John Maeda: So I know you were excited to embody the idea of the colour scale as stairs. Can you tell me why?

RB: Well we’ve informally referred to some of the colours within the colour palette as “steps” before because our palette consist of tonal gradients that are very interconnected. So this idea of stepping from one colour to another in a really natural progression metaphorically made sense when thinking about the way that we created our colour palettes within Material Design.

The team arrives to inspect the installation just before it goes live to the public. The Color Stairs are visible in the far back corner.

JM: So I noticed that the scale doesn’t go to 1000. Why is that?

RB: We had the 50 to 900 scale and then we had accent pallettes in the original Material Design palette. We created a proprietary naming system that isn’t associated with any existing colour standard. Frankly, we made up the terminology in the names for our system.

Original sketch for the color staircase as exhibited at the Saint Étienne Design Biennale in France.
Rachel Been being photographed on the Color Stairs as exhibited at the Saint Étienne Design Biennale in France.

JM: Why does the scale start with 50, and the steps afterwards count in 100s?

RB: I think that any proprietary system doesn’t necessarily always have to have a logic that people would assume to figure out. That’s the beauty of being able to name something proprietary — because you get to choose the rules.

7-minute overview of Material Design.

JM: When people hear the word “proprietary” I’m sure a few of them wonder: “Does Google own all this and I can’t have it?”

RB: No it doesn’t. It’s not about ownership at all. It’s more about creation in the sense that we have created this system that is unique to our own internal system. But it doesn’t mean that we own it. We’re still trying to be transparent and free to everyone.

Me and Rachel coincidentally wearing similar puffy jackets that day.

Published by John Maeda

I'm a learner. By training.

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