Change UI theme in Google Chrome 69

Updated: September 14, 2018

Say what you will about Chrome, but over the years, it has maintained a rather consistent look & feel. The changes are mostly done under the hood and they do not interfere with how the user interacts with the browser. But occasionally, mostly guided by their wider influence in the OS space, especially the mobile world, Google has made some stylistic changes. Most notably, they introduced Material Design to the Chrome UI, and now, there's another facelift.

I noticed the new looks in the freshly updated Chrome 69 in Kubuntu Beaver, and I wasn't too happy. The font is gray and pale, ergo contrast isn't as good as it should be, and the new round design feels odd. So I decided to change this back to the older style. Let me show you how you can do this.

New looks left

Raise the flag

In the address bar, we need to navigate to:


This will open a "special" flags page where you can control various aspects of Chrome's behavior, including things that you don't necessarily see in the standard settings menu. We're interested in the section labeled UI layout for the browser's top chrome. Here, you have a drop down box that gives you six options. The old design is number 1. But you can try others, see what you prefer.

Change layout

We change this to 1) Normal and we get this:

Old looks restored

From a purely ergonomic perspective, I really do not understand the change. Even just the basic contrast and colors used here. Gray on gray, I mean really. That's not a good choice, and I'm terrified of the ripple effect that this will lead to in the software world, as if we don't have enough ergonomic fallout already.

New looks left

Old looks, ergonomics

Just compare the two: new, top; old, bottom. The new looks pretty and abstract, but it's also simply not readable. You don't know where the tab starts and where it ends. The text contrast is lower than before, meaning harder to read. The address bar background is colored, and some of the text is almost invisible.

I don't think anyone can argue about things being pretty. But useful? No. On a phone, where you only see a single tab anyway, this could make sense. With multiple tabs and multiple app windows, legibility and contrast are of crucial importance for productivity. This is not a desktop feature, and once again, we see things creep out of the mobile arena and into the desktop space. That's never ever good.

Update: one of my readers mentioned this to be an artifact of Ubuntu/KDE whatever. Well, I installed the latest version of Chrome in Windows 10, and then compared the results between new and old layouts. Again We see a similar pattern. The older (classic) layout offers better clarity and visiblity, better contrast on the address line, darker fonts, and it's easier to distinguish between tabs and the background.

Windows 10, new looks, ergonomics

Windows 10, old looks, ergonomics


There you go. If you don't like the aesthetically pleasing but ergonomically dubious change to the Chrome's UI look in version 69 onwards, then you can change (we don't know for how long) the layout back to what it was, or try one of the several available themes. The goal is to retain maximum visual clarity and efficiency. The old looks offer that. The new ones hamper that.

I am quite alarmed by this trend. The only solace I get is the knowledge that a few Google shares in me possession are generating profit, which I shall use to heal my soul of all this sub-IQ100 touch-led destruction of the desktop and fast productivity, a crusade that started worldwide around 2011 or so.

Ah well. We live on loaned time anyway. See you.