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Google Inbox’s co-creator wants to fix Gmail with a new Chrome extension

The co-creator of Google’s beloved-yet-discontinued Inbox app, and former lead designer for Gmail, has released a new Chrome extension that considerably simplifies Gmail’s web interface.

Michael Leggett, who was Gmail’s design lead between 2008 and 2012, released the Simplify Gmail extension on April 2nd — the day after Gmail’s 15th anniversary which was also the day Inbox was discontinued. Leggett left Google in 2015.

The extension makes numerous small tweaks to Gmail’s web interface. The left and right sidebars are hidden behind a pair of menu buttons, the search bar at the top of the screen is minimized by default, and the button to compose a new email has moved from the top left to the bottom right.

The extension (right) significantly simplifies Gmail’s standard interface (left).
Image: Simplify and Image: Simplify

Another prominent change is the removal of the Gmail logo. “Go look at any desktop app and tell me how many have a huge fucking logo in the top left,” Leggett explained in an interview with Fast Company, “C’mon. It’s pure ego, pure bullshit. Drop the logo. Give me a break.”

The extension mirrors the strategy Leggett adopted while at Google where he used the experimental Inbox to introduce features and encourage the company to change the Gmail service. “The best I could hope for is, it’s really good and Google will force people to switch to Inbox, or it’s really good and they take the best features and put into Gmail,” Leggett said of his original aims. Gmail would later adopt many of Inbox’s ideas, including Smart Replies and the ability to snooze emails.

For what it’s worth, I like some of the changes the extension makes, but I think others go too far. Hiding the sidebars and search bar makes the interface look neater, and I like the repositioned button to open a new email. But I don’t like the removal of the Gmail logo. Leggett might think it’s “pure ego,” but I like a visual indicator of what site I’m looking at for when I’m quickly skipping through my open tabs.

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