Material Design in Android [2019]

Implementing Material Design in your Android app

Not so long ago, new apps and software tools sported a variety of looks, from entirely flat to three-dimensional, with a variety of navigational patterns. More recently, Android material design and Apple iOS design specifications provide detailed direction to developers and app designers in either environment. You need to know these standards to create successful apps that users will adopt. If you want your app to perform well on both the Android and the iOS platform, you need to plan carefully and ensure that you meet user expectations in two very distinct environments.

Introducing App Design Standards

The success of a mobile app depends much on its usability, which in turn depends on appealing, uncluttered design and intuitive navigation. In recent times, most app designers take a departure from the three-dimensional design that was prevalent for years. Bevels, drop shadows, and textures have largely fallen by the wayside. A more minimalist design approach results in a simple, flat, often appealing presentation that makes delivering and consuming various types of content a more enjoyable, immediate experience. Key elements of this approach are typography that is pleasant to look at and easy to read on small screens, the controlled use of a limited, high-contrast color palette, clean design grids that meet user expectations for placement and dimensions of screen elements, and the ability to interact with screens through consistent gestures and actions.

material_design1Google took a huge step in advancing these design directions when it announced the material design framework at Google I/O in 2014. Material design provides a comprehensive structure for practices that had already been underway for some time. The material design guidelines aim to highlight the connection between the principles of good design and the innovations and opportunities of science and technology. They cover visual, motion, and interaction design across devices. One underlying intention was to make apps homogenous and, as the guideline goals state, “develop a single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across platforms and device sizes.”

Android material design, bold graphics emphasize user actions, and the consistent interaction of illumination, surface, and the motion of objects can enable an awesome user experience. WhatsApp, Foursquare, BiteSMS marketing are well-known apps that incorporate material design, and there are others also worth taking a look at. By now, Google has updated most of its mobile apps, including Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, and YouTube, to material design standards. New apps are created in material design. The Material Design Awards aim to create the best possible visibility for successful realizations of material design.

In addition to Google, Android also provides guidelines for material design. They include the elements and specifications you need to follow as you build your app, including themes, widgets, and APIs for custom shadows and animations. Material design is available in Android 5.0 Lollipop and above, but can be supported on earlier versions with appcompat libraries.

Implementing material design in your app is not necessarily difficult. All you need to do is make your content and information fit the standards and specifications. Easy, right? But there is really a lot you need to learn and consider as you acquire material design expertise. Expect to spend a significant amount of time doing research, reviewing existing apps, and figuring out how you can give room to your creativity and avoid building an app that looks like every other one.

Bridging the Android and iOS gap with material design

It gets even more interesting when you want to take advantage of material design on the Apple iOS platform and keep your apps consistent across Android and iOS. Google offers some ideas and guidance for material design for iOS.

Blue material design swatchesOne important difference between the Android and iOS environments is the navigation. Consider the distinct working of the back button in mobile hardware. There are other differences, for instance, in how iOS users navigate, how iOS presents surfaces and depths, supports interactions and gestures, and arranges elements in a layout grid. Many developers and app designers feel that iOS has the better approach, or hope to capitalize on its popularity without duplicating too many developments and design steps. Even the user interfaces of some Google apps such as Google Drive, Google Maps, and Chromecast are being updated to the material design flavor of iOS. If you want to do something like this with your app, you need to plan carefully, or your users will not be happy with it. If you take Android material design apps to the iOS platform, you may also find that you will need to re-create app functions to fit iOS and meet user expectations, which are very different from what a typical Android user wants to see in an app. Apple, of course, provides detailed guidance for app design on iOS.

While it is possible to implement material design in iOS, we would not recommend it unless you ensure that the user experience is consistent with the iOS world. If that is not the case, users will feel disoriented, as if they had been tossed into a different operating system environment. If you need your app to provide a great experience on both the Android and iOS platforms with the same content, I would suggest you design the Android version of the app first, based on material design guidelines. In the next step, you carefully adjust the design to iOS specifications and a very different user experience.


Or, instead of acquiring the app design expertise for both the Android and iOS platforms, it might be easier and less costly to have nearshore developers at Tiempo perform the work for you. We are familiar with both design environments, and we have our best practices for creating apps quickly and ensure they meet customer needs and user expectations. Feel free to send me a note at mrabago@tiempodevelopment.com or reach Tiempo at contact@tiempodevelopment.com. If you like, you can also read our whitepapers to get a better idea of how we work, and review customer case studies to learn about some results we help companies achieve that way.