Inbox was a powerful and innovative experiment by the Gmail team — emphasis on "was" because Google killed it recently. No worries, though: most of what made it great, such as smart replies and snooze, were subsumed into Gmail.
Even still, Gmail remains imperfect. Despite a Material Design facelift earlier this year, the web version still looks a bit cluttered, unseemly. Michael Leggett agrees.
"[Gmail for web is] like Lucky Charms got spewed all over the screen," he told Fast Company in an interview. Leggett was the lead designer for Gmail from 2008 to 2012. He also cofounded Inbox, which aimed to reimagine Gmail for the modern era.
He left Google in 2015, but Gmail's design continues to bother him.
"Go look at any desktop app and tell me how many have a huge fu***** logo in the top left," says Leggett. "Drop the logo. Give me a break." That huge logo isn't just the problem. Fast Company notes that folders, contacts, Google apps such as Docs and Drive, plus at least half a dozen notifications, all clutter Gmail at any given moment.
Simply Gmail With This Extension
Rather than merely whine, Leggett actually decided to do something about Gmail's look. He created a free extension for Chrome called Simplify that hides all the unnecessary folders and functions and makes Gmail cleaner, calmer, and a lot more streamlined. All that's onscreen are the user's messages and a neat array of buttons. It's minimalist and understated, with every small element seemingly in their right place and no unnecessary visual placements in sight.
More than cutting down on visual noise that plagues Gmail still, the extension also shifts its core functions to the top bar where they're more easily accessible. It also moves the "Create Mail" button to the bottom-right of the screen, which makes sense because the Compose window also shows up there. The user can go from creating an email to actually typing much faster in this arrangement.
Gmail's Design Woes
Leggett was part of a team that tried to fix Gmail for years. In 2008, he created a complex Gmail concept that integrated many of Google's services into Gmail itself, with Docs and Chat appearing alongside email features in a single browser screen. When his team presented it to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google's cofounders, they called it "awful."
"We walked out of the meeting and said, 'They're right. This is awful ... that's what led to Inbox."
Simply was a personal project for Leggett and some of his acquaintances. When Google shut down Inbox, a friend encouraged him to put the extension "out there." He didn't. At least not immediately. He polished it further, sat on it, and decided to give Google one last chance. When Google failed to revamp Gmail's design, he decided to launch Simplify.
Simplify is available to download now.