The new desktop Gmail design launched this weekend. If you’re using the default theme, you’ll know it’s arrived when the entire Gmail interface turns blue. Gmail’s new design first entered an activation preview in February, and after gathering feedback and fixing a few things, Google is pushing the design out at all. Everyone doesn’t like changes to Gmail, so let’s talk about what’s different and how to get it back.
Some things have changed between now and the February preview. The most striking change is the all-blue color scheme. The Google blog post says, “You will notice that the new navigation now includes Material You, our updated and fresh look for your Google apps.” “Material You” launched with Android 12 as a color-coordinated theme system that matched your OS’s color scheme with the wallpaper. However, there is no color match with Gmail’s “Material You”, only the blue color scheme.
Gmail still has a theme system, so you can change the color however you like. Click on the settings cog at the top right and then in the “theme” section, click on “view all”. The wallpaper closest to the old Gmail is the “soft gray” background option. To truly match Old Gmail’s wallpaper, you’d want “white”, but that’s not an option. (You can also choose from your Google Photos library via a “my photos” link below and I tried to upload a solid white background, but trying to apply it only brings up an error message). This “theme” screen is also where you can apply Gmail’s oddly hidden dark mode – just select the black background option and everything will switch to light text on a dark background.
The other change you might want to make is to fix our biggest complaint with the new Gmail: that new giant sidebar. Google has long adopted the strategy of pushing whatever new product it wants to promote in Gmail, and the new Gmail design features a large, full-height sidebar with just four icons: one for Gmail, two for Google Chat (the latest app messaging system) and one for Google Meet (Google’s version of Zoom Meeting). Gmail already has a sidebar, but this new design adds to according to sidebar, which looks like a great banner ad for Google’s other communication apps. Thankfully, between the February preview and this default implementation, Google apparently listened to the feedback and added the option to disable the sidebar.
This new “no sidebar” option isn’t very obvious, but you can get rid of the Gmail sidebar by turning off Google Chat and Google Meet. Go to the settings cog, then to the “Customize” link in “Chat and Meet”. Uncheck both checkboxes and the sidebar will disappear, allowing you to reclaim a lot of screen space. It’s odd that New Gmail works this way when Old Gmail puts Gmail, Google Chat, and Google Meet controls in one adjustable sidebar, but that’s what Google chose to do.
Disabling the two sidebar layout not only makes the new Gmail look much more like the old Gmail, it also makes the regular Gmail sidebar work as it once did. With the two sidebar layout, clicking the hamburger button to collapse the sidebar shows only the app selector and not any of the Gmail controls – links for Google Chat and Google Meet are displayed instead of “Mail in arrival “,” Stars “,” Spam, “etc. When you turn off Google Chat and Meet, however, collapsing the Gmail sidebar once again shows the Gmail controls within Gmail. Huzzah.
If you really don’t like the new Gmail, you can still, at least for a while, turn off the new design. Click on the settings cog and you should still see the “Return to original view” option. However, it won’t last forever and you’ll have to get used to the new Gmail eventually. The original version was rough, but Google seems to have listened to the complaints on the second sidebar. If you check the correct settings boxes, you will see that there isn’t much difference between the newer and older versions of Gmail anymore.
List image of Google