UI/UX is part of everyone’s life now, we interact with so many non-physical tools and services on a daily basis that we’ve become dependent on design to enable our work and entertainment flows. But Google’s Material Design is something else. Some gleeful reviewers have extremely positive, yet superficial, appreciation for it. While many seem to be perplexed by what they see as an almost inconsequential change – “So they added shadows to flat icons? Big deal.” But that’s not what material design is. It’s not just a standardized set of design rules for a corporate identity, it’s not just about simple usability; it’s so devious that you don’t even notice it, because you’re not supposed to and that’s the point.
Material design is built ground-up from physical world interactions. The reason it doesn’t feel like anything has been done is because Google’s taken what we comprehend naturally and translated it into a digital space. The human mind processes an insane amount of information from a huge number of sources constantly, and material design is a conceptual framework that seeks to simply operate within our innate ability to interpret and interact, whereas most UI/UX has previously sought to impress, elevate, distract, or otherwise capture our attention. Apple’s use of design has always been synthetic, exceptionally well crafted and useable, but highly synthetic and meant to feel slick and premium. Material design isn’t trying to impress you, it’s trying to be invisible and that can be confusing.
The idea of digital objects occupying space within their own world is so intuitive that people can’t even understand why it holds any amount of significance. It’s not like 3D video games, which purposefully try to trick you into believing you are interacting with objects that hold depth; the objects in Material Design do occupy conceptual space, and they occupy it in the same manner that they would if they were physical materials (hence the name). A pen on your desk does not roll through your keyboard, it can roll under or be carried over and once on the other side, it will not magically appear in its original spot. It is this idea that drives this design concept, and I know I’m already at risk of sounding like a blithering fanboy, but it is really a significant shift in UI/UX thought and one that will inform design decisions until the next great transition period.
If you are interested in design, I urge you to read through their design guidelines, it is well worth the time.