Will Android Design Guideline Bring Order to the Galaxy?

Google recently launched an Android Design Guideline website as guide and educational resource for designers and developers in order to “make exceptional Android apps”. While we sit and wait to see what impact will it have on the Apple vs. Google mobile race we might take the opportunity for some analysis.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich Design Elements

The content

The first thing one has to admit is that Matias Duarte and the rest of the Android team did a fantastic job on doing their homework on the content. It’s insightful, brief and straight to the point. But maybe most importantly also very illustrative.

Its authors obviously understand that this content is not just about providing the facts about Android GUI. It’s about portraying an Android personality; attitude if you will. Moderating the conversation so that the entire community can share a clear vision and find a coherent voice on the market. A framework which should help “brands find the right balance between consistency of their brand’s identity and the Android interface conventions” (13:19). But ultimately it’s about the narrative intended to inspire people to dig deeper and make better apps that will ultimately give greater value to their applications and ultimately the platform itself.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich Metrics and Grids

The design

Probably the most instantly impressive thing is the level of editorial work that went into producing, fabricating and polishing the content. A cunning little trick Apple has been pulling out their sleeves for all these years in battle with Google. And it’s finished off with a delicate touch on the sweet little homepage that will probably tempt even the most hardcore Apple fanboy to sniff around Androidʼs sterile futuristic techno-fetishistic design corner. Of course, apart from this little embarrassing Photoshop free transform fail.

Itʼs not just well articulated and handsome but also very nifty. Itʼs certainly not the first use of combination of a classic navigation menu with the linear narrative experience but it still deserves the credit for a text-book execution. Hopefully there are designers out there reading it chapter by chapter to their little geek prodigies every night as a bedtime story.

By the way, have you notices how your eye naturally flows through content while keeping focus on a single spot? Note a slight mid-gray > light gray > mid-gray background gradient that naturally locks your eye on the lightest part and sits it on a cushion while your brain goes Einstein on the content.

They’ve called it a Four-headed Frankenfont

Despite the fact the Roboto’s birth as the official Android typeface was accompanied with much hostility and general discussion, I think its overall performance as a web font is a good comeback to those critiques. It’s very legible, offers plenty of typographic contrast, communicates in a “Don Draper” persuasive tone and renders much crisper than most of the premium typefaces that foundries charge for these days (tested only on FF, Chrome and Safari on Snow Leopard). Which is especially interesting considering the fact that Roboto is open source and out there for free for everyone to use, modify and build upon. Personally I consider it to be an adolescent version of Apex Sans searching for its identity, but than again the reasons for Android team going after a custom font, instead of licensing an existing one, are pretty obvious.

Roboto Typeface Comparison

“Roboto indeed has a mixed heritage, but that mix doesn’t have anything to do with the gibberish from the press release. Its parents are a Grotesk sans (like a slightly condensed Helvetica) and a Humanist sans (like Frutiger or Myriad) ... When an alphabet has such unrelated glyphs it can taste completely different depending on the word. “Fudge” is casual and contemporary. “Marshmallow” is rigid and classical. This is not a typeface. It’s a tossed salad.
Stephen Coles on October 19, 2011

Speaking of being adopted…

As with everything with Google, apparently, they just can’t seem to roll out something without leaving at least a bit of bad after-taste in your mouth. Ironically, a website teaching others how to create extraordinary mobile experiences can’t be even remotely bothered being optimized for the mobile experience itself. As if owners of the Android tablets, for instance, had absolutely no reason to access and use this website. Especially with all the recent innovations and advancements making these things easier than ever before. It’s a shame that despite all the qualities it fails to foster the very own products it promotes. Although, in Google’s defense, until Apple decides to take a step towards making better mobile experience on their part of the web, it would seem unrealistic to expect Google to innovate on this subject. But then again, this was suppose to be their subject.

All in all a very strong work, but it’s still too early to sing praises. However it’s nice to see Google finally building some serious design muscles. Despite the fact that Android is obviously not a premium range product they apparently realized at the right time that the bad user experience which consumers and developers have been criticizing, can potentially be a very big crack in their mobile ship. Itʼs comforting to know that decision makers at Google are willing to invest in and leverage design in order to stay on top of their game. It would definitely be very interesting and exciting to see Google do some serious innovations on the design department in the near future. And the broader effect on the global IT industry this could have. There are some interesting times ahead of us.


  • Jernej

    It really surprises me that the site isn’t responsive.

    And also, why wait for Apple to make a move?

    Good read.

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