Co.Design

Google's New, Improved Android Will Deliver A Unified Design Language

It's called "material design," and it's the language with which Google wants you to design your next Android app.

Today, at the Super Bowl for Google news, Google I/O, the company rolled out the latest version of its mobile OS, Android L, which is almost entirely predicated around the final step in its amazing design evolution: a formalized, unified design language across all their products, platforms, and devices called "Material Design."

Last year, we realized that Google had unofficially embraced the humble index card across their apps. This year, under their Material Design thesis, they’ve taken this idea to extremes. Cards are no longer just generic windows that fit inside any interface. Cards are the interface, sewn together like an elastic, patchwork quilt. They appear on screen with depth (thanks to liberal, but tasteful, use of drop shadow), and enable constant, seamless transitions to anything you want to do. Tap an email, a card grows. Tap it again, a card shrinks. And on top of all this virtual paper, Google has constructed precanned animations that sprinkle another layer of color and physics wherever you touch.

Matias Duarte on Stage at Google I/O 2014

As Android lead designer Matias Duarte demoed it on stage, he explained that it moved with the physics of card stock, but also splash with your touch, like "ink rippling in a pond." He clearly put it better than I can, though I’d add that Android‘s core UI has long been cleanly designed, but was always a bit cold. Material Design adds a bit of human warmth back to the equation.

What’s potentially most interesting about Material Design is that Google is opening up all of these tools and animations in their new Android L software development kit. That means, not only is Google using these cards for their apps like Gmail, any developer can adopt this interface technology into their apps. Elements like Android’s buttons will now have rippling ink effects built right in.

Material Design in L Preview

And furthermore, Duarte teased that Google’s software was smart enough to intelligently rearrange text and photo interfaces you may have already built, padding out white space, clarifying text, and even creating a UI color palette based around a company’s logo or photos an app contains. With a little human effort, these design principles can scale across devices*. (Though, it's worth noting, when Google actually showed off an Android Wear smartwatch on stage, a lot of the more beautiful card animations were missing, probably in favor of devices that have less graphics processing power than your phone or laptop.)

The software is just being made available to developers today as a release preview, and will be available to the masses in the fall. So just how smart Google’s design algorithms are, and how flexible Google’s Material Design thesis proves to be across apps beyond Google’s, is still unclear.

Gmail App, before & After

But one thing is certain: Google’s thesis on design is finally coming together. And even though Jon Wiley—lead designer for Google Search—told me that Google wouldn’t be presenting a design thesis for all developers to follow at I/O, that appears to be exactly what they’ve done.

To Google, Material Design is the new way to design.

* A previous version of this article said that Google's algorithms could automatically scale one app UI across multiple screens, which is not (yet) the case.

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15 Comments

  • Mattias is a very very smart man, even if he often sounds like he's 'imitating' a designer, but doesn't actually care about design (I'm being very serious here, I've seen him in tons of interviews).

    So basically this looks very much like all of Google's current apps, but with more drop shadow for highlighting tap-areas. :/

    Saying that Apps should be totally 'responsive' (for lack of a better word) is not exactly groundbreaking. On iOS, designers spend a ton of energy to make apps universal (read, 2-3 viewports). Now Google has added a new screensize that is smaller (watch) and bigger (TV), so ... the apps must be more responsive. Okay.

  • When the latest Google+ on Android was released, we got a taste of Material Design as it is identical to the Gmail app presented on stage by Matias. I quite like the latest Google+ app but once Material Design is fully on display in the L release, we can expect a silky smooth experience, one would say iOS smooth, something many have hoped for on Android since day one.

  • As long as their guidelines don't become rules and we provide well designed intuitive screen experiences, I don't see a reason to follow exactly what Google, Apple and Microsoft say. They are companies with guidelines not law enforcement.

  • Google's Material Design is sharp. Please let's not see comments about how it is a ripoff of metro or iOS. Things have gotten flatter, naturally some things will look similar. However, Google makes it more aesthetically pleasing by adding shadows and natural movement. Let's appreciate this design for what it is, clean, simple and pleasing.

  • Tommy Hood

    Agreed! Furthermore if anyone tries to claim that Google ripped off Apples flat design aesthetic, they clearly haven't been paying attention, and have it completely backwards. It was Apple that copied Google's already flat aesthetic, which I love by the way. Flat = simple =timeless.

  • These are dark days for design and UX, with a stark homogeneity now complete across popular devices and operating systems. Previously you could look at an Android screen and iOS screen and immediately tell the difference. When you started using them, they also felt quite different. Are these designs really so good that no-one can create something that looks even a bit different?

  • Tommy Hood

    You clearly meant to say that ios 7 was a rip off of Google's already flat aesthetics.

    It's ok everyone makes a mistake.

  • Lj Lee

    I'm looking forward to seeing the new Material Design and its uniform look throughout the Android platform. There should be many interesting things to come from this.