Google has put together rigorous online specs for their material design language. There’s a lot of jargon to skim through, but to summarize, material design was made for Android in order to create a better foundation for user interfaces. Material design’s focus is on physical materials, similar to the way that our interior designer from earlier finally settled on a linen and cotton polyblend for draperies.
But digital interfaces are not created from the same materials as curtains or drapes. The “material” in Google’s material design is a homogeneous, digital “fabric” created with pixels. Users can tap, swipe or pinch this material fabric and it will move in accordance with the user interaction.
Mobile interfaces are created out of layered material objects such as rectangular bars or circular buttons. Content (text, imagery and video) is laid flat onto the material.
Confused? Hopefully not, but let’s visualize some more to clarify. Each piece of material constitutes a separate object inside the digital world. So, an app with a white background actually uses a full-length piece of material colored white. A blue navigation bar is then stacked on top using a different piece of material. The user interacts with these different pieces of material as if they were actual physical objects.
Material design basically encompasses the objectives and handling of these types of interactions. Motion, depth, fundamentals of light and content hierarchy are just a few of the topics mentioned in the documentation. As this is still a new concept, I’d expect further updates from Google in the future.
The important thing to remember is that material design is a language. It’s not just a UI kit or a collection of interface elements, but rather a whole new way of talking about and looking at interfaces.