What is design? The single word ‘design’ encompasses an awful lot. One definition, by Richard Seymour during Design Council’s Design in Business Week 2002 was ‘making things better for people’. We could say, design is the curved handle on our coffee mug that fits so naturally in our grip, that we barely notice it. Similarly, we may take aspects of software design for granted, but every swipe of our finger has been meticulously thought out to closely match our behavior and responses to the world, and to feel completely natural. Google decided that in order for software to feel natural to a user, it must replicate the properties of the physical world we live in.

“There’s a very clear parallel between systems of book design, and the way that humans hold and use devices. People use materials in life every day, and we want them to understand software the same way,” says Jonathan Lee, Design Manager. Thus ‘Material’ became the metaphor that physical objects have physical properties, and they began to see software as a physical entity. They began to explore what the rules of this digital world would be, in order to decide how the objects would behave. “There is actually a little bit of space within the device, so let’s try to take advantage of that,” suggested Bethany Fong, Senior Interaction Designer. Thus, the interface became a three-dimensional construction composed of layers of physical components. The idea was to imagine that every pixel on the screen somehow lives in a little virtual world within. However, how could they know the behavior of the digital surface, when they didn’t know what it was made of?

Quantum paper. “The idea of it being mostly paper like, but smart paper, served as a point of view about how your surfaces work and why,” says Matias Duarte, VP Design. The concept of Quantum paper was thought of by Jon Wiley, Principal Designer. Jon claimed that we have paper resolution in our devices, so paper seemed like a natural place to start for material. They began to study this by actually carving out and sculpting all of the product icons out of paper, lighting it in different ways to see what they would achieve. In order to define the digital screen as a three-dimensional world, they had to define depth by use of lighting and shadows. They set up light rigs, to understand how shadows work. “The depth queues that came from the shadows, made us think more deeply about how we can communicate surface,” – Christian Robertson, Senior Staff Visual Designer. Slowly it all began to come to life as the hierarchy formed within the objects and components of the software.

At the same time, they focused on the idea of bringing software interface in line with reality, so that all of its elements, transitions and animations appear as they would in real life. Nikolas Jitkoff, Principal Designer says, “There were little things, like having buttons that the press felt a little bit odd because you’re not actually able to press it, your finger doesn’t feel anything moving down. So, instead we reversed this, we had buttons that lifted up when you touched them. It’s more of a magnetic attraction of your finger.

Past emotion there was the graphic design aspect, they improved the esthetics greatly by preserving the concept of whitespace and adding a hierarchy to it by playing with lighting and shadows. They combined the use of brighter colors, more detailed iconography and typography with playful transactions. The color spectrums used were based on picking a primary color and adding accent colors to it, creating a simplified and easy to use system while being definitive. “This way, someone who never took a color theory class could create a combination of colors within their product that felt harmonious,” Rachel Been, Senior Visual Designer.

This may be the biggest design project that has ever happened at Google. The aim is to achieve unity among varied and disparate set of products. Google also created versions/prototypes of what other apps would look like with material designs. They have released application programming interfaces (APIs) for third-party developers to incorporate the design language into their applications. “I realized it wasn’t just an Android story or Google story, but it could be really a cross-platform design framework story,” Matias Duarte, VP Design. The idea is to create something beautiful with principles behind it that will be timeless. There is logic to it, but also magic.

Written by: Dipika Asnani, Content writer & Digital Marketing at Promobi Technologies.