I recently had the pleasure of attending a Google workshop on Material Design. Eighty designers, product managers and developers were invited from various European startups and companies. I was excited to be presenting some of the work I have been doing at busuu, and to learn more about Material Design. Surprisingly, the main thing I learnt was how consistent it is for designers to feel that their work is being restricted by company politics. Could Material Design be our saviour?
Material Design is a visual framework, created by Google, to develop a more consistent UI and UX on Android Apps and therefore create a nicer experience for users. Effectively it represents a giant style guide that ties together and hones many of the design trends that have been happening over the last few years.
As someone who has previously spent almost a year trying to develop a working style guide for a company of just 40, I have huge respect for the consistent and mature design Google have managed to implement across so many of its products. Material Design is visually stunning, and if it succeeds it will reduce cognitive load for Android users who won’t have to constantly re-learn how each different device or app functions.
For busuu, Material Design will never mean completely redesigning our current app, however it has enabled us to reconsider what we are doing and explore alternative possibilities. Given the feedback I received yesterday, this seems to be exactly the kind of outcome that Google is aiming for. The very clear message of the day was not ‘adopt these guidelines’, it was more ‘have fun with this’.
I learnt a lot of really interesting things about Material Design at this workshop, such as why ‘material’ is not allowed to fold or flip, why we should all start using toolbars instead of app bars, and how we should all be thinking about our ‘material flight path’.
Despite all this, the thing I actually found the most interesting was how restricted all of the designers seemed to be feeling…
I was sitting in a room with some of the best designers in Europe, who were all working at some of the most innovative startups in the world and yet the discussion kept going back to the problem of politics getting in the way of design.
This is so much the case that Material Design seems to no longer just represent a visual framework that we can all use, but a trump card that designers have over their organisation. It seems that more trust is given to the sentence “Google’s Material Design recommends that…” compared to “As your in-house designer I recommend that…”
This is a bit of a sad story, which we should all be able to learn from. As product managers, designers, marketeers, developers, etc, we are all working towards the same goals; to reduce cognitive load for users, create empathetic designs, and build brilliant products. We should not be spending our time playing politics. As designers, if you are finding yourself in constant fight-mode then you need to actively challenge this. From my experience the best way to do this is to make sure that the tasks you are being given are tied to actual metrics that need to change. This way the final conclusions can only be subjective to a certain extent. Once you have this in place; research, prototype and test your work. Design in an agile way (i.e. do the easiest and fastest thing to prove your hypothesis and then ship it).
But I guess, if all else fails, you can always tell your boss that Google said so.