Google’s Material Design

An inherently skeuomorphic approach to design


Google Just launched its new design guidelines called Material Design. The initiative was aimed at further developing Google’s visual language through greater focus on its user interface. This initiative may be the beginning of designed experiences blending in with the natural world in a indistinguishable way.

The goals of Google’s Material Design are twofold:

  1. Create a visual language that synthesizes classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science.
  2. Develop a single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across platforms and device sizes.

This new design standard was directed through 3 principles:

  1. Material is the metaphor
  2. Be bold, graphic, intentional
  3. Provide meaning with motion

Many top designers are calling this the continuation of flat design. However, 2 out of the 3 of its guiding principles are rooted in skeuomorphism thought.

Skeuomorphism is the practice of taking an object in the physical world and applying it in a digital context. Before IOS 7, Apple was notorious for using skeuomorphic design. After Microsoft came out with its Windows 8 design system that employed “flat design,” Apple soon followed with IOS 7. Both systems discarded most its past visual embellishments and focused on the core design principles.

The principle of “material is the metaphor” and “provide meaning with motion” aim to appropriate things from the natural world. However, these principles look to nature to create meaning instead of incorporating design from man-made objects. This can be subtly seen in the leaf reference in Google Map’s interface.

The principle of “material is the metaphor” advocates providing visual cues that are grounded in reality like natural light and motion to create familiar attributes that users can quickly understand.

The principle of “provide meaning with motion” states that a motion should flow in a way that resembles objective reality and retain the feeling of physicality.

The beauty of these principles is that the use of skeuomorphic design choices comes from nature instead of relics of the past. This use of biomimicry is what’s needed in our constantly changing user-centered digital landscape. It helps the relationship between human and machine as we evolve together.

User Interface is heading towards unity with the natural world. If this trend continues, and as technology evolves, we may soon witness a world where UI is so intertwined with our surrounding that it is indistinguishable from the physical world.