Tuesday, March 1, 2011

review: new gmail toolbar

last month, google very quietly introduced a new toolbar for gmail.

new gmail toolbar

the update presented two drop-down menus in place of the standard "sign out" and "settings" links. the settings/utilities menu, pictured below, offers a nicely compact grouping of all the settings you might desire to view and change.

new settings/utilities menu

it includes the standard mail settings (and help), as well as access to gmail labs and your google account settings. all in all, most everything one would hope for in a utilities menu. use of the "gear" image in place of a text label keeps the design clean while leaving it open for them to continue adding other useful items there.

the second menu they've added is somewhat of a mystery to me.

questionable new menu

in place of the simple link to sign out, we now have a drop-down of questionable utility. it provides links to your google profile and a link to sign out at the bottom. this seems to be a pretty poor move to me, from a usability perspective - asking users to take an additional step to complete a simple task like signing out is ill-advised, and i wonder why they would have done so without so much as a warning. we may have moved away from doing everything "within three clicks," but signing out should always be fast and easy. asking users to click twice to sign out will likely discourage them from doing so at all, and the pessimist in me fears that gmail accounts everywhere will be left open on public computers. i hope i'm wrong.

it looks as though perhaps they have some other purpose in mind for the menu. if, for example, they intend to allow users to manage multiple accounts in that way, then the addition of this menu makes sense.

i'm an avid google user and fan, to say the least, and i've loved many of the things they've introduced. the new gmail toolbar is sleek, with a pleasing design that makes good use of the little space it occupies, but i worry that google may have sacrificed usability for the sake of beauty.

in short: new gmail toolbar = pretty with questionable usability