Google’s material design explained: Continuity of experience

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Credit: Jakub Mosur

Google previewed its new Material Design interface in June and you can now see it both in Google’s web products and the new Android 5.0 Lollipop software. It had its humble beginnings long before this year, however, and has a very specific purpose. The design language you see today came about 2.5 years ago in an effort to digitally mimic the continuity of experience people have when interacting with physical objects.

Jon Wiley, principal designer at [company]Google[/company], explained the backstory of Material Design at the Gigaom Roadmap conference on Tuesday. “We started with our card metaphor and realized how much the touchscreen has changed UI. Material Design represents physical interaction. That’s why 60 frames per second on the screen is important; when you move a real object, it doesn’t ‘drop frames.’ Material Design has to feel natural and is based on physical principles.”

Another aspect to the user interface is how Wiley describes the person-object interaction. “The energy of the system tends to come from the user.” That’s why you’ll see radiating animations when tapping objects in a Material Design app or web page. It’s not about eye candy or fancy animations for the sake of jazzing up the experience, but about reducing the feeling of barriers between the physical and digital world.

Google’s Material Design also takes our multi-device world into account so that the experience is a natural transition between screens. It’s not about duplicity and the exact same design across screens, said Wiley, because the depth of the experience varies with screen size. A phone will have a thinner perceptual depth, or Z-axis, than a larger screened device such as a tablet or a television.

Although Material Design is new, it’s ready for the future and the next generation of devices. Wiley said Google considered what technology would be like two or more years in the future when it started work on the project. Get used to it, then: Barring some tweaks here and there, Material Design is likely to be your interface with Google for some time to come.

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Jack C

Lollipop just made it to my Nexus 5 and I really like it. It looks great and feels really good to use.

Side question: Is the crazy shirt thing a dress code requirement, or just a Duarte inspired thing?

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