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I was writing a blog post about three recent changes to Google's UX that made me feel that Google has changed how they think about design, specifically toward simplifying the UX for current users at the expense of the new user learning curve, when I decided maybe I was being arrogant, seeing as how I didn't do the user research Google did, so instead I'm going to talk about them here in hopes that in this Google-rich population I might learn rather than preach.

First up is the 'new tab' chicklet in the Chrome tab bar. Somewhere around Chrome 16 the '+' disappeared from it, leaving a little ghost of a button that, to my mind, wouldn't be recognized for what it was by a user who hadn't already formed their mental model on earlier versions of Chrome.

IE 8 and 9 do it this way, with a small ghosted (but full-connected) tab, while Firefox explicitly retains the '+'. Do users who are coming from a less-than-modern browser understand that the chicklet is a baby tab waiting to be given form?

Second is the Gmail conversation view. Gmail isn't my baby anymore, and I don't pipe up about design decisions that are different than how I would have designed it, because Gmail's design team's goal isn't to do what I would do. However, the new conversation view is unfortunate. One of the main goals of the 'card stack' design was to give a visual metaphor of a 'new-stuff-first' list, even when it's actually in chronological order. The 'stacking' of read cards tested extremely well and people understood not only where one reply stopped and the next began, but how to expand cards to re-read earlier parts of the conversation.

The new design flattens conversations completely, turning them into just a list of boxes, some of which are grey (which means closed) and some of which are white. The reply box at the end is no longer tightly coupled to the actual email you're replying to, which is a problem if the most recent reply was to a subset of the original recipients.

For the experienced user this doesn't represent much of a problem. Their mental model of conversations and collapsion was formed in the more explicit UI, and they understand the underlying meaning even when the cues are removed. My guess is that the user who never sees anything but the new UI gets a very different picture. All the problems we had when testing a flat 'expand contract' UI should crop back up if the new UI is tested on folks who have never used Gmail before.

I understand the design goal of a cleaner, sparser UI where any gradient or visual complexity should be cut but I can't help but feel that, as with the Chrome 'new tab' chicklet, a little bit of baby got thrown out with the bathwater.

Lastly, the new Gmail and Google+ 'clicking on the logo does nothing' behavior seems just absurd. Nothing this significant could have actually gotten pushed out without a huge internal conversation about it, with one side saying it's stupid and the other side thinking about how they just didn't understand the bigger picture and would get used to it.

Speaking as a practitioner who's been on both sides of that field and been right and wrong on both, this design decision is definitely one of those ones where the best of design intentions is flat out wrong. As long as there is a property logo on your page, clicking on that logo should take you to the top level of that property, and if you're already on the top level and it's a dynamic site, clicking on it again should perform the same action as clicking a refresh button on the same page.

This isn't a Google convention that will be acclimated to if changed. It's an Internet convention that predates Google's existence by a good many years. It's like if Audi started shipping all 2012 vehicles with gearshifts on the driver's left, no matter which side of the road folks drive on in your country, because it creates a more consistant experience across Audi cars or supports a future Audi strategy.

Chrome's new-tab button losing the plus? Doesn't feel right to me, but data could easily prove me wrong.

Gmail's new flat conversation view? I'm pretty sure it's not as friendly for new users struggling with threaded conversations for the first time, but maybe I'm an old fogey.

Clicks on logos no longer taking you to the top page of that site and/or refreshing content? That's just batshit crazy.

And don't even get me started on the eldritch logic that dictates that clicking on the 'News' link from a search result page doesn't carry over the search term, while clicking on 'Images', 'Maps', or 'YouTube' does.

(Update: So much for trying to make the post lower-key by writing it here instead of my blog)
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117 comments
Danny Roa
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I'm seriously puzzled with making the Google logo in GMail not clickable. What was inside the mind of the designer when this decision was made? Defies logic for me.
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i can't recall any convention that clicking on a logo should take user to the site's home page. And the idea that, clicking on it should refresh when already at home page, seems absurd. (speaking as a general web surfer since 1994)

a logo is a logo, identification of the company. Using it also as a indicator of navigation icon doesn't seem right to me.
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in g+, clicking on the logo takes you to the top of the page. That seems crazy to me. This change happened to me about 2 days ago.
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Batshit crazy is right. Agree with all of your points, and as a former Google UX designer, I have a lot of love for the team — but your points are exactly the same as I have raised recently.
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+Xah Lee — for better or worse, this has been the model since the very first web pages. It's an affordance that may not make sense to you, but is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the web. And it costs nothing to support it.
 
I strongly agree with these points as well. Until this post, I thought the Chrome chicklet missing a '+' was a bug. And Gmail has lost many metaphors and common UI interactions in favor or... abstractness? It really doesn't make sense. I don't like a lot of Google UX changes recently.
 
The only reason I could think of, why clicking the Gmail / Google+ logo does not follow standard conventions anymore, is that they want you to use the black navigation bar at the very top. If you use Reader or any other program not included in the standard black bar (but only within a submenu), it becomes a hassle though.

Did anyone find a blog post about this change? What's the intention behind this change?
 
I constantly have to go back to the basic or mobile version of most of Google's apps just to get something done properly. Maybe I'm a relic of the old internet also when I routinely wonder if Google forgot the KISS principle which was so important back then.
 
Interesting: I don't believe I'd ever clicked on the Google logo before, so I didn't even notice that change. The Reader redesign seemed batshit crazy. The black navbar is dumb: navigation should not stand out and draw attentiom. The floating logo bar at the top of G+ is also batshit annoyingly fugly. Does anyone ever read any of the feedback submitted?
 
Also Google Reader: The currently open posting has the exact same grey header as the closed (read) postings before it. But reader redesign probably is beyond repair anyway... :-(
 
I am also very disturbed about the decision to have a non clickable logo that before used to bring you to the gmail home page ie: your inbox page. Now you have to click on Mail and click on Mail below (2 clicks instead of one) or if you are lucky press the back button which is very far on our huge screens now.
This is really really bad usability, how crazy is that and what is wrong with the GMAIL team. They want to introduce changes and harmonize their UI and I understand that but I mean taking such bad decisions and changing what people are used to do for a worst gesture !!! It makes me wanting to find another email provider because I am less and less impressed by the GMAIL UI.
I have another idea for the gmail team: why not to add a ribbon button on the top right side ;-)
 
Clicking on the Google+ logo scrolls the page to the top. Nothing happens when you try the same thing in Gmail.
 
Xah Lee, Tony Hue: in g+ clicking anywhere on the toolbar scrolls up. it's not specific to the google+ logo.
 
Spot on. Initially thought the issue of the + sign disappearing was a display problem on my Mac. Weird!
 
+Kevin Fox what do you think about the Google logo as a menu? I was using that for a while but it seems they've switched me back to the black bar at the top.
 
I'm confused. In both of my accounts, clicking the Gmail logo does exactly as I'd expect. It's a link, as it always has been.

I totally agree about the issue of the new tab button in Chrome though. I thought it was a bug for several days on my Ubuntu boxes until I restarted Chrome in OS X and it had the same issue. To be honest, I still consider it a UI bug, one that they've bizarrely done on purpose.
 
Just some random comments from a guy with no design training or established pedigree in UX...or for that matter, in any other arena of human endeavor.

1. Chrome's "New Tab" button

I truly despise buttons and other mechanical analogs on browsers. Not merely because they strike me as bizarrely nostalgic affectations, but also because I cherish every millimeter of vertical real estate on my display. Thus, anything above the content that's even remotely menubar-ish gets resized, relocated or chucked out, ASAFP.

When it comes to spawn a new tab, then depending on circumstances -- of which there are too many to list, here -- I might use a mouse (context menu or configured button), a multi-gesture touchpad, or even some arcane keystroke combination. And note tat I'm no touch-type whiz; I'm lucky to remember maybe five such combos.

2. GMail's "conversation view"

I'm not qualified to discuss this, at length, preferring to use either my phone or a standalone desktop client.

But if understand your point correctly, I don't see where it's a big deal...at least, not for somebody like me, a non power user with fewer than 100 incoming msgs, daily. One set-up reads pretty much as well as the other and over time, I could use either with no serious problem. My gut feeling is that we're talking about is really just subjective preference, possibly involving force of habit....a reference which neatly dovetails with topic #3.

3. Unlinked logos in GMail & Google+

Ok, I have to admit -- that's odd.

Even so, had I not read your post I might never have noticed this break with tradition. See, I stopped relying on logo-links ages ago, in part because of annoyingly uneven implementation (e.g.: poor markup; SEO parlor tricks) but mostly because there were few times where I really needed to reach a site's mainpage RIGHT NOW. And on the rare occasions when I did, there was usually a handy link somewhere on the extant page (cf: footer).

But your complaint does raise an interesting point: does G+ even have a 'front page'? How about GMail?

4. clicking on the 'News' link from a search result page doesn't carry over the search term, while clicking on 'Images', 'Maps', or 'YouTube' does.

Yeah, what you said. Now that is batshit crazy. :-)
 
Completely agree with the logo link in Gmail. I can't understand why on earth they would do that and break the single place where people click the most on the whole app.
 
The logo thing has really been bothering me - particularly in Google Reader. If you have a long list of feeds in your left column and have scrolled down that list for any reason. Getting to the home screen is unnecessarily laborious cause you have to scroll the area and click the home button. You're also dealing with a much smaller clickable area than the logo - which for the applications (and tasks within those applications) I use over and over again matters a lot.
 
"the 'new tab' chicklet in the Chrome tab bar. Somewhere around Chrome 16 the '+' disappeared from it" - that's funny, up until now I was sure it was a bug
 
Chrome new tab button losing the plus threw me off! I thought it was a software bug! almost intuitive though, you just know thats what it does! :) also, google logo not being clickable is interesting, once clicked where should it take you?? sometimes clickable logos are a last resort in not knowing what to do next, almost a reset button to start again, cant imagine that is something google supports and would be always giving the user a next step.
 
I've lost heart about this kind of thing since google introduced instant search.
 
If they were going to remove the "does something" action, you might think they'd have thought it through far enough to remove the hand pointer cursor on hover on a clickable item (yes, image+handcursor=clickable) that now does nothing. That's just stupid.
 
And the rest of the buttons in GMail do not have hand cursors. They just ever so slightly darken their text and border on hover.
 
Does anyone know the official reasoning behind making the logos unclickable?
 
I find it awfully stupid that they removed the second search box from the bottom of their search results page. Many times i find myself scrolling up to the bottom of the results page just to understand that i need to modify my search terms. In the past there was an input box at the bottom. Now they make me scroll again to the top, and this is just plain stupid.
 
Data point: It had never occurred to me that that diamond-shaped thing top right was a "new tab" button. I thought you could only create tabs from the menu or keyboard.

I kinda feel like Google's UI design team has been flailing around recently. The current ugly mutant cross-breed of new clean header and old black header is a case in point.
 
The redesign and usability suck. Someone needs to be fired and someone with common sense brought back :)
 
I've never been a huge fan of the Gmail UI (sorry Kevin), but I do agree with your criticisms. Clicking a logo to go to top-level of a site is very much a standard design pattern on the web.
 
it's about time Google hire a new UI/UX designer
 
The fact that navigating to Google News removes instead of retains my current query is nuts. It just stopped working one day and I was baffled as to why. Possibly in an attempt to surface more organic news results if the user has taken the time to cur rate their news sources?
 
Any idea what happened to the main search results? The paid links now blend right into the results (no visual seperation). Its very confusing and disconcerting..
 
Agree completely. I noticed the + disappearing too, an unwanted change - not only breaks UX, but as you said, is not at all intuitive to new users. My dad definitely couldn't understand.
 
I agree as well. Funny you should mention the + disappearing. Just a couple weeks ago I noticed there was no plus in the new tab button. I wasn't sure if I just incorrectly remembered it having a + or there really used to be one. I'm not a UX person at all but even I thought... "humm they should probably have a plus there to make it more clear what that is".
 
Not having '+' to having '+' is making user experience better. Not doing anything (whether there was a '+' before or not) is not disrupting user experience (nor making it better). But why would one go from '+' to 'none' - not saving space, not making it faster, not making it easier. In short, why would you break if something doesn't even need a fix.
 
I'll preface this by saying that overall I do love the new unified design trend.

1. Agree. The blank chiclet is weird and looks/feels unfinished.

2. Disagree. I find the new way Gmail handles conversations to be totally intuitive and just about perfect, a huge improvement on something that was already great. Really love the way things collapse now. I was just today admiring it while wading through some big old threads searching for stuff.

3. Agree and Disagree. Not being able to click on the Google+ logo is weird. But to be fair, you can't click on the identically-placed Google logo in other products, and in those cases this doesn't feel awkward because the Google logo doesn't represent the name of the product, but of the company. It seems this is saying that Google+ should be seen not as a Google product, but as Google itself, and that the + is going to be dropped soon enough. Which is all very interesting.

I think you have to keep the long game in mind here.
 
Agreed on all counts, although the "clicking on news doesn't carry over the search term" is by far the most annoying for me, personally.
 
Hi Kevin. I can speak to the conversation view changes in Gmail. We tested a pretty wide array of Gmail users in multiple studies and these changes consistently tested quite well. Part of the design intention was to make email feel more lightweight, personal, and conversational; more like chat, less like a stack of letters on a desk. My personal belief is that what you called the flat expand-contract conversational design pattern is now ubiquitous and sufficiently ingrained that it no longer needs to be modeled on a physical analog to be understandable even to first time users. If this design was creating a problem we would have seen that problem in our usability studies, our user satisfaction metrics, or our new account retention metrics.

All I can say about the logo behavior is that the google-wide headers are still a work in progress and that we have some more work to do.
 
Ever worse, for a few days, the hovering on the logo actually popped down a menu. This drove me absolutely nuts because it made me realize how often I was clicking on this logo to refresh or go back to the main inbox. This behavior is now gone. Actually, all behavior is now gone. Since the Gmail UX team is so unpredictable, I have reconditioned myself to click on the Inbox label (on top of the `gi` shortcut), which seems to be the only safe way to go back to the inbox, until the Gmail team finally agrees on where they want to go.
 
Thanks so much +Jason Cornwell for the reply. I hesitated even writing the post because I do respect a great deal of what you're doing with Gmail. Naturally, with no knowledge of the design iterations tested I can't comment intelligently on the positive or negative impact of altering the stacking affordance, and user retention statistics and self-reported satisfaction Likert numbers don't tell us about the user's emotional relationship to the product, but then neither does an ex-designer blogging about changes.

You raise a good point about norms having changed in the last 8 years, and maybe the handholding isn't as important as it once was, but a touch now and then, using color to give the user a cue as to whether they're in their inbox or a search result, for example, can help a user feel a bit more at home in an experience than having to check if none of the items in the left hand nav are red.

As for clickable logos, I understand that there's a lot of work being done on Google's global navigation, and I'm happy that Google is rolling out pieces so that they can get real world feedback on it, but not all feedback comes from logfile analysis, and I hope my more explicit feedback is valuable. As I've had the opportunity to mention on Google+ just last week, I'm proud that Google has the humility to admit that they aren't always right and that they do alter the plan when the plan seems to be wrong: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/update-on-google-bar.html
 
This comment thread is a good reminder of the value of G+.
 
Has anyone any insight into the new vertical scrollbars? I find these very irritating to use on a laptop. Perhaps they were designed for tablet use?
 
Good points, +Jason Morrow. Yeah, the Audi analogy was a bit rushed. As a driver of many cars though, you must appreciate the consistency of design, and don't have to find the turn signal inexplicably missing from one model.
 
+Kevin Fox please don't hesitate to write posts like this. I very much like to get feedback on our ideas - positive or negative. As long as it is constructive and not the "I just hate this how can I get rid of this?" type comment.

And we are very actively reviewing the new conversation design, iterate over ideas, have user studies... After all, this is one of the key pieces of Gmail (thanks to you!) and we are very much aware that we can screw things up badly here if we are not careful.
 
+Kevin Fox here is right, right, right and for an added bonus is right at the end too!
Thank you so much for voicing what has been bugging a lone Google user with some insightful writing and hopefully some weight.
Simplify everything too much and you are left with a pretty but useless shell.
Will Google be pushing for one button mice next?! ;-)
 
I'm glad I'm not going crazy. I KNEW that clicking on the Google+ logo used to work. That's been bugging me.

I think the chicklet button is okay, but a plus sign should appear on it when you hover over it. I'm guessing they dropped the plus do to confusion with their Google+ branding.
 
Wow, unlinked Gmail logo. Now I pity the fool who accidentally got into a "Contact" view, but can't figure out how to get back to emails.
 
Hey Kevin, I'm on the Chrome UI team. We did user testing around getting rid of the "+" icon inside the New Tab button, because we were worried about the same thing you are. We found users had no problems using the new UI -- it wasn't any more confusing or difficult than before.

(For clarity, I want to note that this isn't a statement about whether existing users who noticed the change would think it was intentional -- as comments above note, a small number of our users assumed this was a bug -- but rather about whether the UI is usable.)
 
+Peter Kasting Shouldn't users have to find the change less confusing or easier in order to justify a change? Neutral results don't sound like much of an endorsement.
 
+Peter Kasting This kind of first-hand feedback is exactly why I chose to post this on G+ instead of my blog. Thanks.
 
+Peter Sinnott it's a fine line to walk. Yes, there should be always something positive for the user. But sometimes apps just become too cluttered (because we keep adding stuff to it). And if such cleanup work is neutral that is good enough.
Sometimes we make incremental changes, where the real benefit is only at the end (but to make the whole change at once would be too jarring). Again, if the incremental changes are viewed as neutral that's good enough.
And on top of that, we have to work against the natural change aversion: people (including myself!) just don't like change. So, any change is - at least initially - regarded negatively.
 
I never said users didn't find the change appealing in other ways. (In fact we specifically got positive feedback from people who found the change "cleaner".)

But this misses a larger point. IMO, good design does not consist of blindly putting every possibility in front of users and doing whatever you think the metrics say. Good design involves have a clear and consistent vision for the product which is then informed by user input, not enslaved to it.

In this case as in many others, the reason we made the change was because we as the design team felt it was cleaner and less visually noisy. We then tested to make sure we were not harming users in the process. But the critical factor was whether the change was consistent with our vision for the product.

I think Chrome as a whole shows a remarkable design consistency and focus that Google products as a whole have not always had. I don't think that's an accident. It's a direct result of a process that uses a small group of consistent leaders, rather than endless end-user trials of everything, to make decisions.

In the end you must listen carefully to what your users tell you and make sure you understand it, but balance that against your own goals and vision when the two conflict. Sometimes users' minds change over time. Sometimes people don't fully understand what they're doing, what problems they have, what works well for them. Sometimes something that initially seems scary later becomes common practice.

Over our history we've gotten lots of initial negative feedback on many Chrome decisions that we stuck by and that later seemed to be validated by our user community and the rest of the browser vendors. And of course there have also been cases where we've initially stuck with decisions that really were wrong, or where we've tried something and pretty quickly seen that it's just plain not going to work. Knowing the difference isn't always easy, but that's why they pay us.
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I agree with every point raised. I think the most troubling aspect of this is the speed of experimenting with these things. It seems that a slew of features and changes get rolled out all at once and rarely are these decisions refined if they depart from the initial vision.

Another case in point is the sharing feature in Google Reader. Now users must "+1" it. Okay, how do I access stuff that I plus-ed in Reader? How do I share stuff from Reader and not all my +1 links? Google+ is all about social but I don't see how making Reader anti-social contributes to this overall goal. I used to be able to have Google Reader friends but now I need to plus them into a circle or something and it still doesn't approach what we had.

This new direction Google is heading towards is a complicated beast. Yet a lot of us prefer simple interfaces for amazing functionality where the superficial complexity is hidden or translated elegantly into visually intuitive UI. Not to mention the fact that we all now have an "all your eggs in one basket" problem since all Google products are integrated around your Gmail account including search history.
 
+Peter Kasting After reading your comment, I imagined the + back on the new tab button, and sure enough, I think I would find it too busy-looking now. Go figure.
 
Don't you guys think that's a preparation for complete removal of Google logo from Gmail page?
 
I hate the black bar of sadness that follows me around to all my Google-ness! It's one of the first things you see. They could have atleast made it a Google-y blue or red! I agree that it's 'bat shit crazy' that the logo is not clickable.
 
I just wanted to add a bit more color to what +Peter Kasting said - if you imagine that we never had the plus on the tab, what would make us add it? It would have to be a improvement in some metric or user response as the plus is pretty ugly and doesn't fit with the rest of our UI. So far we've found no difference between behaviors with and without the plus, and users who are new to Chrome (and never got used to it) don't really think it's an issue, nor did it appear to make a difference to whether they understood what the button does. It seems like the only people for whom the plus means anything are those who got used to it, and we realize that the change sucks for them, but all our experience has shown that people get used to it, and we think it's better.

As a large product, change aversion is the biggest enemy we face, and to overcome it, we often approach changes like these from the stance of "what would we do if we were building a browser from scratch?" or (as above) "if the new change was in place and accepted, would we change it to what we have today?". We're trying to sculpt Chrome down to the perfect browser, and sometimes that means making painful consistency changes in aid of that long-term vision. While we want to minimize disruption for existing users, most people on earth haven't used Chrome, and we have to make the best and most awesome browser possible for them.
 
Just an end user so I can't say I'm qualified to add to the discussion. But another thing that I found very weird is the Gmail dropdown. Looks like for some reason the redesign stopped right there. Contacts and Tasks are completely undiscoverable in the new UX. There is plenty of real estate to put 3 buttons instead of this dropdown and not only make the functionality more discoverable but also switching to contacts a lot faster. A mystery as to why they chose to do it like that....
 
I noticed the gmail logo click disappear but was on a similar understanding as +Jeff Pelton in thinking that this was a necessary step in removing the top black navigation bar and having a common Google logo become the base for a drop-down menu to navigate to the other products. The change was shown in the November blog post about the redesign http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/next-stage-in-our-redesign.html
We do seem to be in a halfway house at the moment though. My Google+ notification icon and account options have moved down into the grey search bar but the black bar still remains. I suspect that there may be some other products which still need some tweaking in order to be aligned in some way before they can flick the big switch and make that the common Google logo the new drop-down menu across all products and remove the black bar for everyone. Unless of course they have done a U-turn on that part of the redesign!

Although I notice its departure I am not feeling any great loss, if I am using Gmail through a browser then I am generally using a computer with a keyboard so find a quick press of G then I gets me back to the Inbox in a snap (make sure keyboard shortcuts are switched on) and F5 (or the dedicated refresh button on a Chromebook) work very well for a refresh.
 
What was done to Mail / Contacs / Tasks is a CRIME and heads should roll. Whoever combined that into one drop-down menu essentially killed off both services and should be ashamed of himself. It was a bad bad call.

Another issue with Google now is that most 'new features' are shoved down the throats with very limited test groups.. and without giving people the choice. Why not just make all those very cosmetic changes with possibility of choice between drop-down menu vs black bar and separate buttons?
And who came up with sorting of services in black bar??? Gmail is 7th? music, reader, photos hidden in drop-down??? WTF!!!

Gmail was great up until someone began listening to Stevie Jobs and axed 'LABS"
 
I AGREE!!!! "Clicks on logos no longer taking you to the top page of that site and/or refreshing content?"
im furious about that!!!!! GRGRGRGRGRGRG, Its a force of habit by now, and still find myself clicking it trying to refresh my gmail.
 
i still click the logo try to get back to 'top'...
 
I agree with all the points. But the News not carrying over the search term... For me it does carry over. Maybe Google changed that behavior recently?
 
I also don't like pagination. Which makes me ill while struggling to navigate within 100 of pages. It should have been like Facebook's auto updating scrolls.
 
I agree with all the points here. I especially agree with the conversation piece in Gmail and how they no longer attach the "reply" links to the current conversation. The bit about the logo, however, I think that we are just use to this action because of conditioning. Some time ago someone thought that the logo should be the link to the "Home" page and remove the "Home" link from the navigation. In turn everyone was then conditioned to use the logo for the "Home" page or top level page. That's just my two cents. :)
 
After some thinking about it,

Unlinked logos in GMail & Google+
It actually might be a good idea (in the long run).

There's already a button for going "Home" which is what clicking Google+ icon used to do. But now that it's unliked, it's safer to click randomly. Less "hot zones." For example, if you open the notifications menu, then you wanna close it, you click somewhere. By unlinking the Google+ icon, it provides more safe place to click without doing some unintended action.
 
"Clicks on logos no longer taking you to the top page of that site and/or refreshing content? That's just batshit crazy." this is how i feel.
 
About "new tab" button: what's strange is that it doesn't even have a tooltip. They should've at least offered that.
 
I recently returned to Chrome after having not used it for a couple of versions and the bloody chiclet drove me nuts for the first couple of hours. Depending upon the colour scheme, theme, add-ons, screen size, resolution, etc. it's near impossible to see as it's merely a small outline sitting there a little too unobtrusively (IMO). Once I saw it, realized what it was & where to locate it all was good but I still have a difficult time seeing it at times depending upon circumstances. Additionally, there doesn't appear to be any sort of tooltip when hovering over it.

Sure, it brightens to indicate there is an action associated with it but no tooltip to let you know what that action might be. Will it open a new tab, collapse all my open tabs, save them to a stack or perhaps send them to an alternate reality where we are commanded by action buttons instead of commanding them? Oh the possibilities.

The new Gmail conversation view is similarly annoying for all the reasons you mention in addition to some of those I mentioned in regards to the Chrome. For the past several months I have been working from a smartphone, netbook or notebook for reasons of mobility or due to location and the colours (white followed by shades of grey - even using the High Contrast theme which has no effect on the message panes) don't provide much contrast, making it sometimes a little dicey to see that 'sweet spot' in the middle indicating that there are 1 or 2 older messages and I should expand it. Minor annoyance and easily solved by my poking about but seems rather needless.

Before someone comments, yes, I'm an old bird and I wear reading glasses however I'm far from being unable to work without them. I also know how to optimize my various video configurations for visibility, etc.

The whole logo link thing leaves me mostly speechless and I can't imagine how or what would bring about such a change. I have seen remarkably little hue and cry over the change however, far less than I would have expected.

Clearly several someones were asleep at the wheel on the News link. I usually use the sidebar links from the main search site so hadn't yet noticed this but now that I have it will be a source of amusement and wonder that neither testing nor quality control detected this.
 
i agree with all your points, but the one that personally irritates me the most is not carrying over search terms to the news search. a lot of times i just google news keywords, hoping the appropriate news will be in one of the articles a standard google search puts at the top of the results. but if it doesn't or i want to dive into a story deeper, then i will click on the news tab...and now i have to re-enter my terms! that's lame.
 
+Kevin Fox Wow. I am admittedly a big fan of googles products but I didn't think of the significance of what you mentioned until now. Particularly with the logo on the top left. Google has redesigned there top bar three times in the last few months and I have to say I just don't like the current iteration. What I think would be cool is if, like you said, clicking would take you to the top level or refresh but also, instead of the ugly top black bar, to just put the swirly google logo on the top center. When you hover over it, all the google properties explode out of it like a fan and can easily be clicked on. People like animations and this one would look really cool.

+Jason Cornwell I also have a few ideas for chrome. Hide the url and search bar by default. When the cursor is moved to the top of the screen, it appears. For bookmarks, again hidden. When you move your mouse to the left most portion of the screen, they fly out in a similar fan to what I described earlier.
 
I am using chrome since 1.0 but, even I found the removal of '+' sign very weird and uncomfortable. And new gmail is design is real pathetic.. Agreed to all the points made...
 
The chicklet thing threw me for a loop...for a sec, but I caught one. I do agree that the non-clickable logos are absurd. You articulate the argument well enough for me to only say: +1.
 
Had a few insights that I had to share. Great post and so good to see the Google teams stepping in to clarify and expound on this thread.

I am not sure exactly what this new "feature" is called that has your name, # of posts on Google+, Share button, and avatar on a bar across the top of the screen and under the "Black Bar". It is a horrible change IMHO. I had a cool wall paper that I was using on both my desktop and as a background for the main Google page. Now that this new bar has been added, along with shading that runs across the entire length of the page, it has trashed my happy Google homepage. I thought I could add a screen shot to show this but I cannot see how or if you can do that. Maybe disallowed. Here is a screen shot of my personalized Google hompage since the change. http://goo.gl/f5Vav

Could those items be added to the "Black Bar" that has plenty of space on the right side for these items? I would think that would be an easy fix or give me a settings option to do so While you are at it give me the option for choosing the drop list Google menu or the "Black Bar" for navigation. Taking vertical space is a no-no as others have stated in this thread. Especially a problem on a netbook or a tablet.

The Google logo not going anywhere is nothing I had noticed. The plus for new tab in chrome I noticed but had no feelings about. Search items not carrying over into News is a huge mistake. Conversations in GMail are not that big of a deal to me.
 
I don't think any of the changes you pointed out here really bother or affect me as a user. I think that users should have no problem adapting to or figuring out how to make their way through the different products; however, I do fully agree that not carrying your search terms to the news link is preposterous! I have encountered this issue numerous times, having to retype my search in every instance. It's just annoying and inconvenient.
 
The non-clickable logo is a shame. I have to workaround this every day. I have formed a habit not only in Gmail to click a logo just as Kevin describes, but all other services. Google - change this back immediately or post your rationale for the change. I'm sure the rationale behind changing the logo function and look is excellent, but the result for UX is painful. Your existing users will feel this pain and start noticing other flaws in Gmail they aren't comfortable with based on this massive flaw. I, for one, started searching for other things that changed, or as Kevin specifies, Google messed up, consequently from the non-clickable logo. This red flag made me question Gmail's direction. I hope you make the right decision.
 
Love the article!
Actually surprised you didn't mention the horrible always changing debacle of YouTube
 
+Peter Kasting "it wasn't any more confusing or difficult than before." So it was simply change for the sake of change then as it neither added to usability nor allegedly detracted from same? Have you never heard the adage "if it ain't broke don't fix it"?
 
+Graham Scholton We experimented with hiding the toolbar in a way similar to what you describe. It didn't work well, for a variety of reasons, e.g. less protection against spoof sites when you can't see the URL.

+Patricia Morris You didn't read my (or Glen's) comments clearly enough. Removing the "+" was most definitely not change for the sake of change.
 
+Peter Kasting , didn't think of the spoof sites. Would it be possible to add it as an option in the settings though? Another one that would be a good use for this is to hide the bookmark bar until hover over. Right now I either have to have it take up screen real estate (which I do because I use it a lot) or not have it at all.
 
+Peter Kasting +Glen Murphy etal, my issue isn't so much with the lack of the + in the new tab button, rather it's the poor visibility of the thing in the name of making all things more visually appealing. Unfortunately, as I've previously pointed out in this discussion, dependent upon a number of factors, that little chiclet has a tendency to be far too nondescript. Sure, I could try to remember Ctrl-T amidst a sea of other shortcut keys I struggle to remember throughout my day or maybe you could consider that it needs to be more visible or have a tooltip popup associated with it for such a purpose.

I truly pity those who have visual impairments because I don't believe Googlespace will be the place that will work to accommodate them.
 
+Peter Kasting Not so, Peter. I read both yours & Glen's postings thoroughly and understood your reasonings as being predominately to visually streamline the UI and because it fit in with Google's design philosophies.

I submit however that you're not reading or understanding my posts that I don't care about the absence of the + symbol but rather the impact its loss has on the overall visibility of the button.

While having things unobtrusive, nay invisible until explicitly hovered over would be very visually appealing it wouldn't be very user friendly, especially for aging or visually impaired users or almost anyone else.

Some of the recent changes have had the effect of making functions less visible to the user. Obviously that was the intended effect. Rather than restate what I've already posted please read my original post regarding the changes and how they are affected by themes, addons, extensions, resolutions, etc.

I understand that given the infinite number of combinations Google has no control over much of this, however they can control the combinations of colours used within their own themes, addons, extensions and how or where they are applied and perhaps minimize such issues.
 
I can't agree more. These design decisions make little sense to me, and confused me at first. I also don't like the white transparent bar under the black bar on the main google page. I know it's highlighting my signed in status, but it just looks terrible.
 
Here i thought my chrome versions were corrupted and thats why i had no + in the new tab button. I agree with all 3 of your points, every website i design you click the logo it goes to the homepage, its like that all over the web its basically unwritten rule #1 of web design
 
I have submitted feedback to Google pointing out a laundry list of problems with their recent changes to the Gmail and GoogleDocs UI.
These include:

* Sacrificing clarity (text-on-buttons) for buttons with new icons on them that we'll have to learn. (slows people down)
* Dropping most colour and desaturating the remaining colours so that most areas of the screen look the same. (requiring the user to actually look at the controls instead of being able to tell at a glance what they're for)
* Dropping lines that delineated sections of content.
* Enormous amounts of white space which serve no other purpose than to let them point at the screen and say "look: clean interface", with the result of a far lower density of information.
* Instead of graying buttons that are not usable, they now disappear with the result that buttons move around on the page instead of always being in the same place.
* Drop down ("combo") boxes that no longer have a rectangle around them, so the "down arrow" on the right, and the text on the left no longer appear connected to each other.
* Swapping between "Gmail" and "Contacts" is now a drop-down menu instead of buttons, requiring a click-move-click instead of a single click.

IMHO this slavish devotion to a "clean interface" look has reduced the usability and efficiency of the Google Experience considerably.

You can no longer tell "at a glance" what any given screen element's functionality is. (previously you could)

/end rant
 
A bunch of complaints I've always had. Though I'm fine with the + being gone from Chrome, it makes my head spin that the + free chicklet came out of beta the exact same week that Chrome for Android came out with a +New Tab button, which destroys consistency...
 
I made my own Google+ post a few days ago ranting about the non-clickable logos. I'm glad to see someone with a lot more design expertise than me has a similar opinion.

After thinking about it a little more, I'm guessing part of the reason behind the non-clickable logo might be related to what logo is now displayed on the page. Formerly, every Google product had its own logo (often the word "Google" with the name of the product as a subscript). When that was the case, a user's intent when clicking the logo was pretty unambiguous - when they clicked on the logo they probably wanted to go to the home page for that product.

Now everything that uses the new toolbar style (with the exception of Google+) seems to use an unadorned Google logo. It's no longer as clear what a user expects to happen when they click on that logo. Do they want to go to the current product's main page, or do they want to go to the http://google.com/ search page?
 
"And don't even get me started on the eldritch logic that dictates that clicking on the 'News' link from a search result page doesn't carry over the search term, while clicking on 'Images', 'Maps', or 'YouTube' does."

It works if you click on "News" on the left as opposed to the top bar. Basically, Google has taught me never to click on any of the top bar links because the behavior there is usually undesirable or unpredictable. I might as well create a Adblock Plus rule to hide it altogether.
 
I figured the missing "+" was a result of my using a dark theme. I also find the new GMail design frustrating. It feels a little nicer, but I agree about the conversations. I feel like no one doing these new designs are really using them. Far less usable with keyboards (especially scrolling). And if I could "L"ike a post before in Google Reader, why not make the +1 use the same "L" convention? There's no way to use your keyboard and like/+1 a post.

As for Google+, by fixing the bar at the top and not including "Google" in the bar, it's as if I'm on "+James" instead of "Google" or "Google+". Perhaps I'm a purist, but I think that the website's logo should be the absolute first thing in the top left of a L-to-R layout and it should be clickable. (MSNBC makes me hunt for theirs, too. The MSN logo top left is like a bait-and-switch.)
 
What gets me the most? From the Android Developer Guide:

http://developer.android.com/design/patterns/pure-android.html
"Platforms typically provide a carefully designed set of UI elements that are themed in a very distinctive fashion. For example, some platforms advocate rounded corners for their buttons, others use gradients in their title bars. In some cases, elements may have the same purpose, but are designed to work a bit differently.

As you build your app for Android, don't carry over themed UI elements from other platforms and don't mimic their specific behaviors."

And yet that's exactly what the GMail App on iOS has done. I've never used an Android but I have read through that entire document (because it's brilliant) and the iOS Gmail App looks like it would be right at home on an Android device. But on an iPhone, it just feels heavy, flat and dark. I feel I use the app less (even though it's much more powerful than the built-in Mail app) because it requires the mental effort of adjusting my brain.

Google might do well to learn from Microsoft's "Design Align" efforts (apparently still early on in their process?) to shore up consistency in design and usability.
 
I kind of like the + being gone. We are at a point in computer UX permeation in the world that people will inherently understand why or how things work based on a number of things like location for example.
 
+Doug Tooley On the white space issue, you do know that you can adjust the density view, right? [Compact] mode is so dense that it is even more efficient than the old Gmail theme. But I agree that inactive buttons should be grayed out instead of removed, as it kills muscle memory. But the overall redesign is good. Remember, Google is trying to emphasize content over chrome.
+James Lamb Seriously? You're bitching that Google offers a Gmail client at all for iOS? Come back when Apple releases iTunes or iCloud for Android.
 
Of all the stupid things,clicking logo and going nowhere or top of the page is the worst UX.
 
+Kevin Fox , +Jason Cornwell , I think the new conversation view is great.
The only thing bothers me is why it doesn't cut the messages at right place when the user got a signature and a mixed RTL and LTR text.
Once that bug is vanished, the new look would be pretty good.
 
+Kevin Fox Very nicely written and I couldn't agree more on omission of the + sign from the new tab. You rightly pointed out that people who are using Chrome for long know where to click ( or use keyboard shortcut) to launch the new tab. My friend (not a tech-savvy) finally shifted to using Chrome after me insistently asking to make the switch. I was on phone with her and told her to open a new tab and type the URL. The conversation goes as follows:

Friend: How do i open the new tab?
Me: It's very simple, you have the + sign near the open tab and just click it, it will open the tab.
Friend: I dont see that + button on the top.
Me: It's there just look carefully.
Friend: Nope.
Me: (Goes back to Chrome and see if the + is there. Realize its gone. I didnt even realize the change because I am so use to keyboard shortcuts but its not same for new users) Well, seems like they made the change. OK Now, move mouse to the top left corner of the screen, slowly move to right, you would see small grey box which is looking differently from the rest of the tabs. When you move your mouse over it, you would see "new tab" option. Just click it.
Friend: I see the box now, but no text appears. Should I click it?
Me: Yeah that is the button (realizing the tooltip is also gone).

I must say I was tempted to tell her the keyboard shortcut, but I want to tell sometimes having small things like a + sign is indicative to first-timers if not for people who been using Chrome from day 1 of its launch because more and more people are beginning to use it. In IE9, there is no + sign but if you move the mouse over to the button it shows an image (and tooltip) of new page which is indicative.
 
I was thinking the same exact thing about carrying over the search term while clicking on news. It's especially frustrating when I'm using my blackberry (i know old school) because the web browser is sub-par and I have to wait again for the page to load with my term. Great post.
 
Very good critique! Like many others, I thought the missing + to add a tab was a bug waiting to be fixed or my mac doing a weird display thing. For a novice user, it would be much harder to figure out what is going on. Some conventions are established because users like the convenience of not having to think and guess every step. Messing with them just messes up the flow. Don't even get me started on Gmail!
 
+Graham Scholton No. No. No! Sorry, but I'm getting nauseous just thinking about the animations you envision. I have severe vertigo that severely limits my online time. Adding a bunch of animations such as you envision, to a tool I use the most, would send me offline forever.
 
The new tab chicklet looks nicer from a design standpoint but I agree completely that new users will not be familiar with it's function. One solution to this that I hope Google implements would be the plus sign to reappear in soft contrast when moused-over. This would appease both new, and established Chrome users.

Gmail feels as though it has made obvious UI sacrifices to make it easier to use with touch interfaces; most notably the conversation stack. Comparing old and new, it now takes twice as much space to view the same conversation.

Regarding the logos; I'd be very interested to hear from someone who thought this was a good idea. I sincerely hope this is just a temporary problem brought on by reverting back to the black bar UI.
 
I think so. It takes time to find out where to click to go back Gmail home when I am reading lot of e-mails.
It is not comfortable. I have never thought that google does such an absurd thing like this.
"Lastly, the new Gmail and Google+ 'clicking on the logo does nothing' behavior seems just absurd. Nothing this significant could have actually gotten pushed out without a huge internal conversation about it, with one side saying it's stupid and the other side thinking about how they just didn't understand the bigger picture and would get used to it."
 
Agree it the Chrome thing looks a bit odd without the +. My guess is that they removed it so as not to confuse with Google+ or the +1 mechanic. It's possible?
 
+Peter Kasting +Jason Cornwell +Mark Striebeck I appreciate the engagement shown in this thread. I want to add a user testing point from my own experience, though -- user resistance to change is correlated to user satisfaction. The "general rule" that users resist change assumes that users are generally satisfied. Users who are dissatisfied will sometimes favor any change.

Just look at the referendum process in the state of California for plenty of evidence: Dissatisfied voters will grasp at practically any stupid idea, if it can just get on the ballot.
 
During the past 12 years, i spent a significant fraction of that time was devoted to UX. I spent a lot of time designing and re-designing the UI to ensure that the user experience was as comfortable as possible (a rarity in information systems). So, I feel fully qualified to state this: the new GMail interface is a disaster.

The logo is no longer clickable, which runs against all web conventions and destroys a logical UI feature (easily return to inbox with one click) for no good reason.

The bizarre Gmail button drop-down list hides ESSENTIAL functionality, such as managing the contacts list. In today's integrated world, the contacts list is no longer something that people rarely visit. My multiple Android devices all depend on this contact list and I refer to it all the time to add new contact information, as do other people I know. It NEEDS to be more obvious. Furthermore, if your selection only includes three options, drop-down list is not the control you want to use. Drop-down lists are for 5-20 articles, and I don't see Google adding that many options to this particular list in the foreseeable future (unless they want to end up with another UI fiasco, like the one that caused them to return to the top black bar).

And we now come to the insanity that is the read message screen. Aside from reading the message, this screen should provide the options to do something with the message - label it, archive it, forward it, reply to it, add the sender to contacts, and so on.

There are no less than FIVE distinct menus that appear on this screen. That's right, five. Some are contextual, some are not. Pretty much all of them are completely redundant and can be easily merged into two key menus ("Do stuff with the message" and "Do stuff with the contact").

1. The button menu on top of the conversation tree, featuring what are probably the least intuitive icons I have seen in my entire life (see rant below).
2. The More menu, which adds another 8 options (why there is a drop-down menu when there is plenty of screen real estate to show those as buttons as well on practically every resolution currently in use is a mystery to me; perhaps the "artist" who designed the icons (see rant below) ran out of ideas?
3. The three icons in the top right corner of the conversation tree.
4. The whole slew of options to deal with the contacts on the right hand side IN ADDITION to the options that appear when you hover over the contact's name (again with the dreaded More button).
5. The drop down menu in the top right corner of the currently displayed message.


Icons that represent various operations are completely non-intuitive. I tested this by showing the icons to a sample of my users who don't use Gmail and asking them what they thought they represented. The ONLY one they got was the delete option. Seriously, guys, fire the "graphic designer" who devised this set of icons, he'd be better off making abstract art somewhere else; he certainly has no business designing icons. Oh, and the option to add text to the icons should be a no-brainer for many reasons, most of which have to with accessibility (which Google has apparently not heard of), but wasn't included.

There was another MAJOR deal-breaker which was apparently fixed recently: after typing a reply, you have to move your mouse ABOVE the message to send it (or discard it, or save it). Seriously, guys? Fortunately, the Send, Save, and Discard button are now included below the message as well. Save is depreciated, but that's OK, even if it does nothing, the users expect to see it so it should stay.

I could continue but I just don't see the point. The whole interface basically needs to be trashed and redesigned from the ground up.
 
+Maria Stone They just redesigned and moved it. There's a tiny dropdown triangle inside the search box on the right. The redesigned dialog is nice (I never got around to revving the original).
 
I love Gmail. It's just getting better and better.
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