SAN FRANCISCO — Matías Duarte, Google’s vice president of design for Android, is the central figure behind Google’s “Material design” framework for making Google software look like Google software. Because of that, Duarte has become one of Google’s most recognizable faces.
But Duarte is facing some serious design challenges at Google. Perhaps his main worry is the problem of making the work of different design teams in the company interact in meaningful ways.
Material design provides a framework that helps designers across Google’s many groups create a consistent look and feel in their products. It governs everything from layering hierarchy to shadow sizes to status and title bars.
But Duarte says a major new design challenge is on the horizon. He worries that various apps still live largely in silos and interoperate with each other only in superficial ways, such as when a user is allowed to cut a piece of content from one app and paste it into another.
That’s all going to change, Duarte told a crowd of 400 of Google’s FORM design conference Tuesday. “I think it’s one of the new frontiers,” Duarte says “These tools have to start working together more clearly.”
It’s a tall order. Duarte says his design team at Google still has a difficult time creating the look of Android on a variety of screens in a consistent, harmonious ways. Now his teams have the added challenge of making designs move on the screen — and move with other app designs.
“We are looking at the challenge of apps actually having to dance together, and that’s going to change the way we do design,” Duarte said.
The problem with designing in that way is that apps need to become far more aware of other pieces of software and their many functions.
“We’re going to be doing something like jazz improv or a DJ, where there are other actors that have their own needs that we have to account for.”
Duarte commented that apps may need to use artificial intelligence to understand and anticipate the actions of other apps.
Then there’s the problem of personalization, which Duarte also worries about. He told the audience here that he feels that software is one size fits all and that software design is driven by a need to satisfy the generic needs of the highest number of people.
“In the design process, we are constantly saying, ‘This use case isn’t important enough, and that use case isn’t important enough,'” Duarte says.
However, Duarte says tackling the problems of app interaction and personalization are what gets him up in the morning.
“I’m passionate about it,” he said.