By Harry McCracken | Friday, July 1, 2011 at 12:51 pm
Almost every week is a big week for Google news–but this one has been particularly jam-packed. There’s Google+, its pretty cool answer to Facebook. There’s the refreshed Google home page. There are rumors that it’s interested in buying Hulu.
But my favorite Google news of the week is an item that doesn’t sound all that explosive: it released a couple of new themes for Gmail. I’m using one of them now. All it does is to give Gmail a bit of the new look that’s also visible in Google+ and the revised home page. And that turns out to be a big deal.
I’ve written–probably too often–about my love/hate relationship with Gmail. The hate part mostly relates to the interface, which has long been so crowded with stuff–both important and annoying irrelevant–that using the service sometimes feels like reading a Where’s Waldo book.
The new themes only do so much. They don’t strip out the feature overload, or even more items around much. (They do, however, move the horizontal text ad from the top to the bottom.) Other than tweaks to the color scheme, the main thing that’s new is more white space. A lot of it–on my MacBook Air, I can see fourteen items in the inbox without scrolling, vs. 25 lines using the default look.
Here’s Google’s sample screenshot:
It makes a huge difference in readability and the ability to find items without any hide-and-seek. I can feel my eyeballs smiling every time I use it.
Anyone who’s ever worked at a magazine knows that white space makes things far more legible. (Or at least should: I don’t know how many hours of my life as a magazine editor I spent listening to art people advocating for more white space, and writers arguing for more text.) Google surely knows that white space is important–its iconic home page is iconic in part because the company wisely chose to devote almost all of it to unoccupied space.
Google’s blog post on the themes says that “The changes are not going to happen all at once” and that they will “strip out unnecessary clutter.” I take that as meaning that the makeover won’t just be cosmetic–it will also involve reducing the sheer volume of fripperies that Gmail involves, or at least allowing us to turn them on and off. I can’t wait.