Looking at the Language and Intent in the Android Design Guidelines

While every operating system has an over-arching look that developers will strive to adhere to, Android’s look and feel has evolved throughout the years without giving third-party developers the chance to catch up. With all of the different apps’ user interface styles, trying to corral everyone into an easy-to-understand place UI-wise can be difficult.

To combat this, Google recently released the Android Design guides for Ice Cream Sandwich. Today I’m going to take a look at the language used in these guidelines to see where Google’s intention lies.


Creative Vision

The first section within the developer guidelines details the efforts that Google has put into Ice Cream Sandwich while explaining the main goals that they had in mind for the end user. What’s interesting is the amount of familiarity within this section: instead of referring to itself as simply Google or the Android Development Team, the writer chose to incorporate the less-formal ‘we’. While this still implies that there is a larger team working on a project, it makes it feel like Google is finally presenting a unified front. No longer are there different groups with different goals working on Android; now, it’s ‘we’.

Note the emphasis on 'me'.

Note the emphasis on 'me'.

Google also put a lot of emphasis on avoiding the terms ‘the user’ or ‘the developer’ in this beginning section. Instead, the user is ‘me’ and the developer is ‘you’. By incorporating this sort of language Google is at once placing itself in the user’s shoes and ensuring that the developer feels a certain connection to the document. Using ‘you’ tends to draw a person in (which is why second-person works so well, both in fiction and non-fiction).

Design Principles

Here we see Google taking a more formal tone with their language. They continue to use the ‘me’ treatment with the different sub-sections, but the body text becomes the more informal ‘people’. This provides a smooth transition from simply making a developer connect with the guidelines to giving actual instructions that will fit more than one person.

Enchant me, mistress.

Enchant me, mistress.

By combining the personal with the informal, Google is holding onto the trust established within the first section and using it as a force to make you believe what they are saying. It’s hard to argue with the non-definitive term ‘people’, as it can apply to many people or very few; it’s hard to tell, and that ambiguity gives Google some wiggle-room.

The Rest

From there on Google takes a more definitive approach to their language, using terms like ‘the user’ instead of ‘people’ or ‘me’. They’ve already established trust and a personal connection within the first two sections, and now they’ve got their teeth into your skin.

The Goals of Android as a Whole

Throughout the document Google expresses a desire to cement the ‘Android design language’ into your brain. While they are discussing some technical information throughout the sections, such as screen size, typography, and grid layouts, the language remains simple and easy to read. Part of this is because it allows Google to leave a lasting impression; another reason is that simple language seems more authoritative and is easier to understand.

Android Design Language. There it is.

Android Design Language. There it is.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, Android has finally matured and is ready for the prime time without any manufacturer’s custom skins. Unfortunately that’s only half the battle; third-party developers need to understand Google’s design language as well, and the best way to make that happen is through these guidelines.

Is it absolutely important that every aspect of these guidelines is followed exactly to a T? Of course not. It is important, though, that a developer knows what he or she is breaking when they design an application. Everything should be a conscious decision, and the first part of working towards that goal is making it clear what you (in this case, Google and the user) expect from this thing called Android.

Personal Opinion

I think that it’s great that Google decided to publish this guide. Not only is it full of excellent writing (which is something that an aspiring copywriter like myself can appreciate) but it also communicates that Android is about to become more unified. Where before you could get away with designing an application in any way that you want – with a few accepted standards – now Google is really laying down the (design) law with these guidelines.

Will developers pay attention to this document? I don’t know. But at least now we can hope that Google will live by its own rules and serve as an example.