In the past few years, Google’s gotten their design together. It’s embraced white space along with typography, and their disparate services have begun to match. They even went so far as to release icon guidelines* last month that focused on flatness and minimalism. Front-facing icons were to be built on simple geometries. No superfluous drop shadows. No senseless gradients. The instructions were great, and Google showed more design poise than ever before.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Android Developer Relations team just released an opposite set of guidelines, including a mandate that “icons should be three-dimensional, with a slight perspective as if viewed from above, so that users perceive some depth” and “icons should be simple at the macro level but still detailed at the micro level (e.g. include subtle edge effects, gradients and textures).” Oh, and basic shapes like circles? Be more original.
It’s not that this more 3-D approach is inherently wrong; it’s that there’s no way this approach can match the aesthetics that the rest of Google has recently put forward. And if Google follows its own rules for Android design, then Android can’t possibly match the rest of Google product design (meaning that Maps or Now will suddenly clash with Android).
As to why Google would change their tune for Android is anyone’s guess. Though the simplest, most obvious answer seems to be that they wanted to differentiate the platform from the flatter iOS 7. That’s commendable from the perspective that, for first time in Android’s history, they’re actively trying to differentiate themselves from iOS (even if it seems to be in a contrarian-for-contrarian’s-sake way). But it’s another first, too: The first worrisome fissure (or hint at infighting?) inside a seemingly unified world of Google design.