Evolution, evolved

Evolution’s in need of a bit of love in the UI department. Express is definitely a step in the right direction, but things need to be taken further. The interface still feels bulky and old fashioned. It often doesn’t get feedback quite right, and user interaction isn’t always able to flow in the way it should.

I recently set about developing some designs for how Evolution could be improved. Such an important GNOME app needs to look great and work well, particularly for the bright 3.x days that lie ahead. Here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far. (Click on the images to view them full size.)

Streamlined message list

This design advocates a much cleaner UI than what Evo has at present. There’s dramatically less visual noise, with fewer icons, buttons and controls. I’ve even managed to eliminate whole toolbars. This makes the UI feel a lot lighter and gives the user less mental work to do. It also helps to highlight the really useful functionality that’s there. And it’s better suited to small and widescreen displays.

Indicating progress in a nice way

The use of utility windows has been dramatically reduced so that users will be presented with fewer interruptions. Feedback has been rationalised: there’s less of it where you don’t want it, and more of it where you do.

Inline replies, status and progress information

User interaction is improved through the use of inline replies, status and progress indicators.

Reworked composer

The composer design has been streamlined. It also has a much refined layout (notice how interaction flows from the top-left to the bottom-right window corner).

All in all, these designs set out a vision for a smarter, cleaner, modern looking Evolution. Feedback and discussion are, as always, welcome. More details can be provided if anybody would like them.

Flattr this

This entry was posted in gnome-ux. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Evolution, evolved

  1. Wutzara says:

    i want this – now! 😉 It looks very similiar to the concepts from Postler

  2. I hope you’re not planning to do away with the preview pane – you’ll get my three-pane email workflow out of my cold, dead hands, thanks muchly. Which means I need one of the toolbars you’ve done away with, or at least the ‘reply’, ‘forward’ and ‘group reply’ buttons that are on it.

    Is the green/gray toolbar you *do* have a standard toolbar element in your theme? I don’t like the trend for apps to have these odd non-standard interface elements. A toolbar should look like a toolbar, end of story. Extremely good consistency of appearance across multiple applications is one of the greatest strengths of GNOME / GTK+ 2 and one of the main reasons I use it. If this is just a standard toolbar element in your theme or GTK+ 3 or whatever then that’s fine.

    Inline replies, fine, whatever, just let me turn it off (or make it really, surprisingly, unlikelily good at turning your typical F/OSS mailing list thread into such a view). That may work for the corporate world where everyone just top posts their precious pearls of wisdom in a big paragraph with everything that went before stuck underneath it, but it doesn’t work for the paragraph-by-paragraph (or even line-by-line) back and forth you get in the typical geek mailing list environment: please consider this use case also.

    I like the new composer, but why the colored ‘Send’ button? I don’t think you *really* need to highlight it just because it’s an important interface element, and it looks like it’ll get visually jarring after a while. Bear in mind people are going to look at this dialog tens of thousands of times; they’re going to learn where the send button is pretty fast.

    Small nit: the faint grey text indicating the current search type in the search dialog is *really useful*, please don’t throw that out.

    • Allan says:


      These are just my suggestions – I’m not ‘planning’ anything. That said, I’m not a fan of the preview pane. It’s a waste of space most of the time and it’s really bad on a small screen. The only advantage that I can see is that it saves you that extra click to get back to the message list. (Or am I missing something?) If that is the case, there could be some other options that would solve your needs.

      Many of the issues that you point to will come down to theming – the toolbar appearance (yes, that’s a standard toolbar) and coloured send button will both be determined by the 3.0 theme. I agree that there should be a way to deviate from inline replies should the user wish.

      Glad you like the composer. 🙂

      • Juanjo says:

        The point of the preview is: it’s fast!

        You can browse your message list with the keyboard and read easy message easily. Most of my work is sysadm, and I appreciate I can go fast through my (looong) message list every day.

        Opening or closing things, or even disturbing the continuity of the message list while browsing, it’s a bad idea for my work flow.

      • Xav says:

        On big screens, having the preview pane next to the message list (not under) maximizes space usage. I agree I wouldn’t want to loose that.
        Otherwise your suggestions look great. In fact borrowing whatever can be stolen from Gmail is the way to go.

      • nielsle says:

        Gmail has a link called “next”. This link redirects me to the next conversation/thread. If I don’t have time to read a given conversation, then I can mark it with a yellow star.

        If an upcoming evolution client had hotkeys for “next” and “mark”, then I think that it could be faily fast for many people. (But perhaps not for people that only read a fraction of their mail 🙂 )

      • Sorry for the very late reply, but I hope you’ll read it since you just blogged with a new design: to clarify my use of the so-called ‘preview’ pane, I (and several others I’ve observed) actually read all my mail through the preview pane. I never ‘open’ a mail into its own window by double-clicking. I just go from message to message in the message list pane, reading each one entirely in the preview pane. It’s a very efficient method, for me at least.

        I see the new mockup has a Mac-style three-panes-side-by-side layout, which seems to be popular; I don’t really like it because the message list pane never works out to be wide enough to show author, subject and date, which are the critical things for me. But it’s better than ‘no preview pane’, I guess.

    • Calum says:

      Inclined to agree with Adam, if any mail client dares to default to not showing the classic three-pane view, it’s the first thing I turn back on 🙂 (Unless it’s Outlook Express, which I wouldn’t trust…)

      Apart from the fact the preview pane mode is more click-efficient, taking up the full height of the screen with a list of mail headers instead just isn’t useful to me– rarely am I interested in seeing the newest half-dozen or so subject lines. And it also keeps things nicely consistent with the other apps I use– my RSS reader uses a three pane layout, and my Usenet client uses a three pane layout, too.

  3. Goran Rakic says:

    Screenshots looks beautiful but I wonder if you thought about use case with a lot of messages. I would not like to have 30 throbers when fetching new email. A progress bar and some shading for the items that are not loaded yet is perfectly fine. Messages that are not downloaded can also be shrunk by default in the thread view.

    I also like to use Evolution with the preview pane and I actually do not open new messages ever. I would not like to have to click back and forth in the UI, but I guess preview pane will be there, it is just not here on first mockups.

    I never use the Send/Receive button, you do not need this if check for new mail is enabled, and in IMAP you can always jump to folder for refresh. If there are no queued messages in the outbox, send button does nothing. You may use this to actually make this button context sensitive, which would be great and will stop users to think “Should I click the Send button now or is it already sent?”

    Think about returning the standard formating toolbar in the composer. It is not taking more space and is more common for users to use it.

    Thanks for sharing your work.

    • Allan says:


      I’m not sure whether repeating the throbber is such a problem. You’re never going to have that many messages displayed simultaneously, and it is absolutely necessary to display some indication of progress here.

      Nice ideas about the Send/Receive button – that’s definitely worth exploring.

  4. Juanjo says:

    I don’t know what to think.

    I mean, Evo UI isn’t perfect, but I really doubt that any desktop application has to look like a website.

    I agree that one of the weak points of Evo it’s the UI size. I only work with laptops, and sometimes with a netbook, and Evo would be better for those small factor screens being more compact. But I don’t think that “one size fits all” actually exists, because people using a lovely 20″ screen have lots of space to ‘waste’.

    I’m afraid I don’t like your mockups, may be it’s because I love the message preview panel and I’m a big fan of the horizontal preview layout (sorry, I use Evo in Spanish and I don’t know if I’m translating correctly). I miss things that I use intensively (such as reply, reply all buttons, or junk controls hehe).

    Anyway, I find very interesting and refreshing that there are people willing to improve Evo, Nautilus, etc; it’s good for the health of Gnome desktop, but at the same time I feel that changing for change’s sake isn’t the way to do it.

  5. Pingback: Evolution, evolvedafaik | 9nd.pl

  6. Michael says:

    I love this… Having an Evo like this could actually make me use it again – it seems to pick up enough of GMail’s greatness (being simple!) 🙂

  7. Eric Pritchett says:

    I will say one thing I like about the elementary mockups is that they get rid of the menu bar all together. It’s amazing how much cleaner and easier to use stuff is without the menu bar (i.e. File, Edit, View, etc). Like Postler at http://danrabbit.deviantart.com/art/Postler-170793979 you can see that all of the concepts have a ‘menu button’ if you will on the right hand side. Great work! There’s some really great stuff here, but I’m still a bigger fan of Postler when it comes to simplicity.

    • rtaycher says:

      They look horrible. Absolutely horrible. Removing the menu bar for no reason.
      Also looking overly mac like forgetting that mac applications always have menubars.
      I’m starting to think Gnome/KDE should have global menubars despite my overall dislike to being overly mac like and whether global meny bars are a good idea in the first place to FORCE applications to have a menubar. I’m not saying menubars now, menubars forever but if you want to replace menubars you should make a good attempt to do something better like the Ribbon, that also has to be fairly universal.

  8. pt says:

    That is one ugly spell check icon (abc ).
    The theme has the usual lifeless colours found in Gnome.

  9. Greg says:

    I like it. What do you think about having the messages open up in the message list, like when a user clicks on a subject, have the message open up right there. That’s what I’d like to see.

  10. Adley says:

    I think the greatest flaw in evolution isn’t even really a problem with evolution. There isn’t a good way to put the program out of the way when not in use. Minimizing it to the notification area with alltray is a weak solution and Ubuntu is trying to do away with the notification area altogether anyway.

    I want evolution to notify me about new email and allow me a one click method of seeing it/replying. I’d rather not deal with the main window 90% of the time. That being said, a new interface would be a welcomed change. Also, what tools do you use to design new prototype interfaces? Do you just draw it in Gimp/PS etc? Or do you use actually Glade or similar type programs?

    • Allan says:


      I totally agree about notifications. If I’m responding to a notification, I don’t want to have to then navigate through a ton of UI to get to the message I’m interested in. This is something that GNOME Shell will help with: finding ways of leveraging the messaging tray should be a priority.

      I use Inkscape for mockups, as do most of the other people involved in GNOME design work. You can get the SVGs for these designs (and many others) from the GNOME design Gitorious repository.

  11. ethana2 says:

    I’ve ruled out more mail clients on OS X and Ubuntu than I care to recall because they were not conversation-focused. I long for the day when I see a mail client that can so much as hold a candle to Gmail.. seeing as technically, it is nonFree software..

  12. Dave says:

    This is absolutely awesome! Keep up the good work!

    Can’t wait for it to be released 🙂

  13. andre says:

    Your Inline replies screen doesn’t show the subject line of the thread, I’d miss that.
    Also how do I sort the message list now? Clicking on one of the column headers is missing but I use that quite often.

    • Allan says:


      Look in the second mockup: ‘Kitty Love’ is the thread subject. You’d use the arrange combobox to sort the list.

  14. foo says:

    I want a combination of gmail, sup and notmuch but in a GUI. That would be awesome.

  15. foo says:

    Throw in mutt too please.

  16. frank says:

    Beautiful! I’d appreciate a UI change in that direction.

    Evolutions UI is confusing, especially for older users that are not too much into computers.

    But for me it would be much more important, to fix a few bugs first.
    I find it annoying to be prompted for my password again and again, although it has been saved already.

  17. nielsle says:

    Thank you for working on evolution usability. Your ideas look great. Here are some comments:

    You seem to waste a lot of space near the top of the window. Would it be possible to remove the green bar?

    The placement of the options menu in the composer looks different from other gnome programs. Some users may find this confusing.

    Does each line in the inbox correspond to a mail or to a conversation/thread?

    When I am reading a conversation, I would like a button called next. This button could take me to the next conversation

    I like the fact that you deal with multi-threaded discussissions, but the result looks a little
    confusing. I don’t know how to fix that.

    It would be nice to be able to resize the widget with the list of inboxes. I would like to make it thinner.

    I can resize the form in which I am posting this comment right now. But if I do that then the for m becomes larger than the containing div. This looks a little strange 🙂

  18. Srini says:

    Very nice. Evolution’s Anjal had the conversation view already. Its due to merge in Evolution express. You should also think off attachment handling in composer. It will bring in some more clutter to the UI which you may have to fix it.

    • Allan says:


      Great news about Anjal. I’ve got some ideas for attachment handling – I’ll update the mockups to include that stuff. Ping me if you want to talk anything over. My nick’s aday.

  19. Frej Soya says:

    It’s not at full fledged email client (rather minimal), but sparrowmail can serve as inspiration for design stuff. http://sparrowmailapp.com/

    Otherwise great to see work on an email only app :).

    Secondly something that’s really needed for GTK is fixing the height of rows in gtktreeview, when displaying data. I know the HIG probably says 6px margin everywhere, or maybe it’s just the default font+size. But it’s really bad since each row is displayed N times, so often it actually matters more than merging tabpane with windowbar.

    Try comparing screenshots of listviews in Rhythmbox with iTunes…. or evolution with mailapp. It’s painfull 😛

  20. MrMars says:

    i see this gtk + metacity (or mutter?) theme in all recent mockups of gnome3 (gnome-shell, nautilus, and so on) and now for your new evolution mockup.

    Is this theme under development? is it possible to try it? will it be in future?
    i mean the very theme, gtk+windows borders, not evolution


    • Allan says:


      The window manager theme does exist – it’s in GNOME Git, though I’m not sure quite where (there’s been some rearranging going on recently). The GTK theme doesn’t exist yet outside of mockups, I don’t think. Ask in #gnome-design if you’re interested.

  21. These mockups look pretty but I don’t see why it has to be called Evolution. Firefox was spawned from the Mozilla Suite by reusing Mozilla’s existing libraries. The same could be done here; Anjal proved it’s possible. I say this as one of the lead Evolution developers, and I’d be happy to collaborate with anyone that wants to take up the challenge.

    • Allan says:


      Designing a new eds-based mail app would be fun and exciting. GNOME does need a friendly standalone mail app, after all. The reason I called this Evolution is that, the way I see it, Evo is a core GNOME app, it’s going to be around for a long time to come, and it is badly in need of some UI improvements. This is very much about having consistently high standards for GNOME UX: it’s great to have Anjal or other new eds front-ends, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of improving Evo itself.

      The mockups in this blog post weren’t intended as a blueprint for anything in particular. They are a way of demonstrating the kinds of things that we could do to improve Evo. Maybe it would help if I broke things down, perhaps with analyses of the current UI? Feel free to talk to me about this.

  22. nona says:

    Frankly, I’d be already ahppy if they finally make separate apps for the addressbook and calendar. Small, well-integrated apps is what I hope for.

  23. M says:

    This sort of simplified streamlined UI might bring me back from gmail.

  24. zor says:

    That’s an email application (nice looking I admit) but evolution is a groupware application so at very least it should have a calendar.

  25. Pingback: Top Posts — WordPress.com

  26. Kike says:

    It’s awesome. Nice work.

  27. Mirsal says:

    I love this, and as a heavy day-to-day user of Evolution, I must say I’d really like to see these mockups become real.

    Do you have any plan to implement them in an evo branch or even as a separate project ? Or do you know about anyone who has, and who I can contact in order to give a hand ?



  28. Pingback: GNOME 3: Evolution avrà un nuovo look? | TUXJournal.net

  29. Calum says:

    FWIW, I’d say the main reason I’ve stopped using Evolution recently isn’t the UI, but that it’s just become so hopelessly slow with our corporate IMAP servers. I’m sure the servers themselves are probably part of the problem, but there’s not much the average user can do about that– and they work fine with other clients like Thunderbird. So I suspect the biggest usability improvements that anyone could make to Evolution right now are performance related 🙂

  30. Pingback: Evolution, re-evolved | afaik

  31. BNS says:

    I come from a TB background with all kinds of settings and preferences available. When I formatted my Windows hard drive (thanks to a Windows virus), I installed Ubuntu, and was extremely happy to find Evolution with built-in encryption support.

    My Question (that I’m trying to find an answer for, when I found this blog and the comments) —
    Is there a simple way in Evolution to set the “global” default for Message Preview to OFF?

    Unlike many on this discussion, I don’t want the preview. I can tell from the list of Senders and Subjects whether I NEED to read the email, so I don’t need the Preview Pane. Most of my emails are from maillists, and (even after I get the rules defined in Evolution that I need for the mail lists), there are very few emails that I need to read… and NONE that I need to preview.

    So I ask,
    Is there a simple way in Evolution to set the “global” default for Message Preview to OFF?

    Thank you.

    • Calum says:

      Did you check the menus or the online help first? View->Preview->Show Message Preview (Ctrl+M) should do it.

      IMHO it’s actually misleading that Evolution still calls this the ‘preview’ pane. In no way is what you see in this window a ‘preview’; it’s the actual, properly-formatted email, with all the same options available as you have if you choose to open your emails in a separate window. So personally I still find it weird that people want to turn this off, as getting to read the content of your emails as quickly and efficiently as possible seems like the whole idea of an email application, but I guess that’s why it’s an option 🙂

  32. putra says:

    Good job for you !!!

Comments are closed.