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Material Design—Bend the Rules
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Material Design—Bend the Rules

I have been using Material Design for a long time now in different projects—mobile app designs as well as web projects. Material Design Guidelines do not only provide information of how to apply designs, but also what components to use and how to implement them to provide a consistent experience across different devices and platforms. Material Design guides and supports designers, but it cannot replace them.

Design with System

As User Experience Designer, my focus does not lie on design aspects, but rather on user experience and usability. I mention this point specifically, because it describes best why I prefer using a design system over a simple style guide.

So, what’s the big difference between a design system and a style guide?

Style guides describe rulesets that define the basic look and feel. You might find colors, typography, icons, or even grid systems in it.

To confuse you even more, I bring in another word: pattern- or component library. Pattern libraries are used in addition to style guides and include composed patterns like articles, headers, and other static patterns. In some pattern libraries, you might even find interactions and animations.

So, what is a design system? Design systems connect style guides and pattern libraries together. Additionally, design systems define common principles, combinations of patterns, usability, or even wording, to assure a consistent experience.

 “Material is an adaptable system of guidelines, components, and tools that support the best practices of user interface design. Backed by open-source code, Material streamlines collaboration between designers and developers, and helps teams quickly build beautiful products.” (Material.io)

Using design systems, like Google’s Material Design, help automating some tasks that do not require years of design training. However, design systems do not replace an experienced designer.

What Is New in Material Design 2.0?

First, there is no Material Design 2.0—there is still just Material Design.

However, some designers celebrate the relaunch of Material Design as a substantial change, and that Material Design is now open to interpretations. Personally, I think this is the wrong way to approach it.

Understanding Material Design (or other large-scale design systems) has always meant: Study guidelines and bend the rules to meet your needs.

It is true that relaunching the updated and reformulated guidelines made it more obvious that adaptions and interpretations are part of Material Design. However, the Material Design System has always been a collection of recommendations and guidelines—not rules! Designers who think that this is the major change may have misunderstood the way large-scale design systems are structured.

The key of understanding Material Design always was understanding the Material Properties. In the relaunched Material.io this is explained as Component Behaviour.

Material Design—Showcases

„Material studies showcase the flexibility of Material Theming and components to create expressive and unique apps.“

But if interpretation is not new to Material Design, what is the big change all about? Is there any change at all, or is it still the same old design system from 2014 with a new look?

I don’t think that there are fundamental changes in Material Design that came with the relaunch of Material.io. Indeed, I think that the principles are still the same behind the relaunched version. However, Material Design has evolved with the relaunch:

  • Some components have been adapted: Text Fields are not hanging loosely around anymore, image lists (formally known as grid lists) have been improved, chips and buttons were adapted and some more new features added.
  • New icon styles have been introduced.
  • The relaunch brought new tools that help designers to apply Material Design in their own projects faster.
  • And, for people like me, Google implemented studies to learn how others bring Material Design to life and with this learn how to improve your own system.

Google also points out one major change of the Material Design in one paragraph:

“Material is designed to evolve over time. Starting in May 2018, we’ll deliver on a monthly release cadence to increase the expressive capabilities of the Material Design system, bringing you even more Material Theming capability.” (Material.io)

Is It Worth Using Material Design for Own Projects?

It is definitely worth considering!

To sum it all up, I recommend all designers, who are responsible for large systems or products, to consider using a design system. Google’s Material Design is only one design system that is commonly used. Various brands like Shopify, Apple, Airbnb, Salesforce, or Microsoft have designed and implemented their own design systems. Implementing your own, custom design system might not be the best solution, but implementing a working design system of a large company is better, than no design system at all. Design systems allow all people in the team to focus on things that bring value to the product.

I prefer the Material Design solution, because it is very clearly and precisely documented and just like most of my fellow design colleagues, I am always short on time and just don’t have enough of it to develop my own design system. Even though, one day I will take the time to do just that, so that others can write about my design system in their blogs.

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