“It is a sufficiently advanced form of paper as to be indistinguishable from magic.”

Matias Duarte, vice president of design at Google, is telling me about the central principle of Material Design. It’s the unifying metaphor behind Google’s new design direction, providing a unified set of physics and rules for how software should look and act. It’s also a little weird.

The design team at Google felt the need to come up with a more coherent look and feel that could be applied across all of its products, from Android to Chrome OS to the web. Rather than starting with a palette of colors or a big set of guidelines, they started with a question.

What is software made of?