This week at I/O, Google unveiled the latest version of its Material Design design system, Material You.
Initially presented as an upgrade for Android 12, Material You is the biggest revision to Material Design since its launch in 2014 and will be rolling out across all Google products in the coming year.
Material You is an adaptable system that takes the building blocks of Material Design — the spacing and component approach — and skins it to allow a more personal design language, albeit a distinctly Google personal design language.
Google isn’t shy about its intention to define what constitutes good UI design, even if its efforts have so far fallen short of its ambition. Material You potentially leads us back to that undesirable state where every new site looks like a Google clone. The more cynical might suggest that Google actually does perceive all websites as Google products — a view that’s not entirely without merit given the source of most web traffic — so a homogenous approach is warranted.
Material You will certainly make its way into web design. Expect a rash of Material You ‘updates’ to popular themes and site builders that will consist mainly of pastel color palettes.
Hopefully, two major benefits of Material You will not be overlooked: firstly, Material You introduces far more emotion than Material Design allowed; secondly, Material You is flexible enough to ensure accessible design is harder to ignore.
Fundamentally, Material You is still Material Design. The basic approach remains, but it’s less rigidly enforced. Think of it less as a rulebook and more as a disapproving parent who, despite their better judgment, is willing to let you make your own mistakes.
Material Design has looked dated for a few years now, and it’s possible that Material You is just Google hoping to nail down a trend that’s escaping them. But it’s equally possible that Material You is a step closer to what Material Design was meant to be: an invisible design system that feels natural to all seven billion individuals on the planet.