This is Material Design

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Google's new visual language is a game changer

A few weeks ago at the Google I/O 2014 Conference, Google introduced their new visual language for its Android devices and Chrome operating systems and browsers. Matter-of-factly named Material Design, this comprehensive document considers nearly all of the visual complexities of their many interfaces. Considering the vast reach of this language, Material Design demonstrates that Google is expanding its focus on design, and that they intend to drive the future of the digital environment.

Material Design is a harmonious marriage of classic design principles and modern technology. Print-based design fundamentals, such as color and typography, guide the treatment of elements. The layering of metaphorical materials, like stacked sheets of paper, create space and a tactile experience for the user. The science of motion is given great consideration so that animation feels based in reality. What results is an innovative, aesthetically-beautiful interface. Google is setting a brand standard that others should be striving to achieve.

Flat thinking

Following the rising trend of flat UI design and moving away from skeuomorphism, Material Design embraces this approach, creating a UI that is clean, simple and minimalist. But flat design isn’t just about being pretty. Some of the benefits of flat design include:

  • Efficient, streamlined websites that can be faster and more functional
  • Embraces screen limitations and works within those parameters
  • Easier to adapt and alter to fit various screen sizes
  • A positive wireframing effect that forces the design team to consider hierarchy

A better user experience

For Android designers and developers, Material Design is providing them with a detailed framework to follow. The goal is creating a consistent look and feel for the user across all of their platforms and screen sizes. Why is this important? It has to do with conditioning and educating the user. 

The use of specific layouts, styles and patterns, among other things, help create recognition and reinforce behavior. A user quickly learns what happens when they perform certain gestures, like swiping away a chip of information. Color is used intentionally, calling out buttons or important pieces of information. Repeated patterns form an understanding by the user, and these remain consistent among all of their devices and apps, unifying everything from mail and maps to calendar and contacts. By creating a better UI, it makes for a smarter, more functional user.

A lot of this is similar to how we approach our wireframing and design process at Elevated Third. We consider the hierarchy of information and how to best organize content on every webpage before we begin the design process. This allows the designer to give elements meaning through color or style, and create a layout that makes sense. Our goal is that every user experience is positive, engaging and encourages repeat visits.

Android users, unite

What does this mean for the Android user? Uniformity, for one. 

Google’s free and open Android model has produced a platform with great reach and many choices for the consumer, as compared with the Apple iOS, but that comes with its own set of challenges. The Android market has become extremely fragmented, mostly in part of the delivery method of the platform to its users. While iOS sends updates directly to its users, prompting them to take action, the Android approach has updates sent directly to the device manufacturers. From there, these can be tweaked and customized, adding time to the release. In addition, some carriers don’t  see the benefit of providing free software updates, and focus their attention on instead selling new devices.

It has been suggested that Google plans to enforce stricter standards for manufacturers to adhere to in order to have Google Apps running on their devices. According to the proposed deadlines, manufacturers will have a nine month window for future Android releases, as well. This new series of deadlines should help reduce fragmentation in the future.

A sign of things to come

During the I/O event, viewers were given a mini-preview of the new Google Play store, and the how the new interface would come into play. While the new interface hasn’t launched publicly yet, perhaps this design overhaul will be rolled out in smaller steps.

Google hasn’t had much of a reputation as being UI design innovators previously, but with the launch of Material Design, they are on the right track. Android has a 78% share of the mobile users and that number is expected to climb through 2014. As the quality of Android phones continues to improve, this modern interface might just be enough to get new users to try it out.

Well done, Google. We’re excited to see what you’ve got up your sleeve next.