Gmail’s new-ish tabbed inbox offers the mechanized convenience of sorting all of your solicitations--your Groupons and Gap coupons--into one pile away from your more important email.
Right now, that pile--called the Promotions Tab--looks like any other tower of email. But in a new Gmail update, Google has transformed the design from list to Pinterest, with a grid of minimal white cards driven by prominent photos (along with a corporate logo, one-line summary, and the option to star or trash the deal).
Google would probably say that the layout owes more of its look to Google+ or the omnitool index card design that the company has rolled out across some services. Indeed, given those similarities, it’s almost surprising that Google hasn’t built any social tools, like a share to Google+ option, into these new, more visually appealing emails.
The company says it’s “just experimenting” for now. There's no talk of bringing the interface to your regular emails (but given that most emails don't contain pictures as ads do, this interface might not scale so well anyway), and you'll even have to opt-in to the program to take part. But look closely, and you’ll see that it’s not pure experimentation. Because Gmail is already monetizing the new design by offering sponsored ads in the top left spot on the grid (which happens to be the first spot your eye will go to).
In other words, what are essentially prettier Gmail ads will come at the price of even more ads! But don't be cynical about what that means for the future of Google design. Think of it as the new version of clicking on a funny commercial in YouTube, only to
be forced have the opportunity to watch another commercial first.