What is Material Design?

By | September 22, 2016

Back when I was researching my competitors for Do It! Prove It!, a few of the competitors would have their apps featured on design websites. One of these apps was Bucketlistly. A quick Google search did not reveal anything about Material Design. I know it’s something about UI or maybe a design paradigm but what is it really?

So the first site on Google describes the goals of Material Design as:

  • Create a visual language that synthesizes classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science.
  • 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.

That was super helpful!

From /r/materialdesign, this was the clearest definition:

Material Design is a set of style guides from Google for communicating different aspects of a user interface.

A very interesting comment on /r/AndroidQuestions that gives a wonderful history behing Material Design:

Early on in the design of computer interfaces it was found that making things look 3D helped users navigate apps and figure out what could be interacted with. Later on, graphics designers at Google threw all this out since execs at Google have declared graphics designers should redo all the interfaces as much as possible. After massive failures in user studies where users could no longer tell what to click, Google graphics designers had to put 3D back in, but they came up with a buzz word so instead of going back it looks like they did a new good thing. This has the bonus that Google hates using anything not developed at Google, so now it looks like something in-house and thus usable instead of the standard practice it was before.

From another post on /r/FrontEnd:

TLDR; It’s a design guide for interfaces, used by Google/Alphabet to create a cohesive look-and-feel across all of their (many) cross-platform products.

And another comment from that same post:

By my understanding, material design is focused on giving the elements of an interface a sense of physicality and location. This is done using textures, shadows, and animation. The elements should look like they are solid things that are stacked on top of each other rather than nested 2d elements. Hierarchy and focus are communicated by that stacking and by animating details like shadows to bring certain elements to the front.

So, basically, Material Design is a design paradigm from Google for user interfaces.

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