Back to insights

When users become designers

When users become designers

At I/O 2021 Google officially unveiled their latest vision for the future of UI design: Material You. Yes, You! Along with the usual experiments to keep Android fresh, we see a new direction for the Material principles first announced in 2014. Like with every other Google product, the question remains: will this catch on?

Material You

As the name suggests, the new Material principles are based around the user. The main focus point is customisability and while Android is already known for its customisability features, Material You should elevate this to the next level.

Gone are the days of drop shadow overuse and the standardised round FAB in the bottom right corner. The first thing many will notice about Material You is the new way of using shapes. In the presentation we saw all kinds of new and refreshing shapes. From rounded rectangles to rounded stars, Google follows Samsung in the pursuit of more rounded shapes. This makes the UI a lot friendlier and complements the rounded screen corners of modern devices. If these funky shapes will translate well to other screens is yet to be seen.

But the main attraction of Material You is the usage of an algorithm to compose a custom color scheme based on the user’s preferences: It takes the dominant color of an image and adds a complementary accent color to spice things up. To fill in the gaps in the UI it also adds some monochromatic tints of the main color and a high contrast counterpart for text and other contrast-dependent elements. In all, the demo looked to generate some very distinct UI’s without major accessibility issues. Of course this demo was tested upfront so the real world outputs are still in doubt.

So it’s kinda like themes?

Well in a way you could say that Material You is a theming engine on steroids, but then you would miss the point of Material You. The key point of Material You is that the UI should match the user, not that the user should alter the UI to his/hers liking. Themes are also not as customisable as what we saw in the demo at I/O. Themes are curated experiences, not personalised UI’s.

Android already has an extensive theming options, there are countless theming apps in the Play Store right now and many manufacturers add theming options to their Android builds. However, we see that people don’t change their theme that often, if ever, mostly because people can’t be bothered to spend time doing something a professional could do better. The out of the box experience is often the main experience people will have with their products.

The only place where we saw a major adoption rate of theming is in light vs dark themes. A theme that follows the natural rhythm of the day. No custom settings to tinker with, just easy to understand UI theming. Even Apple, the company known for restricting its users to a heavily curated experience, has added this light vs dark theme option to his products. They added it to MacOS Mojave in 2018 and it proved to be an instant hit.

Dark mode all the things, right?

So if theming has become so ubiquitous in the UI landscape, we surely would implement this principle in all our products as well, right? Well actually, no. In the past we have only added UI customisation to a handful of apps. One example is HappyMetrix, where you can customize your theme by switching between light or dark and choosing your own accent color.

We have stayed away from implementing customisability in many projects for a few reasons: first and foremost is the lack of branding when we allow the user to change up the UI. It becomes almost impossible to identify your app when everyone sees a different flavour of it. In extension to this we can acknowledge the lack of control over the user experience when giving the user control over the UI. We can’t guarantee that every user has an optimised UX which might become troublesome in order to grow a loyal user base.

When designing HappyMetrix we curated two distinct themes; a light and a dark theme. Both themes had their own rules on contrast and depth and were designed as siblings. Every UI choice was made keeping both in mind which allowed us to deliver a well rounded user experience. The only user defined parameter was the accent color used throughout the platform, but by smart usage of where we used this color we could still somewhat guarantee the overall experience.

In HappyMetrix we wanted to deliver a customised experience, a dashboard that reflects the visual identity of the company using the platform. Therefore we incorporated this concept from the start. With this project it was justified to go the extra mile on this because of the underlying benefits it has for the platform.

The sibling themes of HappyMetrix

Which brings us to our third and last reason why not all our apps have these options: adding customisability takes time and effort to do right, the benefit often doesn’t outweigh the effort put in. Sure it might be cool to add personalisation features, but does it help your product to grow? As your digital innovation partner we search for the goldilocks between effort and reward, the most balanced way to achieve your goals. Customisability rarely has its place in that sweet spot.

So are you in doubt about adding customisability to your products? Still not sure if allowing your users to personalise the experience is right for you? Hit us up! Our experts are more than happy to discover the possibilities for your next project!

Craft personalised UIs with us!

Ready to tailor your app? Let's discuss your unique vision.

Book a meeting

Discuss your idea directly with one of our experts. Pick a slot that fits your schedule!

Book now