Google Developer team recently released a library of components in their Material Design style called Material Design Lite, or MDL for short. It’s a library filled with numerous design components like buttons, forms, and everything else your heart could desire really. They are considering this library to be framework-agnostic in order to make it extremely flexible for people to use. Additionally, one of its key benefits is the fact that it is developed in ‘vanilla CSS, HTML and JS. So far so good.
Simple tech behind the scenes
A key component to this library is the fact that it’s easy to install. That’s a brilliant step one because it would not make for a great free resource if it was difficult to use from the get go. However, the whole library is based on simple markup, hance they describe is as vanilla. The simple structure of the library makes it compatible with many browsers – another plus. It supports modern browsers like Chrome, Firefox and even Microsoft Edge. The library does promise smooth degradation to the more challenging browsers, like IE9.
A big principle in making this library was its flexibility and accessibility across devices and browsers; it’s impressive that they have achieved it. We all know this is important but we can’t always afford the time to make our designs this flexible ourselves; once again, it’s a huge plus for the library.
Take a look a a code snippet for the round flowing buttons. The markup for the library is easy to follow in terms of syntax as well.
<!-- Colored FAB button --> <button class="mdl-button mdl-js-button mdl-button--fab mdl-button--colored"> <i class="material-icons">add</i> </button> <!-- Colored FAB button with ripple --> <button class="mdl-button mdl-js-button mdl-button--fab mdl-js-ripple-effect mdl-button--colored"> <i class="material-icons">add</i> </button>
They use great APIs to make the code aspect of the library great, like Polymer for the various paper components and BEM for Sass. If that’s not good enough for you, the CSS can be used by referencing their CDN or imported through npm as well. You know, in case you wanted choices.
A bold idea
I think it’s an interesting idea to share such a library with the world. The previously released Material Design documentation was geared towards explaining the philosophy of their overall user experience and how it relates to user interfaces. It was a document based on how Google goes about creating their own apps. We share our work with each other all the time, we have plenty of UI kits and code snippets being used throughout our work. That’s nothing new. MDL is geared towards sharing their design and letting everyone else take a stab at it; what makes it interesting is the fact that Google is a big company whose aesthetic is very unique.
I’m also having a hard time seeing a company like Apple, which too is know for it’s aesthetics, opening up it’s style for everyone to use. That’s why I think it’s a bold move for Google to freely open up the use of their style actually and I’m curious how it will go about over time.
Easy to utilize
All in all, the setup steps are neatly laid out to be easy to follow. The library itself is actually pretty well displayed on their website as there is a lot you can do without even downloading it. On their site, there is a section dedicated just to components where you can browse through all the various elements and interact with them yourself. You can even open them in CodePen to edit it quickly and play around it.
Google really though this library though; that’s clear. They provided a whole section designated to colour customization so you can check out to see how their colours play out with each other.
There is even a whole section designated towards the Material Design style that feeds off their Material Design documentation in order to help you understand the design principles governing their visual style. It goes over basic design elements like typography and iconography. You can download zipped file assets too. Like I said, Google Development team give this a lot of thought and it shows.
In order to help us see the potential of MDL, there is a templates section to help spark our creativity. These templates are free for use and are also customizable. They vary from portfolio websites, to stand alone articles. There are only a few of them but who needs an infinite list, anyways? I think the template page was a great idea in helping people conceptualize the ability of the MDL’s capabilities – another smart move.
And now the bad
With everything flattering I’ve already said about the library, I have concerns. As a designer, I don’t want my website to look like a Google app. This to me is concerning. It’s really awesome of them to make this public and free for use but the last thing we need is another set of websites that look the same. It’s unoriginal. It’s not good for design.
Joshua Johnson did a take on this point of view for Smashing Magazine not too long ago either. In an article titled Beyond The Boring: The Hunt For The Web’s Lost Soul, he too points out that too many websites look alike. The lack of originality in terms of style and especially layout is jarring. Joshual Johnson was inspired by Noah Stokes who feels the same way; he’s resentful of the fact that most current designs rely on clear boxes and grids making for uninteresting designs.
As a designer, I consider myself a creative. Now, some design elements will always be reused, like left hand side logos and top navigations. I was much more impressed with Material Design documentation because it provided explanations on why they designed the way they designed. Insight into their philosophy, so that I could learn from it, was not only more useful to me but more empowering. Frankly, I can’t find a single good use for this library as it looks exactly like Google; the library doesn’t provide much creative freedom.
Google Development team has built an incredible library filled with, what seems like, endless design elements. The library is well thought out and extensive. It’s also build with simple ‘vanilla’ markup in mind making it a very flexible framework for the browsers. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s the best resource for designers.