Lost in Spacing

It’s always surprising to me the things I continue to learn about the delicate art of presenting design ideas. Yesterday, for instance, while proving my theory about the power of spacing in interface design, it was made very clear to me that messing with email interfaces is a bad idea.

Or, at least, it became apparent that, as a way of demonstrating how a more discerning application of negative space might improve Gmail, altering the number of email messages presented in the interface created an unnecessary distraction. By adding more vertical height to each message in the list, I effectively pushed a small but significant number of messages below the screen’s ‘fold.’

That particular change proved too contentious for many readers, which makes sense. People get very attached to applications as integral to their daily lives as Gmail, and any suggestion of reducing its efficiency — even if other gains are offered — are unlikely to be met kindly. Changing that variable, for better or worse, was not the point of the argument I was making; I should have known better to have avoided it, but of course all things are clearer in hindsight.

Red Herrings in Space

I still think though that even without increasing the vertical height of each message, the other spatial alterations — especially the positioning of each message’s check boxes and stars, and the overall alignment of like elements — make for real improvements. That argument didn’t come across as clearly as I would’ve liked though, as the red herring of reduced message display proved too alarming. Lesson learned; next time I’ll choose something a bit less controversial.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. This isn’t the first time I’ve come across the red herring phenomenon when presenting design ideas. Everyone who’s made the mistake of including misleading dummy copy0 in a mock-up, or similar gaffes, has learned how quickly an audience of design reviewers or clients can fixate on unintentional distractions. The only remedy that I’ve come across for this is experience: learn from mistakes, and then be vigilant about not repeating them. Which unfortunately also means that it will continue to happen in some form or other indefinitely.

Anyway, the post generated enough interest that I thought it sensible to publish the full-size version of the mock-ups. You can see them over at Flickr and decide if the changes make sense at their actual scale. (By the way all the passwords you see in the mock-up are fake, so there’s no cause for alarm.) Enjoy.