Shadows Table / Kunal Patel Q&A

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John Maeda: So I’ve noticed that when people see drop shadows they start to freak out. A lot of folks I know hate drop shadows.

Kunal Patel: I think drop shadows do deserve some hatred from the design community. Laughing. I think one thing that’s really great about our usage of shadows, I believe, is the rationalization we’ve applied to them. Often times when people react negatively to drop shadows, it’s because they are unexpected elements. Or, the emphasis that’s being applied to those elements seems incongruous with what they’re expecting. Shadows for us are really tied to elevation and for emphasis in a UI. So we’re very restrained in our usage of shadows. I think relative to the web industry’s expectation of drop shadows, maybe you know the way they were used 5 or 10 years ago, I believe the model that we have in use for Material is a lot more logical and constrained for how and when shadows should be applied.

JM: So you think we’ll use blinking text because it’s made useful some day? Laughing.

KP: You mean the blink tag? Laughing. Yes. I predict that blinking text will become useful some day.

JM: What do you think is good about how this display expresses shadows. And what is missing?

KP: So the shadow exhibit that we have here is effective at indicating importance. And the effects that adding a lighting source to objects with communicates the basic concept. I think what’s missing is the sort of precision inherent to the shadows of our system. We were designing the shadows for Material Design in full detail and with a complicated, fixed-lighting rig to get the effect that we wanted. That was with two light sources, and a lot more control over the environment. For this exhibition we wanted it to be a little more hands-on for people who can experience moving the light source and seeing what it does to objects and the shadows that they cast. But it’s not true to our system at all and instead makes a good education tool.

JM: In an early sketch of this table there were specific DP values on the various blocks. Why were they removed?

KP: Because this is more of a sculptural representation of the idea versus anything that we could have made to be more accurate and interactive this way. It’s a simple activity available for visitors to easily learn the thinking behind our shadows.

Originally published at on March 21, 2019.

Written by

John Maeda: Technologist and product experience leader that bridges business, engineering, design via working inclusively. Happily working at Everbridge☁️ :+).

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