Jon Wiley, one of Google’s principal designers behind its Search and Maps apps, recently opened up about the company’s design principles and mobile search strategies in an open ask-me-anything interview on Reddit.
Within that thread, Wiley revealed what led the team at Google to build Material Design — which has been billed as one of the biggest new features in Android L.
Material Design is basically an aesthetic overhaul that’s meant to make content look similar across screens of all sizes, whether it be watches, smartphones, or laptops. Apps are also intended to look simpler, cleaner, and more colourful with fewer distractions.
Although Material Design was just unveiled at this year’s Google I/O, Wiley said Google has been talking about the idea for years.
Here’s what he had to say about Material Design in the AMA:
I’m one of the instigators of material design. It actually came about a couple of years ago when we were working on a design problem involving Google Search. I was looking at mobile results on cards and I asked “what is this made of?” People gave me funny looks, like “what do you mean? It’s just pixels.” But I didn’t think that was a good answer.
When you physically interact with software — actually touching the cards and links and buttons, etc. — you bring a lot of expectations around how physical objects behave. If the interface isn’t thoughtful about those expectations — if it’s just a bunch of pixels — it leaves you with a rather unsatisfying and inauthentic experience.
Material design came about when thinking how to make Google Search better on mobile devices. So we plan to bring material design to all of its products, including Search.
When asked about the future of search in general, Wiley didn’t cite any specific plans for Google but did elaborate on his overall outlook for where it’s headed. For a mobile search experience to be truly intuitive, it needs to be so natural you wouldn’t even have to think about it, he said in his AMA answer:
But broadly: I expect obstacles to drop away. Devices will get cheaper, smaller, lighter, longer-lasting, etc. You’ll be able to connect anywhere, fast. And then WHAT you get will be much higher-quality info: not just plain facts, but specific help for what you’re doing at the moment. Also, in many ways I think the technology will become more invisible — it will fade into the background. Think of plumbing — you just turn on the tap, and voila, water! I think information technology will start feeling that way too: on-demand but unobtrusive otherwise.
Material Design will roll out with Android L, which is expected to debut in the fall. In addition to a new user interface, Android L will include Google’s latest effort to improve battery life called Project Volta and a revamped Chrome browser among other features.