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How to Get the Old Gmail Look Back

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Gmail’s redesign is now mandatory — the opt-out option is gone. Use a third-party style sheet to get the old Gmail look back or tweak Gmail’s settings to undo some of the changes.

If you like the new look, that’s great – but if you don’t, you have a choice. The options here will help Gmail look more like the webmail system you’re used to.

Install a Style Sheet

“The Return of Old Gmail” is an unofficial user style (custom style sheet) that makes Gmail look like the original. It’s been tested with both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. You can get it from the UserStyles.org website.

First, click the “install Stylish” link to install the Stylish browser extension.

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After it’s been installed, click the “Install with Stylish” button to install the style sheet. If you don’t see this button, press F5 to refresh the page.

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The style sheet makes Gmail look much more familiar. Follow the steps in the next section to get the inbox looking more compact.

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If you don’t want to install a third-party stylesheet that may break in the future, Gmail has a few settings that undo some of the changes. These settings will follow you from computer-to-computer, while you’ll have to install the style sheet in each web browser you use.

Maximize Screen Real Estate

Gmail’s new default display density is a break from the past, showing less information in the same amount of screen space. To get a denser inbox back, enable the Compact display density from the gear menu. The default is now Comfortable.

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The Compact layout displays more information in a smaller area, like the original Gmail design did.

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Restore Text Labels

Gmail’s new toolbar ditches the old text labels for icons. If you’d rather have the old text labels back, you can re-enable them and hide the icons.

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To get the text labels back, click the gear menu at the top right corner of the Gmail page and click Settings. Locate the Button labels section on the settings page and select the Text option.

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Click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page to save the setting after you change it.

This tweak doesn’t restore the old button layout, but it does restore the old text labels.

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Change the Theme

Many people find that the High Contrast theme looks more similar to the original look than the Light theme, which is the new default. To change your theme, click the gear icon and select the Themes option.

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Google doesn’t offer an original Gmail theme, but the High Contrast theme may be your best pick. Feel free to select any other theme you prefer from here. Some themes incorporate high-resolution imagery.

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The High Contrast theme restores some of the contrast removed from Gmail with the new theme, although it’s significantly darker.

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Bear in mind that third-party user scripts may break as Google updates Gmail. There’s a good chance you’ll have to install updated or alternate versions in the future.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/4/12

Comments (14)

  1. Citrus Rain

    I think they did a good job on the gmail changes. I didn’t even notice when it happened.
    Now changing G+ on the other hand…

  2. Rakesh G

    Can anybody tell me how to select all e-mails of a page by single click?
    In old google, we have a button called Select all, we can select all e-mails and delete all at a time, now it is not there and we have to select e-mails on by one. Its irritating…

  3. LaDonna

    I tried using gmail several years ago for my regular correspondence and never really cared for it, and now that they’ve changed it I still don’t. But I started having so much trouble with the email I used for many years that I finally stopped using that one several months ago. Now I have three different email accounts that I use for specific things, and one of them is gmail. I still don’t use it for my regular correspondence but it has its purposes.

  4. LaDonna

    I forgot to add: Your tips are always interesting, and welcome. If I used gmail for more than I do I might be tempted to try your suggestion, but under the circumstances it wouldn’t do me any good. Thanks anyway. =)

  5. Tetra

    Sadly it does not work with the classic Terminal theme. :( What I wouldn’t give to get it back.

  6. thegeekkid

    @Rakesh G, there is a little checkbox icon above all the emails (and next to the refresh button in the new look). Click that and it selects all the emails.

    If you need a screenshot, download it here:
    http://www.filehosting.org/file/details/338641/Capture.JPG

  7. tommy2rs

    I think the new UI looks like a Fisher Price toy. Gmail should be renamed to Toddler Mail. I want the black on white theme back and screw the baby colors and buttons

  8. rroberto18

    Does the new design of GMail offer a way to eliminate the photo identifying the sender.
    .It obscures important screen display for individual messages

  9. E.W.

    @ rroberto18

    Yes, there is a way to disable the photo ID of the sender. Look around in G+ preferences and your Profile too. I’m not sure where I found it, but I never had it on to begin with. And I shut off CHAT. Right click the chat or hover over Chat and you see options.

    But yes, you can disable photos.

  10. minnetonka

    Thanks for the information–I just used and my Gmail looks so much better now. I’ve added Gmail link on my Quick-launch toolbar, which helps me remember to check it more often. High contrast made nice difference too.

  11. Chris Hoffman

    @Citrus Rain

    I personally like the new Gmail just fine, too.

    @Rakesh G

    Click the button on the toolbar — the one at the left side. It looks like a square with a little arrow next to it. Click “Select All” in the menu.

  12. Marv B

    G+ has made it really hard to manage the photos I want to share via e-mail invite

  13. John

    Just disable JavaScript in your browser, reload gmail then select “Use classic html”. Turn JavaScript back on if you wish. Done.

  14. Rahul

    Hello there.

    Thanks for mentioning my userstyle “The Return of Old Gmail”. I’ve received mixed (overall OK) reviews on the userstyle, people who don’t want to install an extension won’t like it.

    The style may break when Google performs some changes in the markup of Gmail, however, I try to keep the style up-to-date and proper.

    Cheers!

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