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Google Calendar redesign: Compare and Contrast

I’ve been a long-time user of Google Calendar, the search giant’s diary solution, and I’ve always loved its ease of use and flexibility.

As Google rolls out it new design across its product range, I’ve been embracing the change. I love the more integrated look and feel of the top navbar, especially how it all links into Google+, and I’m generally a fan of the extra breathing space they have introduced by padding out items on the page and using white space more liberally.

However, I think they should revisit the Google Calendar redesign to address some serious usability points. Let’s compare the two (easily done for now, as they include an option to switch back to the old view – although I imagine not for long…)

Old view (click to expand)

New view (click to expand)

A lot of people have complained about the increased use of whitespace and the toning down of colours from vivid to more subtle. These changes I can learn to live with, as any redesign has to include some degree of change – can anyone remember how the old Facebook layouts look like, the ones everyone complained about when they replaced them? No, me neither…

What does get my goat, though, is the amount of space which contains the most important information and functions – the calendar itself. Look, particularly, at the list of available calendars in the left-hand menu, as well as the amount of room available for events in each day in the month view (the only view I ever use). This is how I see gCal on my laptop screen at 1366×768 resolution.

Under the old design, I can see 8 and a half calendars in the list which I can toggle on or off as I choose. In the new view, just seven-and-a-half – and that’s when I’ve hidden the mini-calendar above the list. With that showing, I can only see three.

Worse, though, is the amount of events it can now show for each day. Have a look, to pick a day at random, at the 4th July on the new view. What was I doing on that day? That involves an extra click to see the three events (remember to put the recycling bin out for collection, a hair appointment, followed by dance practice in the evening). In the old view, all three of these events are visible at a glance. Another example – look at 1st August. What time do I start work on that day by looking at the new view? You can’t tell without an extra click – under the old view, this is visible immediately.

Some suggestions

I hate criticising other people’s work without leaving some feedback on changes, as I know how hard it is to come up with a design that suits everybody (indeed, some people are writing that the design is a lot better on many fronts, some of which I agree with). So, here’s how the same design can be kept but space can be increased:

  • Reduce the size of the search bar
    I maybe use the search function of Calendar once or twice a month, usually to find things like dentist appointments in the future. While I know Google’s “thing” is search, it’s not part of the usual calendar workflow so this can be reduced.
  • Merge the logo and the word Calendar
    If the new red “Create” button could go where the static word “Calendar” now is, this would create a taller left-hand menu to display more calendars in the list, and maybe allow me to see the mini calendar again.
  • Move the display views to the right of the search bar
    There’s a whole load of empty space to the right of the search bar. It looks like the day/week/month/agenda buttons, along with the print and reload functions, would fit perfectly in that space. If the size was reduced slightly, you could also get the current month/week/whatever, arrow buttons and the “Back to today” button there too (although I can’t speak for users on other screen resolutions). This would remove the “third” horizontal bar from the top altogether, making more space for the calendar.
  • Shift the left-hand side back
    There is now extra space on the left-hand side before the menu starts (but not before the very top navbar starts?!) but the right-hand side bleeds all the way to the edge. While this could be an effect of me enabling some “labs” products such as the world timezone display, shifting the left-hand menu would, again, increase the space available for events in the calendar.

While going into browser full-screen (F11) mode does show all the events in almost the same way as the old Calendar view, I don’t think I should be forced to use this workaround every time I want to quickly check what time I finish work on days next week, or see what appointments I have before committing to another one.

Google, please, reconsider and make some more space for our events in our calendars!

1 Reply - Posted: 13th July 2011, 5:44am - Category: Websites

One thought on “Google Calendar redesign: Compare and Contrast

  1. Nietvoordekat

    Very good feedback. I’d like to add some more suggestions, if I may… (you’re free to copy them, of course)

    On my laptop screen (and I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem) the “current day” used to have a light yellow background. It was at-a-glance easy to see which day was today. Google decided to change the current day’s background to a very light shade of grey, which is (on my screen, under most angles) exactly identical to the surrounding days. I actually have to bob my head up and down to see what the current day is. I can imagine color-blind people having an even harder time doing this (though I’m not sure).
    A myriad of solutions exists to this problem, like changing the background back to light yellow, making the day’s number bold, giving the day’s number a bright red flashing background, making the current day’s borders distinctive… Or, of course, some sort of setting that you can change to give the current day a custom background color. That last option would be my favorite.

    Padding. The calendar’s cells have a LOT of padding as-is. Change the padding to 1px on the left, bottom and right of the different days, and drastically change the top part of every day. The top… 15, 20-ish pixels of every day are used up solely for a 2-digit number. You could try to make that number float in the top-left or top-right corner. At the very least decrease the top and bottom padding of that ridiculously large header. Also, you might consider reducing the size of the numbers (or, again, add a setting to enable users to choose for themselves. I LOVE options, the more the merrier)

    On the same subject, the search bar in the top uses way too many space. If we know it’s there, we can find it. A shitload of whitespace isn’t going to increase usability.

    Again, on the subject of padding: on the left side, there is literally a LOT of space (on my pc, a whole centimeter) not used for anything. You’ve only got so much screen to work with, use it to the fullest. Move the left column a bit more left.

    As I count it, GCal now has 4 (four!) top bars, before you reach the actual content of the calendar. The stylish black-grey Google+ bar, a rather big search bar with a lot of whitespace, the bar with the different types of views (day, month…), and (in my case) a bar telling me which column of the calendar is which day (mo, tu,we…). That is a LOT of screen real-estate used for very little. The grey bar is a good idea, granted. Integration of different products is Google’s forte. The huge search bar… I could’ve done with a smaller textbox muffled away somewhere on the screen where otherwise, there would’ve been screen real-estate gone to waste. Or in a dropdown menu or something. I use Google’s search functions a lot, but hardly at all in the calendar. The bar with the different views… Again, I can do without. A drop-down menu would suffice, I always use month view. And finally, the small bar explaining which column is which makes sense. Can’t have seven columns without some explanation about which is which, especially since in some calendars the week starts with monday, and in some it starts with sunday. Keep that.

    The old look was very user friendly. Bright colors, a LOT of screen real-estate used for the exact thing you use the calendar for, and little to nothing gone to waste. The new look… I have a huge screen resolution, so the decrease in screen real-estate hits me less then it hits the next person (though it’s still notable). The dusty colors are less playful and kinda remove the at-a-glance “this is where you are and that’s what you have to do” functionality.

    I second the authors plea. Please, please, please, Google. I love every single one of your products to death, I’ve been hooked on gmail since beta and I’ve never even once considered leaving Google’s products. In return, I ask that you don’t take our feedback for granted, and let us help you make Google as good as can be.


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