There are times when big companies make a big decision that affects a big group of people and it all ends up being a big mistake that needs to be fixed. Perhaps Google’s latest Workspace re-brand and the new icons that came along with it don’t exactly fit into that category, but it is increasingly feeling that way. Between comments on articles, social media, and other places on the web, there is definitely some push-back from Google users against the new branding Google has rolled out.
At first, I wasn’t part of that aggravated group and I didn’t think much of it. Sure, I think Google’s iconography update is mediocre at best, but I haven’t found it to negatively affect my workflow in any meaningful way. With the largest complaint being the basic inability to distinguish one icon from another in open tabs (where the icons are smaller), I suppose the way I organize tabs and shortcuts precludes me from any real workflow impact. That clearly isn’t the case for many.
Instead, users are becoming increasingly frustrated with how similar Google’s new Workspace icons appear when placed near one another. Again, at first I didn’t think much of this, but I’m beginning to understand the aggravation. Just yesterday I had a few Gmail tabs open alongside my Calendar while in a Google Meet call. As I went to move between these open tabs during the call, I had a few moments of struggle as I bounced through all the tabs trying to decipher the difference between the favicons for Gmail, Calendar, and Meet in my tabs. After that experience, I have to admit I was a bit more onboard with the new icon haters.
There’s a fix for Chrome and Edge tabs, at least
Yesterday, a new Chrome Extension surfaced that makes the promise to deliver your old, trusty, easy-to-see Google icons back to your tabs in Chrome (Firefox is on the way, too). The extension is small, simple, and does the one job it advertises, giving you the standard Google icons for things like Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Meet, and Docs in your tabs. You can head to the Chrome Web Store, install the extension, and reload any of the tabs I just mentioned and see the old, more-recognizable icons. We tested this on Edge and, not surprisingly, it works there as well.
For what its worth, the Gmail icon also carries over into your shortcuts in the launcher and shelf on a Chromebook, but the rest of the new Google icons force the new-look logos everywhere else across the UI. So, if you were hoping to get the old icons back in your launcher and in your pinned apps, that won’t be happening – at least not yet.
I’m glad there is an option to fix this aggravation for users, but I think Google needs to take inventory of this high level of frustration by its users. While I appreciate a cohesive look for Google’s new icons, I don’t think uniformity is the best policy. Good icons have a similar look, feel, and aesthetic and I think Google was pretty close to that already if we look at the individual icons for Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc. In general, when I saw one of the older icons, I knew it was a Google-y service without Gmail and Calendar having to look nearly identical. I think with the new icons, Google overdid it a bit.
While it is unlikely Google will completely reverse course on the new icons, if Google did decide to revert things, it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened with large companies making large branding moves. Lots of time and money get poured into these decisions, so it would take a good deal of outrage to force Google to put things back to the way they were. If the early adoption and praise for this new extension is any indicator, however, Google may be on that path.
More realistically, Google could make a few tweaks to these new icons and help users more easily be able to distinguish them in their tabs and come to a middle ground that keeps their new designs and doesn’t put off users so badly. Either way, it seems clear that people aren’t very happy with this change from the search giant, and as long as there is a way to get around it, users will likely keep taking advantage of it. If enough people get on board, that sort of undoes the point of the re-brand, right? Your move, Google.