Google’s Rich Fulcher Talks About Material Design’s Origins

May 15, 2017 - Written By Daniel Golightly

Rich Fulcher recently sat down with High Resolution to discuss the origins of Google’s “Material Design” language and the process the design teams at the company went through to get it implemented. Prior to Google’s CEO, Larry Page, returning to the position and issuing his mandate to “make Google beautiful,” applications from the company didn’t necessarily feel as though they were from the same company. According to Fulcher, each application was kind of on its own with regards to design language and, as a result, that design language varied from app to app. It also varied quite a bit from platform to platform – Android, web-based, iOS, and others – since the platforms themselves were setting the bar for design. Aesthetics were, at the time, secondary to functionality and utility.

However, changing design language for a huge number of applications and user-facing interfaces to bring things into the realm of consistency is no simple task. Design, Fulcher says, is everywhere and crosses many boundaries. The company also didn’t want to abandon or break the consistency those applications already had with the platforms they resided on. So, to get started the teams behind Material Design started with the company’s core products and examined the different instances of them as they occurred on different platforms, looking for ways that they could be brought together. The teams started there because, obviously, the greatest number of users view those applications. The visibility of those apps also ties directly to the company itself with regards to brand marketing. Because the company has so many applications, starting with the most visible applications helped ensure that the changes across the board were more consistent in a way that would be noticeable to users in the Google ecosystem. At that point, Fulcher says, “everything was messy.” He also reveals that the new Google logo was actually a suggestion from that messy period. In fact, it was essentially a piece of paper that “was crumpled up and thrown” that just happened to “come back.” Other ideas that were initially thrown out also came back and were reworked into the design.

From that initial starting point, Fulcher points out that having a strong culture across many disciplines and areas associated with design work really helped. That said, there was still a lot of work involved, as the teams had to go through each idea that seemed good and ask if it would work for each individual application. Despite all of that hard work – and Fulcher is quick to remind everybody that the extra work was really still necessary – Material Design, as it is today can actually be traced to a concept during what Fulcher calls the “first-week sprint.” During that first week, one team member asked what it would be like to use a more photo-realistic environment playing with surfaces and shadows to bring focus to different elements in the interface. While the actual implementation of Material Design is an ongoing thing and the design language is still evolving, it has made quite a lot of process and has been very well received by users. For those tech-savvy readers who want even more details about Material Design and other design tips, the associated YouTube video was uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed below.