Going Material

“Should I stay or should I go?” Thoughts after diving on this new trend.

Having the community witness the birth of new trends each year is not a new thing. Skeuomorphic, flat and everything in-between; unsolicited redesigns of apps or services; iOS or Android versions of services that have yet to be developed for those platforms… the list goes on and on.

By the end of last year a new thing would come up, though. Just like Apple jumped on the “flat design” band wagon with the release of iOS 7, Google played his own hand and pushed something that would start getting designers and developers out of their minds: Material Design.

The premise behind it wasn’t particularly new. After all, it’s still flat… but not quite. But what could in fact be considered kind of new was that unlike previous trends, this one came with an instruction manual. No more simple dos and don’ts, “no drop shadows” or “no gradients”. This manual was conceived as some sort of bible, where (almost) everything was taken into account: theory, philosophy, sizing, spacing, colors, typography, etc, etc, etc.

Going Material on our projects may be good for various aspects that will surely appeal to those used to dealing with intense roadmaps where iteration is key. However, with choice comes responsibility.

Why go Material

Google’s design team made a great job on exhaustively relieving several kind of layouts, interface elements and use cases for these all by turning them into “components” that would aid consistence and development speed for products made by themselves or by anybody else.

It saves breath

Taking their guidelines into account will spare us various discussions with our beloved devs (and probably even clients) when dealing with the implementation of certain layouts or a specific set of interactions.

It saves time

We’ve all surely come across various examples of apps following the Material Design Guidelines, and I’m pretty sure that we would agree on how good they look. Going Material spares us the hassle of thinking how to solve common problems in effective ways, as far as time and appearance are concerned.

It’s adaptive

Their guidelines are so comprehensive that they’ve even considered how to deal with most patterns or layouts on every other device these products could end up running on.

It’s easy

These Guidelines set ground for new additions to be consistent with whatever the app had going on before; they are so thorough that almost anybody with a bit of an eye for design — provided they’ve gone through the entire thing — could deal with adding new stuff without worrying too much.

Having dealt with various startups I’m well aware of the fact that there are times when “pushing” is all that matters; being able to take time off to put some more thought into designing something that’s actually better looking may not even happen that often. Despite this, as I designer I can’t help but notice the negative (or should I say not-so-positive) aspects that come with going Material.

Why not go Material

Google developed it for their own benefit mainly. The thoroughness of these Guidelines aim to provide a more consistent experience throughout apps living on Android devices, therefore reducing friction and hopefully increasing engagement for users old and new.

Conceived with Android in mind

Like I mentioned before, this helps not only Google but also Android users improve their experience inside of the platform.

Made by Google…

Our product’s identity lies not only on branding, logo, colors and typographic choices, but also on its interface design, and don’t even get me started with “signature interactions”.

…not (necesarily) for you

Even though I agree that going Material may be very good time-wise, why should we give up getting a personality of their own on our products? Good, unique design is more than a “nice to have”.

It’s hardly designing

Following Guidelines so comprehensive and “strict” may mean constantly holding back in favor of staying within these so well delimited boundaries. There’s so many rules that they could be mistaken for laws. Design solves problems and Material Design solves lots, but a better kind of design deals with them in an elegant and unique fashion.

Choose wisely

If you do decide to go Material, I’d try to face this design stage as temporary — unless you’re working on an Android app — driven by the need for having a functional, good looking prototype up and running as soon as possible.

Let’s please not forget about form. Let’s make unique-looking products. Let’s save design. Let’s please let designers do their thing.

Design is a feature our product could be remembered for.