Getting Used to the New Gmail Compose


When Brian wrote about the new Gmail Compose back in November, it was an optional interface. At the end of March, it became the new default compose behavior for Gmail users.

The new interface is deliberately minimal, according to Jason Cornwell, a lead designer at Google. By making the window smaller and hiding the text formatting options that used to make your email compose screen resemble word processing software, Cornwell suggests that the new interface will “give you permission to write shorter messages.” (To access the text formatting options in the new interface, click on the underlined capital A next to the Send button.)

Many productivity experts like Leo Baubauta of Zen Habits and the crew at have been arguing that overly long emails larded with quoted replies deter good communication and often languish unread.

But even for writers of pithy emails, the new Gmail interface can be a bit bewildering.

So here are a few tips I’ve found helpful in learning my way around since the change was made mandatory:

  • You don’t have to have the compose window in the lower-right corner. Simply hold Shift while you click on the Compose button and the compose window will appear in a moveable window in the center of your screen. Alternatively, you can click the pop-out arrow in the compose window if you’ve already started it at lower-right.
  • The pop-out features allows you to keep multiple draft messages open at once, or to minimize drafts while working on a different message, rather than hiding them away in the Drafts folder. You can also search or browse your inbox while having the compose window open.
  • To send mail from another account that you’ve enabled in your Settings, click the To field and then the From field will be displayed. Next to your name in From, you’ll see a drop-down arrow that will list the other email addresses that you’ve linked to your Gmail account.
  • You can edit the subject line of a Reply email by clicking the drop down arrow that appears at the upper-left of the Reply window. It displays options for Reply, Reply All, Forward, Edit Subject, and Use Pop-Out (which is not the default for replies).
  • You can display a list of your contacts by clicking on the To: field. From the list, simply select the contacts you wish to send to. (Cc and Bcc options are also revealed when you click on the To: field, but the links are over to the right, which may not seem intuitive at first.)
  • Finally, if you really dislike the new compose, you can temporarily switch back to the old compose using the drop-down arrow to the lower-right of your reply box, next to the discard trashcan icon. (But only if you are composing with the default lower-right placement; when the message is popped out the “temporarily switch back” option does not appear.) Google has indicated that this option will eventually be phased out, though, so if you’re a regular Gmail user, it’s worth the effort to learn your way around the new interface.

Also, take a look at Brian’s post, which includes tips for Gmail keyboard shortcuts he likes.

Personally Speaking
I’m still adjusting to the new interface, but once I discovered Shift-Compose, I stopped grumbling silently to myself every time I wrote a message. The default compose placement was the only aspect of the change that I really dislike. Writing in the lower right corner is not ergonomic for your neck if you’re looking at a large monitor and doesn’t play nicely with the progressive lenses my aging eyes require.

In general, I like the minimalist aesethetic of the new design, which keeps features I rarely use tucked away out of sight.  The less cluttered interface is a nice bit of extra motivation to keep my inbox nicely weeded, if not down to the elusive zero.

What do you like best about the new Gmail compose? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Public Domain Photos]

Return to Top