Gmail – The Rich Company Giving A Rich User Experience

Providing a ‘Rich User Experience’ is of high importance when developing an online service or application, after all users are the driving force for company growth and by providing them an in-depth, rewarding user experience you can be reassured of their return. The concept of providing a Rich User Experience (RUE) is based on the concept of combining the best elements from desktop and online applications.

Desktop application are renowned for providing a highly interactive and responsive experience with rich, graphical user interfaces. However now using web-based software no longer means sacrificing the quality of the user experience, as classic client applications can be moved to lightweight browser based applications which support continuous interactions. Therefore users can be provided with the processing power they require along with the benefits of web applications (such as wide availability, multiple platform support and networking features).

This post will concentrate on how Gmail’s take on email applications has superseded the traditional desktop email application service due to the following methods of best practice that will be discussed in-depth below.


1. Combine the Best of Desktop & Online Experiences

Desktop applications are traditionally known to be quick, powerful and provide a large array of functionality for the user, where online applications are traditionally known to be easy to access anywhere, multiplatform supportive and easy to use. By combining the positive elements of desktop applications with the ease of access of online applications, Gmail has been able to create a RUE as an email provider. Users are able to view, open and save emails all without navigating to a different page, as well as being able to view their emails from any computer with an internet connection. This is a major improvement on the classic Microsoft Outlook email service which although equally powerful, is only accessible from a single computer.

2. Usability and Simplicity First

The most important element for any application (desktop or online) is that user engagement, efficiency and effectiveness come first. As clearly demonstrated by the simplistic design of the Google search engine, functionality and usability come before a fancy user interface. And this is also demonstrated with the Gmail service, where emails are shown in the common layout that most users are familiar with, with access to inbox and viewing emails the top priority.

3. Search Over Structure

Commonly users will want to navigate immediately to what they are looking for, in the traditional way this required them to click through menus and links, however now users are familiar with using search functions to find things. This is especially important with an email service as users will often want to look for a particular sender or topic in email, this is where Gmail provides a search box where users can find anything said within the email (including the sender, topic or body).

4. Deep, Adaptive Personalization

Just as with desktop applications, it is important for online applications to provide an adaptive environment to users to increase efficiency. This has been done in Gmail through suggestive text in search boxes and allowing users to select senders to always be moved to different inboxes. These features help anticipate the users needs and by remembering their preferences, they can adapt to further fulfil the requirements of the user.

There are however also some issues and debates about incorrectly used RUE’s which will also be explored below.

Compatibility and Complexity Issues

A major problem with application development (both online and desktop applications) is to make the program available for multiple platforms. By developing Gmail as an online application it has removed the need to develop alternative versions for different operating systems, however it has added the problem of different browsers. Gmail has overcome this by developing their program to work on the majority of available browsers, however problems can arise due to the different ways each browser processes the application code.

Potential Performance Issues

A well designed RUE program can improve performance by decreasing the system and network loads, however poorly constructed ones do the opposite. Therefore it is of vital importance that research into the development and creation of these systems are undertaken to ensure the effectiveness of the application.

Uncertain Impact on Web Analytics and Advertising Metrics

Advertising has become one of the largest sources of revenue for online companies and therefore how the advertisement is displayed needs to be understood when creating a RUE. Due to RUE’s remaining on the same page to perform multiple tasks, ad refreshes and page counts need to be implemented correctly with the new system.

It is evident that creating a RUE is an important step in moving from the traditional Web 1.0 (click and wait) pages, to the new seamless Web 2.0 web pages and is a vital part in creating a competitive online company.


15 thoughts on “Gmail – The Rich Company Giving A Rich User Experience

  1. Hi David.

    Great post. Gmail is a great example of a rich user interface design (although I may not overly enjoy their new email composing interface).

    This brings me to a interesting point, when do you think having a rich user interface becomes a negative point against a site?

    • Very good question.

      There are both positive and negatives to having a Rich User Interface. Some of the negatives include overusing RUE features, to the point where they make things harder for the user, trying to make the RUE features compatible with multiple browsers, as well as potential performance issues and a lack of standards with development frameworks.

      I do however think that the positives vastly outweigh the negatives when an RUE is developed and implemented properly.

    • That’s a good question! I think there won’t be a time that one rich user interface would affect the way of interaction with the website. In fact, websites should provide users with varies of interfaces, including the ones in the history which everybody are used to and the ones which are new that people want to try by themselves.
      As long as the web application keeps simple, I think there wouldn’t be any negative points against itself. That’s my opinion 😉

  2. I use GMAIL & I love it. I liked your review as well. It’s search function is simply awesome and it should be given Google are the world’s most powerful search engine! A couple to things I don’t like which Microsoft Outlook have (correct me if I’m wrong) are:
    You are unable to schedule emails for future sending. This is possible with a 3rd party app but is quite difficult & not fully integrative across all platforms.
    There is no easily accessible method for including ‘read’ & ‘delivery’ receipts.
    GMAIL’s added features over time have created a busy interface, perhaps too busy?
    Is there a way of customising the home page interface of GMAIL, I haven’t really looked if there is it’s hidden?
    I’m also not a fan of the new email composing interface as mentioned above. Generally I can sit back and look at these types of things & see why they have done that but in this case I cannot!

    I must say I am also not a big fan of Google “pushing” IE users over to Chrome. Don’t get me wrong Chrome is awesome but when your on the go the last thing you want to do is get stuffed around downloading a new browser. And what about for everyone not computer savvy?

    • Thankyou very much for your reply.

      A point I did miss in the article as you mentioned was that Microsoft Outlook does have an edge on Gmail in the professional sense, with its extensive use of features. Web 2.0 RUE applications look to incorporate the best features of desktop applications and the best features of the web, however at this stage it is almost, but not quite there. So desktop applications do still carry more functionality then their online counterparts.

      As for the customising the home page interface of Gmail, I am unsure also and will have to get back to you on that. And I agree that Gmail seems to be going a bit wayward on the simplicity of their system, Google search engine is famous for its usability and simple interface and although flashy graphics are nice to look at they can be a bit overwhelming.

      In regards to Google pushing Chrome instead of IE, I was recently trying to download a Microsoft application (some sort of visual studio program) and coincidently the only browser that could access the webpage was IE, so no company is immune to pushing their own creations. But I do agree that in certain circumstances they do go over the top in walling off the use of other browsers.

  3. Hi,

    Gmail is a good example of RUE, but I think that all the online e-mail application such as Gmail increased the proliferation of personal e-mails contrary to Outlook which is more used for professional e-mails.

    Moreover, Google takes advantage of our e-mails to make profit beacause they can have access to them, make advertising according to the words that you use in your e-mails and I am not sure that people know that…


    • Thanks for the response.

      You do make very valid points, the security of important content in emails can be reduced by using an online service such as Gmail, so as you said Outlook is often used in a more professional environment. I think in respect to Google taking advantage of our emails that it is a case of what we don’t know wont hurt us, any data we share online we should treat as open for everyone to view as there are often leaks of privacy. What consumers need to realise is that Google is a company and if they are offering a free email service then they must be making money in another way, in this case by your email content.

  4. Hi David, Great Post!

    Gmail is a great example of a Rich User Interface. It’s nice and simple, yet has all the good features you would want with a mobile application. Being available on multiple platforms, having a real-time search function, automatic inbox filtering etc. Gmail not having allot of graphics / using large flash or java applets makes a very smooth and quick loading platform inside your browser. Gmail is a great example of having all of the features of an desktop application client like Outlook inside your web browser. Although being in the cloud, Gmail can change / update the service however / whenever it likes without notifying the user. Do you think constant changes (such as the recent visual upgrade) could hinder a user’s experience?

    • Thankyou very much for the detailed reply.

      Gmail as with most Google product are successful because of their simplicity and ease of use. Although flashy graphics and interfaces can be pleasant for the eye, it is success in the user-centred design that keeps customers coming back.

      I think that the constant changes in visual upgrades could definitely hinder the user’s experience, by continually altering the layout uses often have to relearn the placement of features and it can take away from the usability of the system. So I hope this is just a phase and once they find the correct design they slow down with the changes.

  5. Hello David,

    It is a great example for Rich User Experience. It can let me more understand this pattem.
    There is gmail app in app store. Do you use it?

    BTW, Can you leave some comments for my blog? ;(

    • Thanks for the reply, I will make some comments today on your blog.

      I have not used the Gmail App yet, Do you find it effective? I find that apps although convenient can sometimes be a hassle when trying to look at large amounts of information (such as emails).

      • Hey David,
        The design of Gmail App is good, It look like very clear and easy to read the email for each email. But you are right. When you read a lot of emails by using Gmail App, it might make you confuse. Also, some function is not effective in Gmail App.

        If you read my blog, can you left the comment for my third blog which is “Innovation in assembly — ebay”.I really need that comment. ;(
        My third blog:

  6. Hi David,

    This is a well written post.
    Usability and Simplicity First is one of my favorite best practices. Recently, Hotmail had its user interface changed, and although it now showcases a ‘latest interface’, its usability has actually decreased. I find Gmail’s simplicity to be one of its most valuable aspects.

    • Thanks, I also like researching into the usability and simplicity of a system. I very much agree, Hotmail was recently bought out by Microsoft so I feel that they have now tried to cram their existing Outlook Express technology into the Hotmail interface. Hotmail worked well because it was effective and efficient to use, it didn’t place much value into looks. Whereas the new Hotmail, although looking futuristic has limited its usability. I agree that Gmail’s simplicity will prove to be a deciding factor when users choose a email service provider.

      Thanks again for the reply.

  7. Hi David,
    Very informative post about Gmail. I think it is a great example of rich user experience. It is so easy and convenient with Gmail as it also connects with your Google Account. With Microsoft’s recent changes to their online mail system, from to Do you think Gmail needs to update their current version as Microsoft stepped up the competition?

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