How to Get the Old Gmail Look Back

By Chris Hoffman on May 4th, 2012

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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
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