Android Influencer: Adam Glynn-Finnegan on redesigning Evernote for Material Design

adam glynn finnegan
Credit: Evernote

It’s true that we can’t stop talking about Material Design, but frankly that’s because the Android operating system is absolutely better for it. Not only does it look better than any of the previous versions of Android, but it’s also more functional and cohesive, which makes it a darling for app designers to work with.

Adam Glynn-Finnegan is an app designer of note. He's a lead designer tasked with redesigning the hugely popular Evernote Android app to fit within Google’s new design guidelines, the end result of which can be seen in Evernote’s latest update. Glynn-Finnegan opened up about what he loved about redesigning the app for Material Design and why it’s made his job as lead designer a little easier.

Greenbot: Let’s start by discussing the updated design of the most recent Evernote for Android update. What can users expect with that?

Glynn-Finnegan: We started with version 7 probably six months ago. We sort of iterated on all the various screens and features and really narrowed our focus on surfacing user content and making that sort of shine in the app by stripping away any barriers to that, and overall offering a cleaner, crisper experience.

Greenbot: Can you talk a bit about the differences in the update that hit in September and the update released in March?

Glynn-Finnegan: The one in September was a huge jump for us to bring in that clarity, to have an overall voice, and to have this branded element inside the app. But that was pre-Lollipop release, and also pre-Google guidelines.

We were certainly taking those core design principals of good typography, lines, and space, and some of the more detailed stuff in Lollipop, like quality of depth and information; that hadn’t come to surface yet in any real form. When the previous version of Evernote came out, we didn’t have any other Material Design apps from Google to look and see what they were doing. I would say that this launch is a more refined, detailed orientated release where every single screen has been thoughtfully updated and improved for the users.

Greenbot: How hard is it to redesign an app? Do you just toss out what you already have and start from scratch? Or do you try to iterate on what already exists? 

Glynn-Finnegan: It wasn’t difficult. We’re sort of always iterating and we’re driven more by those data stats, really, but working with those guidelines was a pleasure.

From a design point of view, it’s more difficult to design with a blank sheet of paper than it is to sort of be given the boundaries to work within. At that point it becomes a challenge—in a good way—and it’s like solving a puzzle. That’s kind of how we saw the guidelines: they were a great guide, but we were still able to still inject our personality and our brand within that.

Greenbot: Google’s Material Design standards are pretty thorough and lengthy. What were some of your favorite parts of redesigning Evernote for Android to meet those standards? 

Glynn-Finnegan: I think the idea of building on simplicity was really great for us. We took that to heart. Our previous update sort of had a look of Material Design, but we were leaning quite heavily on the Cards view. The more we thought about it—and the more we designed and iterated—the more we wanted to simplify every single stage. The key for us was for people to be able to get to their notes, to interact with their notes, and interact with others. And so, we stripped away a lot of the fluff and were able to align with those key principals.

Greenbot: Why did you guys move away from the Cards-style you had in version 6?

Glynn-Finnegan: I think specifically with the Cards view, we wanted to remove any clutter. Having your content within containers just didn’t feel right. We wanted people to be able to parse their information more easily and that’s why we’re relying more heavily on the list view. We thought hard about how long each snippet should be and how many we should fit on each screen. Obviously, all that that stuff depends on screen size, but ultimately we wanted to strip out those aesthetic elements that weren’t benefiting the content.

We actually are still using Cards-view for some things, but we didn’t want to restrict to people’s notes to be defined by four borders.

Greenbot: Did you find it difficult to balance Evernote’s own design paradigm with Google’s?

Glynn-Finnegan: I think whenever we’re designing—whether it’s for the web, or whether it’s for an app, or all along across the board—we’re looking for all the areas that we can inject our brand and our personality. So that’s what we did. We leaned very heavily on type and good typography principles, making it very clear what the header was, what the body copy was, and which were labels and which were buttons. Along all those things, we’re injecting our personality and our brand within the framework of material guidelines.

We used color, our own custom illustration style, our own iconography that we have, so we’re always looking for those elements that inject our personality, which is what users are looking for, I think.

Greenbot: Do you think Material Design is better for Android overall?

Glynn-Finnegan: I think it’s much better. One thing I’ve found is that I’m able to switch between apps and not lose my place, or become confused about how to go back or how to progress within the app. That momentum continues throughout the day—I’m not relearning every time I open an app. From a user experience point of view, there’s a consistency across apps.

It’s a fantastic update. It’s obviously well considered and that’s really clear to me having dived deeper in the guidelines.

Greenbot: You don’t feel limited at all having to work within guidelines?

Glynn-Finnegan: We’re looking for that seamless experience for all users across all devices and all platforms. As a design team, we’re using Android and we’re designing within Android, so we’re sort of immersed in that world. I think having the guidelines has been good to have a framework that we can work within.

Greenbot: Are you an Android user? 

Glynn-Finnegan: I am. I’ve been using Android on and off for probably about two years. I had a Nexus 7 tablet, but in the past six months I’ve switched over to the Nexus 5.

Greenbot: What’s an app you just can’t live without?

I’m a big fan of Spotify. I think they do a fantastic job of being cross-platform. I can pick it up on my phone, use it on my laptop…I like stuff that is everywhere you go, and I like having a seamless experience.

I also really like VSCO Cam and I think they’ve done a fantastic new design for Android. It’s one of the best examples of injecting their personality within the confines of a framework.

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