image via Google from the Material Design spec

Why I chose to build our next app “slavishly adhering” to material design

Kiley Dorton
Apr 7, 2015 · 3 min read

In a startup like ours, with just two technical team members, we have an extreme scarcity on our hands. You could call it a lack of time, or a lack of resources, or a lack of capacity. Or you could call it what it is: the real world. We’ll never have all the resources we need. We’ll never have unlimited time. But that’s exactly what we signed up for.

The scarcity forces us to make decisions — to choose one direction over another. It keeps us from endlessly debating the possibilities, because those possibilities will quickly slip away with every wasted breath.

It also forces us to look for shortcuts. Ways to be more efficient. Methodologies and toolkits that can propel us ahead of the competition. Open source frameworks and libraries, infrastructure as a service, on-demand workforces, etc.

I found one such efficiency in the form of a design spec. Google calls it Material Design. I call it hundreds of hours of my time that I can use coding instead of dreaming up a brand new cohesive design language for our app.

We’re standing on the shoulders of giants by following material design guidelines. I’m putting my faith in the fact that some unnamed Google team spent dozens of hours debating each color in the color palette. Every hour they spent doing so is an hour longer my company stays alive.

With mother scarcity and the decisions she forces us to make come the inevitable trade-offs. The first of which is the fact that our app is not going to win any innovative design awards. It will look and feel very much like any other app that was built using material design. While for some apps the design itself may be one of the core value propositions (see Clear task manager), most would still provide their full value to the end-user with either a fresh, innovative design or a common, standards-based design. For us, the design objective is to ship a product that (1) is clean and functional, (2) behaves in familiar ways, and — most importantly — (3) efficiently delivers value to the end-user. Material design allows us to achieve parts 1 and 2 of that objective with minimal effort, and let’s us focus most of our time on part 3.

In time, we may find ourselves with the resources required to draft our own design methodology and guidelines and components library and more. But the only way we’ll get there is by making a few sacrifices along the way.

Said another way, temporarily postponing the work of creating innovative user interfaces is — ironically — the only path that leads to us to a time in which we actually have the resources to create the next wave of design patterns.

Until we have time to make it round, the world of visual design has fallen — and shall remain — flat.

Kiley Dorton

Written by

Father, husband, optimist, creator, coder, beatboxer. Atlanta, GA