Thoughts on Google’s Material Design

July 9th, 2014 in Design & Branding 3 minute read

A fortnight ago Google launched a new set of design guidelines, Material Design, aimed at furthering and unifying the visual language of its products by focusing on the user interface.

The two primary goals of Material Design are:

  1. Create a visual language that synthesizes classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science.
  2. Develop a single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across platforms and device sizes. Mobile precepts are fundamental, but touch, voice, mouse, and keyboard are all first-class input methods.

Like many others in the design community, I was very excited to see such a comprehensive and well thought out approach. It’s really great to see such a big leap from Google, and it’s exciting when you consider what this means for their products in the future – it’s a lot more than just a fresh coat of paint.

The design – more than just flat

Firstly, let’s take a look at the visual side. At first glance, it’s easy to think of Material as simply a progression of current flat design trends, but when you dive deeper, you can see it’s really much more. For me, this feels like a more mature development containing a lot of the visual simplicity of flat design, with underlying principles that are deep rooted in skeuomorphism.

Let’s take a look at the principles of Material Design:

  1. Material is the metaphor
  2. Bold, graphic, intentional
  3. Motion provides meaning

With the first and third principles, Material is the metaphor and Motion provides meaning, Google wants to introduce familiarity and a connection to the real world by using natural light and motion. With this in mind, the heart of the new design is the idea of elements that comprise the interface are more than just pixels or layers – they are each an independent material that can morph and change, something to which you can apply properties to create a sense of depth and weight through subtle shadowing and logical motion.


Image: Material Design in Android L

I have long felt that one of the key things most commonly lost in flat design is the confidence and trust you gain from design that shares metaphors with what we can see and touch in the real world. I’m not saying we should go back to huge bevelled buttons, but with these principles, Google has created a perfect bridge between two contrasting design styles.

Focus on right now

Material also does a lot for how we interact with information, in that it feels designed so content can naturally appear when we need it without tripping up the user.

I’m a huge fan of Google Now, something Google have been building and evolving for years now. It takes information that I would normally need to manage or seek out myself and handles it for me. As a user, I trust it to display the information I need at the right moment in time. It’s elegant and it’s contextual. It provides content that has intrinsic value when I need it. It’s a product that felt like an experiment at first, but has grown into an essential part of the new philosophy, you can see how the “card” style of Google Now has shaped what is now Material Design.

With such a vast array of smart devices ranging from smart watches to smart televisions to products like Glass, Google is trying hard to produce a fool proof platform that can provide the content we need, when we need it, in a consistent and aesthetically pleasing manner.

Looking forward

Material Design is going to be a large part of the next major Android release, Android L. Overall I think this is a really positive step forward and will really strengthen Google’s ecosystem. I’m also really excited to see what this means for products like smart watches, since many of the new wave of smart watches will be powered by Android Wear.

What do you think about Material Design? Love it? Hate it? Tweet at us and let us know!

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