In the ongoing war of the operating systems, the front-runners are undeniably iOS and Android. As we detailed in our Android L Vs. iOS 8 article, Apple took the latest battle; however, Android Lollipop represents a major step forward for the platform as it introduced the aesthetic concept of Material Design. We’ve covered the principles of flat design in Impervious Appeal: How to Design Jaw-Dropping iOS Apps, but we’ve never gone in-depth on Material Design because it’s fairly complicated. In this article, we’ll detail what Material Design is and why it represents a huge step forward for app design aesthetics.
What is Material Design? It defies a simple explanation. It is similar to flat design in that it emphasizes negative space, bright color schemes, and an emphasis on intuitive UI. Material Design differs from flat design in the way in which it evolves the concept.
Material Design takes the visual aesthetic of flat design and asks the developer to create a realistic digital world with physical rules within the UI. Material Design offers designers the help of two skeuomorphic concepts: depth and shadow.
Depth and shadow both play a big part in how the user interprets what’s clickable and what’s not. The buttons themselves interact with the touch. The whole concept plays off our ability as humans to recognize depth and perceive information hierarchies organized in the dimension of depth.
Below is a great video featuring Material Design in practice.
UI designers love Material Design because the addition of depth and shadow gives them more tools to convey purpose, meaning and order. It effectively evolves the concept of flat design. Grace LaRosa, senior experience designer at R/GA, said to VentureBeat:
“What’s newest and most of note, in my opinion, is how well documented and systematic the language is. After a long era of designers and developers creating Android experiences that often feel renegade or pieced together, Google have undoubtedly stepped up their efforts to standardize and improve the UI and UX across their app ecosystem.”
The problem with Material Design lies not to its aesthetic concepts, but the practicality of executing it within the Android platform. Android allows third-party companies to create hardware based in the OS, which creates device fragmentation. Not all Android devices run on the latest OS (Lollipop), in fact, some devices go back as far as four previous versions of the Android OS. Due to this vast discontinuity in Android devices, the adoption of material design will likely be a gradual, unlike the nearly instantaneous switch to the latest OS and OS aesthetics for iOS users.
As Grace LaRosa said above, Material Design does set-up a standardized UI/UX for Android developers to use across the app ecosystem, which will hopefully bring about more unity on the platform. Material Design is thus only a part of the solution to the problem which will ultimately limit its impact. It is designed to make for more consistent UI/UX across Android apps, but it won’t be adopted uniformly and thus won’t single-handedly be able to transcend the device inconsistency in order to solve the unity problem.
Jon Wiley, one of the creators of Material Design, recently said in an AMA:
“I think a big challenge with Google Search in terms of experience is that it has often felt like a series of jump cuts in what is actually continuous. Material design gives us a framework we can use to do something closer to a scene change in a play, continuously moving from one state to the next. This can make it feel much faster and can also provide cues as to what happened when you touched something in the UI. It’s another step towards removing any speed bumps along the way to getting a good answer.”
Interesting to note that both iOS and Android seem to be striving for a more fluid sense of continuity in improving their platforms. For iOS, it’s functional device continuity, for Android, it’s aesthetic UX continuity.
Ultimately, it seems likely Apple will leapfrog past Android by building upon (or conforming to) the Material Design aesthetics in an upcoming iOS, which will then receive mass adoption as is the precedent with Apple OS’s.
For more information on Material Design, check out these awesome, in-depth videos from Google I/O 2014: Material Witness: How Android Material Applications Work and Material Design in Google Play.
At Mystic Media, we’re constantly engaged in various app design projects. Our expertise reaches across all facets of the industry, be it iOS design, Android design, web design, strategic marketing and more. Contact us today by clicking here or by phone at 801.994.6815