AH Primetime: Meet Matias Duarte

Google IO2014 AH 41

Many of our readers may already be at least a little familiar with the current VP of Design at Google, Matias Duarte. Many are well aware that he’s been on board since the days of Android 3.0 Honeycomb, implementing change after change to create the iconic Material Design that started out in Android 5.0 Lollipop and is slowly being perfected. A smaller number may be aware of how he made his way into his current role and the rise through the design world that led and inspired him to create the breathtaking world inside the smartphones that most of the world uses.

Duarte was born On January 30, 1973 and is a lover of natural light and nice furniture. Duarte holds a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Maryland in College Park, along with various studies in Fine Art and Art History and also champions causes and connects with fans on social media. However, Duarte got his start as a programmer, kicking off his career at a company called Psycroft and writing an arcade game called xBill that met with some popularity. He went on to become the lead designer at Hyper Image Productions, then VP of Design at Magic Arts. He finally took his first steps into the mobile world and spent a good amount of time as the Director of Design at Andy Rubin’s Danger, the company responsible for the Sidekick and headed up by the father of Android. When Android was in its absolute infancy in 2005, Duarte rode the wave over to Helio, becoming the VP of Experience Design for the short-lived mobile firm.

In 2007, Duarte found himself at Palm, where he spearheaded the design of the incredible WebOS, still widely lauded to this day as laying out the foundations for modern smartphone OSes and still surpassing them in some ways. WebOS wound up featured on a large number of smartphones from other companies as well, particularly HP. During this period, Duarte gained serious popularity and caught the eye of Google, who was beginning serious work on Android.

Google watched Duarte make waves until the slow death of WebOS, culminating in the waning sales of the flagship HP Touchpad. It was around this time that Android 2.2 Froyo and Android 2.3 Gingerbread were poised to have their domination pushed aside by a brand new face of Android. Duarte was brought on to create that face, the fleetingly popular Android 3.0 Honeycomb. He championed design elements and made workable goals to eventually pump out a Honeycomb that was eons beyond anything Android had been before. New menu design, new multitasking and a new home design were the beginning of Duarte’s vision for Android. He continued to innovate as Honeycomb was overcome by Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and Android 4.4 KitKat, with each version bringing small tweaks which brought it closer and closer to being a comprehensive mobile OS.

Over this period, Duarte rose to become the VP of Design for Google and created his own Google Design Team. At this point, he felt confident enough to unveil his true vision. At the 2014 Google I/O event in June, Duarte set fire to what he had built up from Honeycomb to KitKat to allow Material Design to rise from the ashes. This striking new design standard, focusing less on pure futuristic styling and more on an organic collaboration between image, animation and cohesive design, took the world by storm and garnered previously unseen adoption rates after a successful roll out as Android 5.0 Lollipop. User engagement through research, social media and even Ask Me Anything threads on Reddit kept Duarte in the know on user opinions and wishes, leading to the design refinements that have so far graced Android versions 5.1.1 and Android 6.0 Marshmallow, as well as the brand new Android 6.0.1 and its army of emoji. Duarte keeps long term design goals to implement as well, keeping the revolution going strong into future Android versions. His vision, Material Design, has rubbed off on the design world at large, finding itself used in iOS, Windows 10 and myriad apps for all platforms.

Duarte’s plans for the future include, of course, further refinements to Android. He stated he’s after better desktop adaption of Android’s design, better UI design for information-heavy programs and more cross-platform and platform-agnostic design principles and goals. He says he’s happy with Android’s progress at this point, but there’s still a lot to do and he wants to raise the bar for himself and his team.