Gmail’s New Look: What You Can Expect

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on November 9, 2011

Do you use Gmail? Your email account is about to get a makeover. Google is transitioning all user accounts a “cleaner, more modern” interface design in the coming weeks.  If you’re chomping at the bit to convert now, simply log in and click on the “Switch to the new look” link that appears at the lower right corner of the screen.

Once you make the switch, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that the old blue background now defaults to a white one. If you prefer more pizzazz, don’t fret: You can choose your own theme. Google has enhanced and updated its selection to include high-resolution images, which are accessible from the Settings drop-down menu.

Here’s what else you can expect from Gmail’s overhaul — and how to make the most of it.

Gmail on any device. In a recent blog post, Google explained that this redesign is intended to minimize clutter, bring conversations to the forefront of visibility, and make using Gmail from anywhere a seamless experience — whether you’re checking email from a smartphone, a tablet device, or a desktop or laptop computer. “Display density” of your inbox has been adjusted to create more “airy space,” and the spacing will automatically adjust to accommodate different devices and screen sizes. (If you dislike the new look, you can manually choose your own spacing from the Settings drop-down menu).

Toolbar changes. The revamped Gmail toolbar is simpler, with functions often represented by icons instead of text descriptions. For example, to reply to an email, you click on a button with a return arrow on it. (If you find yourself at a loss for what an icon does, mouse over it for an explanation.) The toolbar is also more customizable: You may expand or hide the chat and label fields and scroll through them using the directional arrow keys on your keyboard.

Inbox prioritization. You can now sort pressing and unimportant emails using the “importance tag,” which appears to the left of the subject line of each incoming message, without opening any messages to apply the tag.

Conversation flows. Graphics have been removed from conversation flows to make it easier to “follow” a series of emails between the same sender and receiver. A sender’s image, if they’ve uploaded a file or you’ve assigned them one, also appears next to their message.

Advanced search. Search features — now indicated by a magnifying glass icon — have been enhanced, allowing you to apply filters, such as “has the words” or “doesn’t have,” and to indicate whether the email has an attachment.