Should you use Material Design?

Study from material.io

As a developer, my instinct is to build upon the tried-and-tested work of others.

As a designer, my instinct is to keep control and to re-invent the wheel. (because it’s fun!)

These two sides of me clashed when choosing whether or not to use Material Design for my startup Pilcro.

This piece outlines the thought process I went through, and a step-by-step guide to help you decide whether to use Material Design.

So what is Material Design?

It is used all across Google’s product suite, from Google Docs through Google Search to Google Maps. If you haven’t heard of it, you will recognise it. Here is a snapshot from the guides showing the simple Material Button:

The Action Button — It has become the poster child of Material Design.

Google headline the Material Design homepage with this synopsis:

“Material Design is a unified system that combines theory, resources, and tools for crafting digital experiences.”

So Material Design is simply a set of rules, guidelines, components and best practises for creating websites and apps.

Why did Google develop Material Design?

Google developed Material Design to create a consistent visual language for all of their products. Seems sensible — they didn’t want to do the same bit of design work twice for two different products — and besides, it creates a consistent Google Look that their users can become accustomed to while navigating between Google products.

Elevation study from material.io

But why do others want to use Material Design?

With Material Design, you are really standing on the shoulders of design giants. Google has developed Material Design as the culmination of their experience and knowledge in digital experience design — They have made the mistakes so you don’t have to.

This means you can save a lot of time because you don’t need to develop your own visual language and you can sidestep common design pitfalls.

However, the most compelling reason for using Material Design is more subtle.

By using Material Design, you are tapping into a very famous visual language. This means that your users subconsciously attribute a level of trust and security to your app beyond its station because they will associate your app with Google.

This can be a rewarding strategy for fledgling startups and growth-stage businesses.

So why doesn’t everyone use it?

  1. You might not want to look like a Google app. Material Design makes your app look all Google-y. Is that what you really want?
  2. If you like to design components right down to the nitty-gritty, rather than just integrating them together, you have had your wings clipped really… Google have done all the fun work. (I like to re-invent the wheel sometimes too!)
  3. Some apps just don’t fit with the Material Design language. Material Design works well for apps that use standard components — buttons, menus, icons, drawers, modals etc. — but if you are developing a game or some other custom digital experience, it is not really the right tool for the job.
  4. There are other great Visual Systems that do a similar job, Material Design is not the only one.

Pilcro’s decision

We decided to use Material Design. Because:

  1. We offer an application tightly integrated with Google Suite. Therefore, we wanted to look as Google-y as possible to fit in with their suite of products.
  2. Pilcro is made up almost exclusively of the sort of components Material Design is targeted at.
  3. We wanted to be able to design and develop a compelling user experience extremely quickly (finished product within 6 months).
  4. (tech chat alert) There is a great npm package called material-ui-next which is a React integration. This package meant we could integrate a pre-made Material Design component library across our entire product in a fortnight.
Pilcro homepage. Spot the Material Design Buttons!

Should you choose Material Design for you project?

The following steps should help you decide:

  1. Determine whether the structure of your app is a suitable fit for using Google Material Design. It might not be. Do you have Standard buttons, menus, toolbars, modals etc.
  2. What benefits will you get from using Material Design — do they outweigh the downsides? Does development speed and robust design outweigh your desire to create your own visual language and build at your own speed?
  3. Most importantly, could you benefit from piggybacking on the inferred trust and reputation users ascribe to Material Design as a way of kickstarting your product’s growth?
  4. Check out some great implementations of Material Design:

If you liked this story, please 👏 and please share with others. Also please check out my company at pilcro.com. Pilcro is brand software for G-Suite - for marketers and brand agencies. You will love what we are up to!