Things You Should Know About Material Design

Material design is one of the latest trends in web design which is expected to become the philosopher’s stone of UX and UI development. The number of games, applications, and sites that utilize its concepts is growing rapidly. But could material design work for all audiences and purposes? Will it fit into current web design? Can it become an absolute advantage in web design? We will try to answer those questions as well as to determine what it is really great for. In this article, we will  determine the main pros and cons of material design.

What is Material Design?

Basically, it was born as an attempt to combine the best elements of flat and skeuomorphic web design trends.

Flat design

Flat design is a minimalistic approach that features two-dimensional illustrations, bright colors, crisp edges, and clean space. First of all, it emphasises usability. However, many designers consider flat design as a step back because it comes with icon-like, too simple images.

There are several factors by which users determine if the element on the screen is clickable: contextual text (short phrases or words that are perceived as menus), and traditional markers (embossed buttons, underlined words, ets). Flat design often ignores them, which can negatively affect usability.

Skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism portrays the real-world elements online. In other words, skeuomorphic pictograms, icons, and buttons resemble their appearance from reality. It was a great solution five years ago as its real-life resemblances were familiar to most people. Moreover, skeuomorphism is ideal in terms of UX design. However, in terms of UI design, it comes with distracting and unnecessary details. After mobile platforms have evolved, skeuomorphism tended to interfere with loading speed and adaptability. Designers started looking for an approach towards simplicity and unification.

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Why Material?

Material web design is a compromise between flat design and skeuomorphism. It comes with partial comeback to real-world analogies, at the same time retaining the simplicity of flat design (loading time optimization, element unification, etc).

Features of Material Design

What makes your web design material? Let us identify several cornerstones:

  • Adaptiveness. Material design is able to adapt to various screen resolutions.
  • Fancy animations. In real life, objects cannot vanish/appear to/from nowhere. So, material design plays with “digital ink” and layers in order to provide hints for users to make the usability as intuitive as possible.
  • Digital ink. This is an approach that came from the publishing industry.
  • Digital paper. Layers cast shadows on one another as they are positioned one above another, and create tactile surfaces. Again, it provides more intuitiveness to users.

Generally speaking, material design is more like a 3D version of flat design. If implemented wisely, it becomes an instrument for really cool solutions. However, it has several major differences:

  • Both material and flat are minimalistic approaches. However, material approach is capable of using real-life principles which makes it is much more flexible.
  • Material design provides better user communication as elements are more responsive to actions.
  • The illusion of the 3rd dimension enables users to follow the architecture of interface; it gives depth to it.

Limitations of Material Design

Sounds great, huh? After those facts above, it seems that everyone should use it. However, is material design worth chasing it? We have seen what it offers. Now let’s see its limitations:

  • Animations consume energy

Animations are an integral part of material design. At the same time, they deplete the battery and take up virtual memory of smartphones.

  • Floating action button

Google suggests to use it carefully and many designers strongly oppose it. But material design is difficult to imagine without this button (for example, Navigation or Photography applications).

  • A lack of intuitiveness

Some people have a hard time using any material design interface as it is not very intuitive.

  • Not variable

Some material design artworks are difficult to customize as they are ruled by Google guidelines.

  • 3D only

Material design comes with multi-layer approach as opposed to single-layer approach. If layers have a poor interaction, all real-life objects that material design strives to display will be destroyed.

Should we use material design?

There is no single answer to this question. It is really difficult to calculate or predict if it really is the future of web design. However, going for it just because the trend suggests is definitely not a wise solution. At the same time, there are cases when material design approach is an issue to consider. For example, if your goal is create a good service, not to enhance creativity of your website. So, in order to answer whether or not to use material design, you should first determine the goal of each particular website as well as its target audience.