Google’s Next Design Challenge: Unifying App Design Across Platforms

Throughout April we heard a continuous chorus of rumors from separate sources all saying the same thing: Google has made major design changes to all of its products. While consistency and toughness don’t really make a rumor true, when Googlers suggest the company is mostly following the same line and app updates start to match the rumored design style, we start to take it. note.

The most ambitious of these rumors comes from 9to5Google, who earlier this month posted an article on an internal project called “Google 2”. The project would redesign many applications with an emphasis on “displaying content in full page, and moving menus and other distractions out of the way.” The redesign would affect Google apps on Android, iOS, and the web, with the goal of having a unique design capable of moving from portable devices to desktops.

Some readers are probably having traumatic flashbacks to 27-inch subway apps on Windows 8 right now, but Google has found ways to scale apps to screens that don’t spawn terrible desktop apps. Consider something like the Android Fragments API, which allows the same app to power phones and tablets. In Gmail on a phone only the inbox view is shown, but on a tablet the app goes into dual pane mode with the inbox and navigation pane placed next to each other . Google has also played with the selectable information density on the desktop, which you can change in Gmail by simply clicking the settings gear or resizing the window.

Enlarge / Above: Desktop Gmail. Bottom: Gmail on Android, iOS, and Android Wear.

Ron Amadeo

There is also a huge difference between “one design” and “one application”, this is where many problems come in with Windows 8 applications. Google would always have a mix of applications written in different languages ​​for different platforms. -forms. The apps would just use the same style of icons, buttons, and layout. Right now, Gmail on every platform is very different.

Corroborating evidence

If you’re like us, you look at reports like this and ask yourself, “Why should I believe this? So far there wasn’t a lot of additional information. A few days ago, however, Android user experience manager Matias Duarte gave an interview to the Accel Conference on Design and talked about the future of design at Google. In the interview, Duarte said designing specifically for mobile devices is a thing of the past. “We need to stop seeing ‘mobile’ as a separate category,” he said. one product. “

This interview came out two weeks after the rumor from 9to5Google, but the two seem to match perfectly. Google can actually start treating every screen the same and work to unify the design of its products across all platforms.

On the left: the web icons.  In the center: the Android icons, on the right: the new icons.
Enlarge / On the left: the web icons. In the center: the Android icons, on the right: the new icons.

For a little taste of what this might look like in action, look no further than this Android Police leak, claiming that almost all of Google’s Android icons will be redesigned.

Google currently has two completely different icon sets, one for the web and one for Android. Both styles are well thought out, and Google even maintains two completely different style guides (the Web/Android) for both platforms. They’re certainly not consistent, however, and according to the leak, Google is going to fix this.

You can see some of the new icons on the right in the third column (there are others in the initial report). For the most part, Android’s existing icons are being removed, and advanced versions of web icons are taking over. The look is a big departure from current Android icons, and it cleans up some of the quirks introduced by Android, like the envelope design in another envelope from Gmail. Google just needs to have silly codenames for everything, and according to the report, these designs are internally called “Moonshine.”

Why should we believe this rumor? Well, in addition to aligning perfectly with Google’s plan to unify products across all devices, a few of these never-before-seen icons were actually spotted on a live Google page after the report was released. It’s still the web and not Android, but it proves that the source had them before the general public knew them. New icons aren’t all it’ll take to unify Google’s different products, but they’re a good step towards a more cohesive experience.

The next step is to redesign the products themselves. A typical Google product will have different and competing designs on Android, iOS, Glass, Android Wear, and the web, so it’s hard to say what an end result would look like. We’ve heard a lot of rumors about a new, more colorful design style for Android apps, and while these designs probably aren’t the latest iteration of a unified look, they’re a step up from what’s on the table. currently on Android.

Geek.com leak of an ongoing Gmail overhaul.
Enlarge / Geek.com leak of an ongoing Gmail overhaul.

The first leak was a wild set of screenshots from Geek.com. The report showed a very unknown Gmail design and stated that the app would have the ability to pin and snooze emails. The report claims that the screenshots are from Android, and while the top and bottom bars are From Android (an HTC One M8), the app looks like the iPhone version of Gmail to us – scroll down and compare it to the iPhone and Android versions.

We might assume that this current design is way too far removed from the current Android Gmail design to be a reality, but the main design elements are what’s important. There’s a colorful action bar like Google Play apps, a navigation drawer with colorful icons, and a mysterious floating red action button (new mail?) In the lower right corner. There are some unifying elements with the web version as well, like switching to the same trash and spam icons.

We later saw an evolution of this design style of Yoel Kaseb on Google+. This version was another colorful design, but it felt much closer to something that would look like home on an Android device. The action bar looks more like a native app, with the navigation drawer button in the right place and an overflow button. Like the Gmail leak, we see a colorful action bar and a big red action button. Google+ goes one step further and adds a red background overlay whenever a pop-up is opened. Google+ on Android is pretty close to the desktop version at the moment, so not too many changes are needed to bring the two into line.

While both of these current designs are interesting, they are certainly not the final embodiment of Google’s cross-platform design unification plan. Our best bet for more information on the subject is to wait for Google I / O 2014, which is only 64 days away. Coincidentally, the company announced this design will be a high priority this year.


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