Best of Matias Duarte – “Ask Me Anything” Summary

Best of Matias Duarte – “Ask Me Anything” Summary

Matias Duarte, VP of Design at Google, is perhaps one of the most prolific software designers of recent times: Material Design, the highest exponent of Android beauty, is Matias’ own brainchild. Without him and his creation, the biggest Android update of all time wouldn’t have been what it was and our favorite platform would still carry a look that many deemed outdated even before Material Design was shown. With an internet following that spawned several internet memes and even a weird community, he is practically an Android star.

Today he hosted an “ask me anything” (AMA) event at Designer News where the community reached out and asked him questions about his inspirations, his do’s and do not’s of design, and about details and anecdotes of the creative process that takes place at Google. Here are some of our top picks of the user-submitted questions and the answers, shrunk down to the essentials so that you can get an organized look inside both Google’s developments and Matias Duarte’s mind.


  • I remember [one day] you said that you see android design finished for thirty percent. AFAIK it was in the times of honeycomb. What stage is this design currently?


M: With Lollipop we’ve tackled many of the things I’d wanted to get to when we first started (before Gingerbread) – the ability to do smooth animation between any screen in the system, lockscreen and actionable notifications, a document centric model for applications. The problem is that my ambitions have also grown, so… I’m moving the goal posts out on myself here!


  • When operating at the scale of the Android user base, how does that affect your design decisions?


M: Designing for an operating system changes how you think about design. You can’t optimize for one product, or even your company’s portfolio of products, but have to keep in mind the entire ecosystem that includes everything from one finger games to complex business collaboration tools. In some ways it’s harder because you have to test your decisions and systems more thoroughly, but in other ways it’s liberating because the ‘right’ answer is always what’s right for the users and developers. (…)

  • How big is your design group? How is it roughly structured and what is the most challenging thing about that scale?


M: Not as big as I’d like, but more than big enough to cause trouble. Scaling is the hardest thing for me. When it’s just a small group of you that can all sit together, it’s easy to stay in sync. As you get multiple groups, you can kind of fake it by checking in regularly, and doing crits on a strict schedule. However when you need to run dozen of projects you really need to focus on expressing your design ideas as goals, and your critiques as problems and considerations. (…) Actually this is a much better way to lead even at a small scale, but it’s a hard transition – at least it was for me!


  • How do you feel about the current state of prototyping in terms of software, workflow, and usability for designers? Did you use any of these when [working on the concepts of] Material Design animations and interactions?


M: Our team uses a wide array of tools (…) without them we never would have been able to put the focus on motion that we needed to in Material Design. That said, there are still some huge problems designers face in trying to make software. Prototyping interaction and navigation, designing complex and interactive motion, getting our designs into code without losing fidelity, and even basic collaboration and version management. We’re serious about all these topics and we want to see how we can help make a world where a designer will never have to export a redline or have the wrong icon in the build ever again.


  • Do you feel Material works (or can work) as successfully on desktop as it does on mobile and touch devices? And how important was that distinction when developing the language?


M: Not yet. We can do a lot better both with our apps that use material on desktop, and with formalizing good rules around desktop application. For example we know we need to do a better job of providing patterns for greater information and control density. That’s something else that we’re going to keep doing with Material – evolving and changing the system itself to make it better and more universal.


  • Do you ever get frustrated by OEM skins? (…) Are there any plans to reign these detracting modifications in, or is that at least something you’d like to see?


M: What I’d really like to see with Android is an ecosystem where there are customizations out there that can serve every different taste and need, but can hang together so that users can choose which device fits them without having to relearn anything. Think of driving a car – no matter whether it’s a Honda or BMW or a Tesla, it’s going to have a steering wheel, the brake on one side and the throttle on the other. They may have totally different dash configurations and styling – which is appropriate for their different needs – but you know how to drive them all, and frankly they’re all great cars.


  • [Regarding Google apps on other platforms using Material Design elements] Was it done intentionally? Or is there a technical constraint behind that like code sharing or something?


M: Material Design needs to be a cross-platform design, which makes this question of what conventions to adjust to when moving between platforms particularly important. (…) In most cases we’re absolutely intentionally applying patterns we think are universal to all our platforms. (…) With regards to iconography I’m actually personally frustrated about that. This isn’t a technical constraint, but perhaps more of a business or ecosystem constraint. (…) I’ve seen usability study after study that shows the glyphs we currently use cause confusion to first time users. The problem is exacerbated by the reality that our users use a mix of platforms during the day. Asking designers to use text is not an option – these common functions can take up too much space and are often hard to label meaningfully.


  • Is there anything in the world of design that’s a pet peeve of yours?


M: The freaking lack of consensus on universal iconography is my pet peeve!


  • Bonus: Are you sick of the whole Lord Duarte / #HOLOYOLO thing? Be honest with me.


M: [No comment.]


A Master of His Craft

Matias Duarte’s AMA shows us how complex of a process designing for such a huge platform is. With several teams working thousands of man-hours a week, Duarte did a remarkably good job at handling what is undoubtedly one of the biggest software redesigns in the history of mobile computing. Love it or hate it, Material Design marks a clear evolution towards a more unified ecosystem – beyond aesthetics. The inspiration behind Duarte’s design ideology seems to resonate with Google’s new campaign: “be together, not the same”. Material Design allows that: it gives developers enough creative freedom to make an app that is truly their own, while still remaining coherent with the rest out of the ecosystem, and at the same time giving users a simple, cohesive experience that they won’t have to relearn again. As shocking as Duarte’s stance is on OEM skins like TouchWiz, we believe that it falls in line with the spirit of Android: openness, where there is no “one-size fits best” solution, and anyone can find a phone, ROM or application that adjusts to their lives. Whether you like Material Design or not is a matter of personal opinion, but it is clear that the monumental work behind Matias Duarte’s eye-candy interface is worthy of Praise.

What do you think of Matias Duarte? Tell us in the comments below!


About author

Mario Tomás Serrafero
Mario Tomás Serrafero

Mario developed his love for technology in Argentina, where a flagship smartphone costs a few months of salary. Forced to maximize whatever device he could get, he came to know and love XDA. Quantifying smartphone metrics and creating benchmarks are his favorite hobbies. Mario holds a Bachelor's in Mathematics and currently spends most of his time classifying cat and dog pictures as a Data Science graduate student.