Does Google Material Design cannibalize brand design?

Google material design was a hot topic in the online world when it was published one year ago. Google experimented with real materials like paper, ink, light and shadow to build their design language. The outcome was a clean, elegant and tactile design, provided as a digital construction kit that enabled designers and developers to create joyful and easily scalable features for their web applications, responsive designs and native applications.

No doubt, Google material design is well thought-out, functional, clever and pretty good looking. But despite all good rates one big question remains:

What effect does Google material design have on the brand design of a company´s digital product? Does it actually mean that companies co-brand with Google and water down their brand at the very moment they are using material design elements? We think brands should think about this!

Let´s have a look at the floating action button (FAB), one of the most obvious elements beside several other elements in the Google design construction kit. The FAB is a prominent button in an application, saying “Hello, hit me I am the main feature of the application”.
What becomes of the FAB strongly depends on how it will be established in digital applications in the future. It might become a common navigation pattern just like the sidebar menu already is. That would mean it won´t be recognized as a Google element. At the other hand it might stay an element that represents Google, one of the strongest brands in the world. The FAB is just one example why companies should be aware of how far they use material elements in their digital applications.



Floating action buttons used by the apps Evernote, Tumblr and Medium


Tumblr, Medium, Evernote, WhatsApp and many other apps are using the FAB to direct users to the main function of their application. One could say they water down their uniqueness by using this same navigation pattern. But these “digital only” companies don’t really have such a strong integrated branding. They differentiate just by their core feature and its usability. Take a look at WhatsApp or Evernote, you won´t see anything branded besides an app icon and a specific color. The rest is just blank lists of user generated content. So it is not a big deal for them to use characteristic Google material design elements.

It is a bit more difficult for big established companies with well thought out corporate identities. Their corporate design, corporate communication, corporate architecture, corporate clothing etc. build a holistic brand character. Corporate interfaces and corporate animations must be integrated in the corporate identity too. Imagine airberlin and easyjet using the FAB, using the same button animations and the same button transitions from Google for their app. They would lose the opportunity to differentiate themselves with their own interface branding!

There are many subtle and many obvious Google material design elements. They all make a lot of sense and all of them can even be customized. But they are still from Google. Right now companies with a strong branding should wait to integrate these elements to keep their identity and uniqueness. It depends on whether these elements will become “normal” patterns or if they will still be recognized as Google-related in the future.

Just saying…think about “how much Google” your service really should contain.

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