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    Other important political aspect of Material Design (and some other UI/web styles that are popular now) is “minimalism”. Your UI should have few buttons. User should have no choices. User should be consumer of content, not a producer. Having play and pause buttons is enough. User should have few choices how and what to consume — recommender system (“algorithmic timeline”, “AI”) should tell them what to consume. This rhetoric is repeated over and over in web and mobile dev blogs.

    Imagine graphics editor or DAW with “material design”. It’s just nearly impossible. It’s suitable only for scroll-feed consumption and “personal information sharing” applications.

    Also, it’s “mobile-first”, because Google controls mobile (80% market share or something like that). Some pages on Google itself (i.e. account settings) look on desktop like I’m viewing it on giant handset.

    P.S. compared with “hipster” modernist things of ~2010, which often were nice and “warm”, Material Design looks really creepy for me even when considering only visual appearance.

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      A potentially interesting challenge: What does a design language for maker-first applications look like?

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        Not sure if such design languages exist, but from what I’ve seen, I have feeling that every “industry” has its own conventions and guidelines, and everything is very inconsistent.

        • Word processors: lots of toolbar buttons (still lots of them now, but in “ribbons” which are just tabbed widgets). Use of ancient features like scroll lock key. Other types of apps usually have actions in menus or in searchable “run” dialogs, not toolbar button for each feature.
        • Graphics editors: narrow toolbars with very small buttons (popularized by both Adobe and Macromedia, I think). Various non-modal dialogs have widgets of nonstandard small size. Dark themes.
        • DAWs: lots of insane skeuomorphism! Everything should look like real synths and effects, with lots of knobs and skinning. Dark themes. Nonstandard widgets everywhere. Single program may have lots of multiple different styles of widgets (i.e. Reason, Fruity Loops).
        • 3D: complicated window splits, use of all 3 mouse buttons, also dark themes. Nonstandard widgets, again. UI have heritage from Silicon Graphics workstations and maybe Amiga.

        I thought UI guidelines for desktop systems (as opposed to cellphone systems) have lots of recommendations for such data editing programs, but seems that no, they mostly describe how to place standard widgets in dialogs. MacOS guidelines are based on programs that are included with MacOS, which are mostly for regular consumers or “casual office” use. Windows and Gnome guidelines even try to combine desktop and mobile into one thing.

        Most “editing” programs ignore these guidelines and have non-native look and feel (often the same look-and-feel on different OSes).

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          3D: complicated window splits, use of all 3 mouse buttons, also dark themes. Nonstandard widgets, again. UI have heritage from Silicon Graphics workstations and maybe Amiga.

          Try Lisp machines. 3D was a strong market for Symbolics.

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          I’d suggest–from time spent dealing with CAD, programming, and design tools–that the biggest thing is having common options right there, and not having overly spiffy UI. Ugly Java swing and MFC apps have shipped more content than pretty interfaces with notions of UX (notable exceptions tend to be music tools and DAW stuff, for reasons incomprehensible to me). A serious tool-user will learn their tooling and extend it if necessary if the tool is powerful enough.

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            (notable exceptions tend to be music tools and DAW stuff, for reasons incomprehensible to me)

            Because artists demand an artsy-looking interface!

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            We had a great post about two months back on pie menus. After that, my mind goes to how the Android app Podcast Addict does it: everything is configurable. You can change everything from the buttons it shows to the tabs it has to what happens when you double-click your headset mic. All the good maker applications I’ve used give me as much customization as possible.

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              It’s identical to the material design guidelines but with a section on hotkeys, scripts, and macros.

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              P.S. compared with “hipster” modernist things of ~2010

              What do you mean by this

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                Stuff like Bootstrap mentioned there, early Instagram, Github. Look-and-feels commonly associated with Silicon Valley startups (even today).

                These things usually have the same intentions and sins mentioned in this article, but at least look not as cold-dead as Material Design.

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                  Isn’t this like… today? My understanding was: web apps got the material design feel, while landing pages and blogs got bootstrappy.

                  I may be totally misinterpreting what went on though

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                  Bootstrap lookalikes?

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                Eh, not a bad read and in principle I don’t disagree. Google is essentially trying to mold the world into their politically-correct version of what it should be. As an uninformed non-UX-trained mere user of their products, I find that there is plenty of things that Just Work material design and several things that are a mistake (like that damn floating plus button to add or do something new… I keep looking for a real button, not one floating over the content in the middle of the screen).

                But also keep in mind who wrote the article. They don’t want you taking a free off-the-shelf design framework when you could instead be paying them to build you a custom one.

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                  Arguing publicly that using the same or similar design language to what Google uses is a political choice - with the implication that making that choice is bad - is itself a political choice. I’m no fan of Google, but if another agent tells me that being inspired by their work to create my own designs means that I am representing Google, and that’s bad and should be discouraged, I’m well within my rights to look skeptically at the interests of the people telling me that.

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                    …being inspired by their work to create my own designs means that I am representing Google…

                    Okay, you must realize this is hyperbole. The actual argument is that deriving from their branding extends their influence.

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                  I think of Material Design more of a safety net. We can’t expect every app maker to be proficient in design and creating something interesting, unique, and useful. MD saves the average app developer from making a really really terrible app. Yes, you still have to understand the design philosophy, the guidelines, the patterns. But it’s easier to use a set of components Google has made for you and copy patterns that occur in the MD-complaint apps.

                  Disclaimer: I work at the GOOG.

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                    As a backend developer that has had to take on the lead on a few front end projects, this is a massive win. You can simply follow material design spec and get solving problems, then when someone queries why you have done something or wants something changed, you can just quote the material spec and get on with solving real problems.

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                      “real problems”

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                        and get on with solving real problems.

                        I think if the application in question is small enough, then this might hold true; however once the project gains any significant complexity or scope then I’d say having a backend developer work on UI might cause a few ‘real problems’ of its own ;)

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                          This an example of the kind of conclusion you don’t want to jump to. Material Design may be a good stand-in, but it is ultimately a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem (yes, a real one 😉) that is inherently case-by-case. It helps developers speed through UI design; it does not solve UI design. As much as Google may want you to believe that convenient untruth.

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                        Google usually tells everyone what the best way to do things is

                        Why is this?

                        I speculate that it may be because organizations of its size have the resources – budget, mostly – to do research. They’ve been right enough that the industry tends to trust them without individually vetting everything that they do. Maybe there’s a hefty amount of cargo cult around it, too: it works for Google, so it’ll work for we common folk, and they tell us that it works so we believe it even more. It’s sales of a different kind.

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                          I agree with the overall thesis of the article, but find the suggestion of postmodern design rather lacking. Instead of looking at anti-rational movements like postmodernism, I think it would be more profitable to consider pre-modern or non-Western design as a source to draw from.

                          For example:

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                            Yeah, I adore post-modernism (and I wouldn’t call it anti-rational), but it really doesn’t seem to be solving the problem the author is explaining. I like Material Design a lot (disclosure: I work for Google), but I was nodding along and preparing to learn something interesting about design… up until the article basically said, use post-modernism for everything, and gave some very non-UI-like examples, with no explanation of what using post-modernism means in a UI/UX context and no justification for why post-modernism over any other choice.

                            I do think it’s a fascinating point that web and app design focuses very heavily on functionality, and that doing so is a choice and not necessarily the right choice for everyone. In that sense, the focus on post-modernism makes sense, because if there’s one thing post-modernism isn’t, it’s functional. But, um… Yes, the two design languages you linked would both be much more interesting choices in this context.

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                              For example:

                              These both seem like art styles to me. How would they translate to UI design?

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                              If History teach us anything, it’s that propaganda always sells itself as “universal and neutral” facts.
                              Indeed Google is not a “multinational company”, it’s an US company that operates worldwide.

                              Material Design is a political choice, but it’s also is a very well designed model of UI/UX.
                              That’s its selling point.

                              What’s the message/goal behind the form?

                              Material Design is inspired by the physical world and its textures, including how they reflect light and cast shadows. Material surfaces reimagine the mediums of paper and ink.

                              The overall idea is to train people to feel the virtuality as real. It’s a step toward blind trust in your screen (that they control). This fits very well in Google’s business model.

                              If they can blur your perception of what is real, they can meld your perception of truth.

                              The more a machine feels as a machine, the more people will be curious to study and hack it.
                              The more a machine feels as an thousands years tool (paper), the more people will feel it safe and trustworthy.

                              Now add AI to get the full picture.

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                                If material design is a political choice, what does that mean for developing Android apps in the first place?

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                                  Whether it is Material Design, Bootstrap, or some other pseudo-standard there is a lot of advantage in starting from a point of things “working/looking the same” across products. If “it just works” for the end user because they have encountered the same design choices on multiple other apps/sites they use then it is a convenience to the end user.

                                  There are definitely cases where completely unique designs are good, but this argument that it is a political statement to use Material Design is weak, but it went beyond weak to down-right offensive by comparing Material Design to the Nazi swastika.

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                                    I think you misinterpret that comparison. In my reading it wasn’t comparing the swastika with Material Design. It was explaining how “nothing is neutral”, by noting that although a swastika is in principle just an abstract shape, no one in the Western world can view it like that any more: it has become a very meaningful shape, in whatever form it appears.

                                    I think it’s not a very good explanation, because it takes one of the most strong examples to explain a principle that seems to apply in at most moderate extent to Material Design

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                                      I picked up this part of the analogy as well, and if the only intent was to show that symbols take on meaning over time then something like a dove (symbol of peace & religion) could be used, or the caduceus (universal symbol for a medical alert), or many many others.

                                      It is my opinion based on the rest of the content in the article that the author chose the swastika intentionally to evoke a strong negative emotion from readers that they would then transfer onto Google and Material Design whether consciously or unconsciously.

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                                        I didn’t get that impression. I think the author was just looking for a strong example of a symbol evoking an idea due to past context, rather than anything inherent about its shape.