It’s hard to remember now, but once upon a time, Google was terrible at design. Android was ugly. Google sites were ugly. And the company lacked a serious industrial design program. But in 2014, Google revealed a unified approach to design to help fix it all. Called Material Design, it reimagined all of Google’s apps with a new visual metaphor of digital paper and ink. Ugly pages were replaced by clear, clean cards. Supporting animations were simple and effective. Google got design, and shared this design language with any developer who wanted to adopt it.
The problem was that the language didn’t leave much room for expression and creativity. And nearly a decade later, Google VP of Design Matias Duarte looks back at the language he helped create, and sees its shortcomings. “The material metaphor was maybe too good, and the paper has come to dominate our interfaces,” says Duarte. “They are consistent…but they’ve gotten a little stale, boring, too tied to a modernist same-ism that is spread everywhere.” That’s especially problematic today, as design is trending maximal and customizable while Google has perfected the stoic and functional.