Ah, material design. The friendly new push from Google. The material design that is sleek, intuitive, and familiar to anyone that has interacted with physical objects before. The material design that allows anyone to pick up a device and at least know how the things on the surface behave. According to Google, “A material metaphor is the unifying theory of a rationalized space and a system of motion.” But is this material metaphor taking a step in the wrong direction?
Material design makes sense on a practical level—users will be more familiar with how to use Google products wherever they go, which jives with Google’s goal to be the way you interact with technology. Google argues that interactions will be familiar as well, as the “material” in material design is based on paper, something all humans have grown knowledge about. The real question I have is: do we want our digital existence defined by the rules of physics? Is that relying on humans not being smart/interested enough to learn more than one method of interaction?
True, it’s easier at the start for us to be familiar with something from the get-go. But why is that argument acceptable when learning any way of doing things? You should learn a new tool to use the properties that are native to it. It’s preferable for people to know how the technology they’re using works at a fundamental level, in order to best take advantage of it. Throughout human history, this has been fairly intuitive, as we’re remarkably good at understanding the model of physical objects. If you use a spoon, it’s fairly easy to grasp how a spoon works, because you’re experiencing those mechanics in the same reality that you exist in. This intuitive understanding is impossible (or very, very difficult) to grasp when dealing with the mechanics of computation. Material Design takes on one side of that problem; it makes the interface intuitive by relating it to the world we already understand, but the problem is that it’s not necessarily intuitive of the computing processing world of bits flying around that happens under the slick surface.
One of the beautiful things about the digital realm is that it doesn’t need to follow physical rules; things can teleport, exist in more than one place at once; essentially act magical. Chris Granger says “While properties of physical modeling are useful to us as guiding principles, the digital world offers us an opportunity to step out of their limitations. We can freely create copies of parts or craft many different versions of them. We can make changes to individual pieces and the system will adapt to them. We can simulate our models in different contexts, while sophisticated tools verify our expectations.”
We have the ability to learn how to use an entirely new, created reality/unreality, and Material Design is a step away from that.
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