The Google Gmail Logo.

Gmail is an enormously popular email provider with an easy-to-use web interface. However, not all preferences and screen sizes work well with the default settings. Here’s how to customize the Gmail interface.

Expand or Collapse the Sidebar

The Gmail sidebar—the area on the left that shows you the Inbox, Sent Items, Drafts, and so on— takes up a lot of screen space on a smaller device.

To change or collapse the sidebar, click the hamburger menu at the top left of the app.

Click the hamburger menu.

The sidebar contracts, so you just see the icons.

Gmail's sidebar in contracted mode.

Click the hamburger icon to see the full sidebar again.

Choose What to Display in the Sidebar

The sidebar includes things you’ll definitely use (like the Inbox), but it also shows items you might rarely or never use (like “Important” or “All Mail”).

At the bottom of the sidebar, you see “More,” which, by default, is contracted and hides things you rarely use. You can drag and drop things from the sidebar onto the “More” listing to hide them.

Drag and drop a label in the sidebar to "More" to hide it.

You can also drag and drop into the sidebar any labels under “More” that you use regularly, so they’re always visible. You can also drag and drop to reorder the labels.

Hide (or Move) the Google Hangouts Chat Window

If you don’t use Google Hangouts for chats or phone calls, you can hide the chat window under the sidebar.

The Google Hangouts section in the Gmail sidebar.

To do so, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right of the app, and then select “Settings.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Settings."

Click or tap “Chat,” select the “Chat Off” option, and then click or tap “Save Changes.”

Click or tap "Chat," select the"Chat Off" option, and then click or tap "Save Changes."

Gmail reloads without the chat window. If you ever want to turn it back on, go back to Settings > Chat and select the “Chat On” option.

If you use Google Hangouts but don’t want the chat window at the bottom of the sidebar, you can display it on the right side of the app instead.

To do so, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right of the app and select “Settings.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Settings."

Click or tap “Advanced” and scroll down to the “Right-Side Chat” option. Click or tap “Enable,” and then click or tap “Save Changes.”

Click or tap "Advanced," enable the "Right-Side Chat" option, and then click or tap "Save Changes."

Gmail reloads with the chat window on the right side of the interface.

The Google Hangouts section on the right in the Gmail app.

Change the Display Density of Emails

By default, Gmail displays your emails with a generous amount of space between them, including an icon that identifies the type of attachment. If you want to make your email display more compact, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right of the window and select “Display Density.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Display Density."

The “Choose a View” menu opens, and you can choose “Default,” “Comfortable,” or “Compact.”

The "Choose a View" menu in Gmail.

The “Default” view shows the icon for attachments, while “Comfortable” does not. In “Compact” view, you also won’t see the attachment icon, but it also minimizes the white space between emails. Select the density option you want, and then click or tap “OK.”

You can return to this menu any time to change the density setting.

Show Only the Subject Line

By default, Gmail shows the subject of an email and a few words from the body.

The subject and body preview of an email in the default Gmail setting.

You can change this to see only the subject of the email for a cleaner viewing experience.

To do so, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right, and then select “Settings.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Settings."

Click or tap “General,” scroll down to the “Snippets” section, and then select “No Snippets.” Click or tap “Save Changes.”

Click or tap "General," and then select "No Snippets" in the "Snippets" section.

Gmail will now show the subject lines but nothing from the body of your emails.

An email in Gmail showing just the subject line.

Enable the Hidden Email Preview Pane

Just like Outlook, Gmail has a preview pane, but it’s not enabled by default. We’ve covered this in more detail before, but to quickly turn on the Preview pane, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right and select “Settings.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Settings."

Click or tap “Advanced” and scroll down to the “Preview Pane” option. Click or tap the “Enable” option, and then click or tap “Save Changes.”

Click or tap "Enable" in the "Preview Pane" section, and then click or tap "Save Changes."

Gmail now displays either a vertical (as shown below) or horizontal preview pane.

The Gmail "Preview Pane" in vertical mode.

Again, for more configuration options in the preview pane, check out our previous article.

Change the Mail Action Icons to Text

When you select an email in Gmail, the mail actions display as icons.

The default action icons in Gmail.

If you hover your cursor over these icons, a tip appears. However, if you’d prefer simple text instead of having to remember what the icons mean, you can remove them.

To do so, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right, and then select “Settings.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Settings."

Click or tap “General” and scroll down to the “Button Labels” section. Select the “Text” option, scroll to the bottom of the page, and then click or tap “Save Changes.”

Click or tap "General," and then Select the "Text" option in the "Button Labels" section.

When you return to the email interface, the actions appear as text.

Options above a selected mail shown in text.

This option can be particularly useful for someone who’s not tech-savvy and might struggle to figure out what the icons mean.

Change the Number of Displayed Emails

By default, Gmail shows you 50 emails at a time. This made sense when it launched back in 2004 because most people probably didn’t have great internet speeds; it’s still ideal if you have a slower connection.

The Gmail app indicating that it's showing "1-50 of 1,459" emails.

However, if you have the bandwidth to show more (as most of us do), you can change this value.

Click or tap the Settings cog at the top right, and then select “Settings.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Settings." 

Click or tap “General” and scroll down to the “Maximum Page” section. Click or tap the drop-down menu and change it to “100” (the maximum allowed). Scroll to the bottom of the page and click or tap “Save Changes.”

Click or tap "General," and then select "100" in the "Maximum Page" drop-down menu.

Gmail will now display 100 emails per page.

The Gmail app indicating that it's showing "1-100 of 1,459" emails.

Color-Code Your Labels

We’ve covered labels in-depth previously, but one simple change that can make a big difference is color-coding your labels.

To do this, hover over a label, and then click or tap the three dots on the right. Click or tap “Label Color,” and then select the color you want to use.

Click or tap the three dots, click or tap "Label Color," and then select the color you want.

The labels applied to your email will now be color-coded, making it much easier to see things at a glance.

A green "Updates" email, and three orange "Promotions" emails.

Choose Your Tabs

Across the top of your Inbox, you see tabs, such as “Primary,” “Social,” and “Promotions.” To choose which of these are visible, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right. Next, select “Configure Inbox.”

Click or tap the Settings cog, and then select "Configure Inbox."

In the panel that appears, choose which tabs you want visible (you can’t deselect Primary), and then click or tap “Save.”

Click or tap the checkbox next to tabs you want visible, and then click or tap "Save."

The tabs across the top of your Inbox will change to those you selected. To see any tabs you haven’t selected, click “Categories” in the sidebar.

The "Categories" section in the Gmail sidebar.

Change Gmail’s Theme

Black text on a white background isn’t everyone’s favorite color scheme. If you want to change it, click or tap the Settings cog at the top right, and then select “Themes.”

Click or tap the Settings cog at the top right, and then select "Themes."

Click or tap a theme, and Gmail shows it behind the Themes panel as a preview.

A preview of a brightly-colored theme in Gmail.

Once you’ve chosen the theme you want, you can use the options (available for some themes) at the bottom to finesse it a bit, and then click or tap “Save.”

Tweak the theme options (if available), and click or tap "Save."

Those are some of the ways you can change the Gmail interface to suit your preferences.

Did we miss your favorite interface tweak? Share it in the comments!

Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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