Google’s Matias Duarte on the future of software design

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While indispensable for millions of people, the design heritage upon which our phones, tablets and desktops are built remains underdeveloped, says Duarte. “When we talk about phones, websites and apps, this is still an incredibly young medium. It is evolving very quickly and still almost in this raw industrial state.”

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve really made it accessible to everyone. Almost mass production software. But, just like the first mass-produced things during the Industrial Revolution, these weren’t the things. the best designed. “

The concepts needed to improve design – aesthetic, emotional, social and historical considerations – do not develop overnight. An Eames lounge chair is based on thousands of years of knowledge. But Duarte says that understanding is starting to emerge in software, even though the collision of technology and design has been somewhat painful. “For Google, it has been very difficult to get through this transition. Many of us in this room have borne the scars of this transition and there is still work to be done. I think it’s really important to start. create an environment where these two communities can truly converse and understand each other. ” “If you’re going to be a product designer and you’re going to make furniture, you’re going to know a lot about your materials and your workmanship, and that’s what makes you a designer. But you’re also going to know a lot of things. about design, you are going to know the history of furniture design, you are going to know about ergonomics, style and fashion trends. If I look at digital, it is almost impossible to identify people who have these two course. And that’s a sign of the industry’s immaturity. “

As a designer, Duarte is distracted by the seemingly random rows of apps that our smartphones and tablets rely on. “Sometimes I’m tempted to just organize all my icons by color,” he admits. And decades after the invention of the graphical user interface (GUI), mouse and keyboard, we are still all enslaved to it.

Some elements of software and hardware design have changed little since Bill Gates made headlines in the 1980sKeith Beaty / Toronto Star via Getty Images

“It’s starting to look really old and it’s starting to bring a lot of baggage with it,” he says. “It cannot be the ultimate solution, it is totally implausible. It cannot be that the optimal solution of 30 years ago, one of the potentially viable solutions of 30 years ago, is applicable. at any time. “

When asked what Google is currently working on, Duarte is elusive. Will this radically change the phone in everyone’s pocket? “I hope so. But even though I knew I couldn’t tell you.” And what about suggestions that Google should make its own phone, rather than outsourcing it to Huawei and LG?

“I don’t know. It could happen. I don’t know if this is something that Google has to do or even something that Google even particularly wants to do. It would give you more control but I don’t know if you have need more control. ”I think if this team felt like there were things they wanted to do in the phone space that they couldn’t find a partner for, they would be empowered to do it. But it is not a mission or a goal in itself. “

And his vision of a less intrusive and more human form of computing is still a long way off. Current designs rely on siled apps – Airbnb, Facebook, Uber – that don’t want to talk to each other: “a set of features that a particular brand has encapsulated and hidden behind a small door.” “If you think about how traditional desktop application software was, it was very monolithic in character. Successful desktop apps actually tended to grow, grow and almost try to become full-fledged operating systems, ”says Duarte, pointing to Microsoft’s Office Suite and Adobe Photoshop as examples. “Going to mobile we sliced ​​things up a bit more, so apps tend to be more focused, but they’re still pretty monolithic entities.”


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