind, we’ve created a new Gmail app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. We’ve combined your favorite features from the Gmail mobile web app and iOS into one app so you can be more productive on the go. It’s designed to be fast, efficient and take full advantage of the touchscreen and notification capabilities of your device. And it’s one more reason to switch to Gmail.
We want to give you the information you need quickly, with minimal effort and distraction. So we’ve included some time-saving features:
- Get alerted to new messages with push notifications and sounds
- Find an email in seconds with search across your entire inbox
- Autocomplete email addresses from your Gmail contacts or select from your device’s address book
- Upload photos with a click using the new attachment button in compose view
- On iPad, navigate your inbox and read your mail simultaneously with split view
||Reply, move, label and more
Our inboxes overflow with dozens and even hundreds of messages a day—and this can be even more challenging on a smaller screen. The new Gmail app helps organize your mail so you don’t have to go wading through your inbox to find that key message from your boss or loved one:
- Focus on your important messages first with Priority Inbox
- Quickly scan countless emails on the same subject with threaded conversations
- Organize your mail by archiving, labelling, starring, deleting and reporting spam
Threaded conversations on the iPad
We’ve also optimized the interface so you can perform common actions in Gmail with the lightest touch:
- Pull down your inbox to rapidly refresh if you’re eager for new mail
- Swipe right to view your labels without ever leaving your inbox
- Swiftly scroll through dozens of emails just by sliding your finger
|Pull down to refresh
||Swipe right to view labels
We hope the Gmail app makes checking email on the go a little easier. It is available in the App Store today and works on all devices running iOS 4+. For more information, check out our help center.