A Designer’s Guide To Google I/O

This week is Google’s annual developer conference. Here’s why you should care.

Every year thousands of developers pay thousands of dollars to attend Google’s I/O conference.


I know, that first sentence lost you already. Was it “developers?” Or “conference?” The sort-of-horrible name “Google I/O”? What is an I/O? Truly, I could tell you what an I/O is–but it won’t make it any better. But you, designer, entrepreneur, or developer (*shivers*) should pay attention this week. Because I/O (*shivers*) is when Google announces its biggest news of the year.

You get a peek of what products are coming next.. Remember, Google has a newly organized hardware division. We’ll see even more about Android N–Google’s next mobile OS coming in September–and will surely get sizable updates on other Android projects: Android Wear, Android TV, and Android Auto. Plus there’s always Chromebooks, Google’s quiet but enormous world of laptops. In other words, even if you’re a loyal iPhone user, an Android something is coming for you. You cannot escape.

Don’t forget all of Google’s weird projects. Google devotes immense resources developing experimental engineering and design, and no doubt, we’ll see some of that this week. Google does incredible AI research, and it’s hard to imagine it keeping quiet about all of that in the era when AI is being productized as chatbots and talking speakers. Google’s ATAP division (that stealth R&D lab formerly run by Regina Dugan, built to bring advanced technology to market within two years), routinely shows off watershed inventions of UX at this conference, too. Plus, ATAP owes us updates on its room-mapping phone, Project Tango, and its modular phone, Project Ara. And in case you forgot, Google is building a car–though it’s unclear if we’ll actually see more of that car at I/O.

This is the year that Google will get serious about VR. Cardboard has incredible reach, having shipped more than 5 million headsets earlier this year, but it lacks the full fidelity and immersion promised by higher-end VR. So the company has been shifting major talent into a new VR division that’s said to be thinking bigger than Cardboard headsets. One report even claimed Google staffers were experiencing FOMO when watching what Facebook was doing with Oculus and what HTC/Valve were doing with the Vive. It’s not yet clear what that product will look like. It could be a better version of Cardboard, like Samsung’s Gear VR, or even a standalone VR headset. Given evidence that Android N will have greater VR support, mobile will no doubt be a big part of whatever’s announced.

Google I/O features tons of legitimately interesting design and engineering talks. Google’s own designers and developers run stimulating breakout sessions all week. Some are all about code. Others give a glimpse into the design process at the company, like how Google makes final design decisions, or the philosophy of Material Design. And what most people don’t realize is that you can watch them free online. There’s a full schedule here. Live your best life.

All Images (unless otherwise noted): Google


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.