Simplify Gmail v2: Compose

Once upon a time, Google had a simple compose mole (the mini-window for writing an email).

Over the years, more and more things have been glued on, giving us Gmail today:

This is certainly the worst case scenario (with the formatting bar open). But the buttons that are hardest to reach are some of the most useful, as we all know Command+Z and Command+B.


The compose mole was one of the early things I designed for Google Inbox and was adopted by Gmail way before Google Inbox launched. It was meant to let you see a received message and the compose mole alongside one another. Early prototypes even shifted the message over to the left to minimize overlap.

But that shifting never shipped and Gmail’s full-width message view means any content you might trying to reference is likely covered by the compose mole.

You might also prefer to not be distracted by the rest of Gmail and use the full-screen composer.

Yup, no distractions here. (ノ-_-)ノ~┻━┻

Back to basics

Simplify tackles each of these areas, trying to make each view better serve its use case.

The compose mole is initially shorter, taking up less space (it still grows as you type). The formatting buttons we all know the keyboard shortcuts for (undo, bold, etc.) are removed, and the lesser used (but still sometimes useful) actions are moved to the overflow menu.

If you prefer the full formatting toolbar, you can use that too:

If you have both a compose mole and a conversation open, Simplify shifts the conversation to the left:

Finally, if you use the full-screen composer, I fully hide Gmail in the background so you can focus.

Clicking anywhere outside the compose window will minimize the message.

More to come

I’ve also added some new keyboard shortcuts to make it easier to get around Gmail and reply to messages. I’m going to cover that in a post on keyboard shortcuts.

And I plan to:

  • let users customize compose to promote the tools you use most

  • look into adding new tools (e.g. code blocks, better emoji with auto-complete)

Bonus Gmail history

The Gmail team has long called the little mini-windows for composing a message or chat a “mole.” It comes from the game “whack-a-mole” where an object pops up and you whack it back down.

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