I use email a lot and over the years I’ve tried many an email client (from Eudora back in the day through to AirMail and the very new Polymail). Last month we published the 2016 edition of ‘Best Email Client for You‘ and I’ve tried lots of the options on there. For many years I used MailPlane (where multiple Gmail accounts can be run inside one app) and more recently I’ve used AirMail.
Both are strong options, but I found the ‘normal’ Gmail interface too busy and really prefer a ‘left column’ layout. AirMail 2 is VERY good but, IMHO, the search isn’t great and with multiple accounts (I run six accounts!) it can take a long time to open and sync… (I’ve also recently tried Polymail and it seems nice, but I need my multiple accounts to stay separate, I can’t be doing with joint/combined folders for Sent, Draft, etc.)
Recently playing around with the settings in the Gmail web interface, I found something that’s been a game changer and I’m now back in MailPlane, but with a very minimal and left column layout – in Gmail! Here’s how I did it…
1. Get rid of the Gmail ‘Inbox Tabs’.
Here’s a pretty much out of the box Gmail layout (with one email!). Some people would say it’s already quite minimal, but we can do much better! To start I want to get rid of the ‘Inbox Tabs’ (which I’ve never actually found useful!).
Thankfully this is easy to do. Click the Settings ‘Cog’ (we’ll be doing that a few times!) and go to ‘Configure inbox’.
In there un-check ALL the boxes you can and click the [Save] button. Simples.
2. Make Things Cosy
Gmail comes with three spacing options (or ‘Display density’) for the items in the side menu and a few other bits and bobs. By default it’s on ‘Comfortable’ but I find that a bit wide. So hit the Cog again and choose ‘Cosy’. That’s that done.
3. Head to the Gmail Labs
Now we’re ready to do some magic! Go to the Cog again and this time we’re going into the ‘Settings’ and once in there go to the ‘Labs’ (where some extra features can be turned on).
In the Labs it’s time to enable something special! Find the ‘Preview Pane’ and enable it. (I also enabled the ‘Mark as Read Button’ as I like that added feature but it’s not vital.) Scroll to the bottom of the list and hit the [Save Changes] button and Gmail will reload itself and something magic will have happened!
THERE’S A LEFT COLUMN!!!
There’s a new button in the top right which controls the layout of the new ‘Preview Pane’. It can be set Vertical (which is what I want) or Horizontal (more like the ‘traditional’ preview pane seen in many email clients).
Where getting there, but there’s more we can do to make things minimal!
4. Losing the Labels
In the left column of Gmail are the ‘Labels’ (or folders are most email clients call them!). If you’ve created lots of labels/folders (like me!) then this can get very messy and certainly not minimal. However, there’s a simple way to really clean things up.
Go to the Cog > Settings and this time ‘Labels’.
Gmail makes it very easy to ‘hide’ the Labels you don’t want (you can’t hide the Inbox!). I hide everything BUT ‘Sent Mail’ and ‘Drafts’ as I want everything as minimal as I can get it.
5. Adding Some Extra ‘Pop’
Now we really are getting somewhere and things are pretty minimal.
We’ve got the left column, minimal labels on the left and our nice new [Mark as read] button. You’ll also see a faint line between the two columns; you can click and drag that to resize the columns. I like it lining up with the [Move to] button as I think it gives both columns a good size.
We could leave things there, it’s clean, crisp and minimal but I want a bit more more POP to things. So now it’s time to go to Cog > Themes!
Gmail comes with many good themes built in, but I want a theme/background which fits with me 🙂
In the Gmail Theme Settings, you can click the [My Photos] button to upload your own images. So I did that and uploaded the LEGO wallpaper.
Once an image has been applied as your custom theme background, there are some nice little setting you can alter.
You can set the left column (and some other bits) to have a dark or light background (useful if your theme background is very light or dark!); you can blur the background image for some nice visual effects; and my favourite, you can add a dark ‘vignette’ to the background image which can give things a bit more pop and depth (I’ve found that adding max vignette seems to make most background image better!).
So after adding my custom image to my theme and adding the max vignette, let’s see what we’ve got!
6. We’re Done!
So here’s my finished ‘minimal’ Gmail.
A clean, minimal and left column Gmail layout which also has a bit of pop and style. (and for multiple accounts I’ve used the same layout but with a different wallpaper for each account so I can quickly well which account I’m in!)
I’m very pleased how it’s come out and how simple it is to achieve.
So if you’re a Gmail user which wants a more elegant and minimal look, give it ago!