One major theme resonated throughout this year’s Google I/O: The company is renewing its focus on improving Android’s interface—not just for phones and tablets, but across all Android-powered devices.
Android L is leading the charge, and the development team couldn’t stop talking about its new design paradigm. We talked to some of the brains behind the next version of Android to get the backstory on what promises to be the cleanest, boldest version of Android yet.
Making Android more immersive
“Material design” is the magic word behind Google’s new unified design philosophy, and we heard it uttered repeatedly in Google I/O panels and sessions.
“Material is the metaphor,” said Nathan Streu, the Google Play UX (user experience) lead, during a panel on Google Play’s revamped design. “We’re relying on bold, graphical, intentional graphics, and that our motion is providing meaning. When we started working with material design we were incredibly excited about the opportunity that was ahead of us.”
That "motion" he’s referring to are things like transitions and the way Cards are swiped away. “It’s serving to focus attention and maintain continuity throughout the user experience. The feedback is subtle and clear and transitions are meaningful.”
Getting the type just right
Streu said that the new Material Design also “relies on the fundamental print line tools…such as baseline grids, instructional templates that can scale across various page types.” He added that “too many types and styles can confuse people,” which is why the Android team went for a large, flexible font family to make it more “purposeful [and] compelling.” Pages within apps like the Google Play store have a generous amount of padding and specialized alignment, so as to “give the page more breathing room.” This is a design paradigm prevalent throughout the new version of Android.
Colors for any eye
“[We took] advantage of the new material design color palette, which represents the Google brand colors,” said Taddeo Zacchini, a visual designer at Google, of the work being done on the Google Play app. Reds, blues, greens, and their counterparts appear throughout the Android L interface, so it made sense to implement them within all the native Google apps, too. “Colors can be really powerful in UI design.”
Soon, the colors in apps like the Google Play store will change as you shift between screens—somewhat similar to HTC’s Sense 6 interface. Zacchini added that there actually is a functional aspect to this interface dynamic. “You have a sense of place…you know where you are.”
Research, research, research
To come up with all the aspects of the new Material Design standard, researchers from 15 different groups and four different Google offices banded together. “We conducted research on four main areas,” said Jhilmil Jain, staff manager of user experience at Google. “The first was components, which is containers and elements; buttons and layouts, which is like the floating action button; motion; and accessibility.”
From there, Android L’s interface had to meet a number of criteria. “First, we explored and validated key design principles, like motion curve and speed,” continued Jain. “[Then we] highlighted usability issues that designers should be mindful of.” For example, she explained, the team ensured that whatever was on screen, like a floating action button, didn’t blend into the background so that users would have an easier time navigating around the interface.
Lastly, Jain said, the research team “conducted a whole bunch of accessibility studies,” one of which helps make Android L more accessible to those with visual impairments. “We have a much improved color palette, which takes into account the color…that is required to read type.”
More work to be done
“All of the mocks and motion studies [we showed you] are just iterative,” Streu cautioned developers. “They don’t present the final product. We’re continuing to work hard over the coming months to bring this vision to life for you.”
It will be a while until we see the final version of Android L—or whatever Google will end up calling it—hit our mainstream devices. If you’re a developer and like to tinker with code, you can download the preview and try it out yourself.