Android Expert Profiles

How I Use Android: Google designer and engineer Roman Nurik

A driving force behind Android design and development shares the ins and outs of his own personal Android setup.

How I Use Android: Roman Nurik

Roman Nurik may not be a household name -- but if you've spent any time using Android, you've almost certainly felt the impact of his work.

Nurik is a designer and UX (user experience) engineer at Google. These days, he's focused mainly on Firebase -- a platform for developers to build, analyze, and improve mobile apps. In other words, his efforts are a huge of part of what makes it possible for developers to create cool things for our devices.

Nurik worked even more directly with developers in his previous role as a Google design and developer advocate. Despite his official shift away from that position, he continues to stay connected with the Android development community by conducting weekly UX reviews of apps and maintaining his own side Android projects.

Among those are beloved tools like Muzei, a spectacular wallpaper app that lets you turn your home screen background into an ever-evolving gallery, and DashClock, a powerful widget that puts all sorts of customizable info at your fingertips. (As regular readers know, I've sung the praises of both creations many times over the years.)

If all of that isn't enough, Nurik was also the lead designer and front-end engineer of one of Google's first Material Design apps -- and he's been the creative force behind some of the icons for Google's own Android apps and products.

Sheesh. And all I've done this week is opened a jar of pickles. (Note to self: Get more gherkins.)

With the launch of Google's Android 7.0 Nougat software this month, I thought it'd be the perfect time to catch up with Nurik and get an inside view of how someone so closely connected to the heart of Android uses the platform in his own day-to-day life. He was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his insanely busy schedule to share.

In his own words, this is how Roman Nurik uses Android.

The basics

Your current primary phone: I’m rocking the Nexus 5X.

Nexus, because I love being on the latest and greatest software (currently running the new Nougat release) and having the "stock" experience that my colleagues on the Android and Material Design teams envisioned and continue to refine beautifully.

5X, because of the smaller size and because I don’t do a ton of gaming on my phone, so raw power/performance isn’t really a decision factor. Also, the fact that the phone’s pretty affordable means I don’t have to treat it like some kind of precious gem or get a case; I can throw it around, and worst case, if it breaks, I don’t have to shell out a ton to get a new one.

What case is on your phone (if any): I don’t use a case, partly because I’ve had pretty good luck with my phones thus far (knock on wood) and I don’t feel like the extra thickness/heft is worth it. Watch: The minute this gets published, my phone’s going to suffer an epic spill on a NYC sidewalk, dribble over to the road, and get run over by a yellow cab. But until that happens, I’m sans-case.

Your current tablet (if any): I’m lucky enough to be "dogfooding" a Google Pixel C (with keyboard), which is one of the nicest pieces of hardware I’ve used. The tablet is super speedy and the multi-window support in Nougat is a huge win (just yesterday I was using Flixster + Google Play Movies side by side to research what to rent. It was pretty sweet). The build quality is also superb; the keyboard hinge barely budges when touching the tablet screen.

Your current smartwatch (if any): I’m not really a watch guy, but the last Android Wear device I wore was the Sony SmartWatch 3. I loved its performance and strap material. I’m considering wearing it to the gym, to avoid bringing my phone. I’ve got a pair of Jaybird BlueBuds X bluetooth headphones, so a watch might be a great way to ditch the wires and phone while on the rowing machine.

What face you're using on your watch right now: When I was last using the Sony SmartWatch, I was using my own FORM Watch Face, sync’d to my Muzei phone wallpaper. I’m a designer, so I need something design-y on my devices at all times!

FORM Watchface, Muzei

The FORM Watchface with Muzei, as seen on a Sony SmartWatch 3

The home screen

A quick walk-through of your phone's home screen setup: I only have one page in addition to the Google Now page. Half the page is a Google Calendar widget that’s pretty critical while at work. The right half is common apps; standouts include Pocket Casts and Transit App for my commute in NYC, a Swarm and Foursquare folder for the foodie in me, and Feedly because even with Twitter and Google+, I still can’t drop my long-standing RSS habits.

Roman Nurik Home Screen

And I use the usual round of Google apps: Most of my friends are on Hangouts, and I use it for Project Fi SMS, Gmail for work email, Inbox for personal email, and Google Keep to make me feel like I’m organized (I’m not actually very organized).

What launcher you're using: Google Now Launcher, for the same reason above: I love the stock Android experience. I briefly tried out Action Launcher because Chris Lacy is an excellent chap and there are some excellent features in there, but I ended up switching back for the deep Google Now integration (I swipe over to Google Now at least a dozen times a day).

What wallpaper you're using: I use my own Muzei Live Wallpaper app, with the default featured artwork source. Two-plus years later, I still enjoy seeing a new beautiful painting on my home screen every night around 9 or 10 p.m. I switched to a default static wallpaper briefly to compare memory and performance against Muzei, but I couldn’t deal with the icon/wallpaper contrast issues so switched back. :)

The top-left of my home screen is actually blank so I can double-tap to unblur every now and then.

Anything else of note (interesting customizations, special icons, etc): Nope, I’m pretty stock. Back when I was working day-to-day on Android, I’d have internal developer builds and a bunch of internal "dogfood" apps (hence the blurred "dogfood" badge on the Hangouts icon). These days, I love the zen feeling of running stable or mostly stable public builds.

The experience and the apps

What's one of your favorite Android-related tips or tricks?

One of my favorites is the two-finger notification expand gesture. It’s become even more essential with the new notification bundles feature in Nougat. The two-finger pull-down gesture lets me quickly read the first snippet of an arbitrary email in the bundle before taking action. I can basically triage 90% of my incoming work email from the notification shade. I don’t use any fancy Gmail filters or anything, so it’s pretty critical to my workflow.

Also one completely different one is the place search in the Phone app. Being able to just type the name of a store instead of first looking up the phone number on Google is pretty excellent. Also the fact that it shows you store hours right in the phone app is a delightful little detail.

Beyond the obvious stock Google programs, a few apps you can't live without right now (and a quick word about why):

My wife and I are into a bunch of shows across Netflix, HBO, USA, and other places, so I use SeriesGuide to religiously track schedules and viewing progress. We also have a NVIDIA Shield Android TV at home, where I’ve got Sling TV installed to round out our entertainment content options (hoping they can support Nougat on my 5X and Pixel C soon!) and Asphalt 8 when I’ve got a few minutes to kill.

Oh, and Bitmoji is a pretty important app right now at work. On the Firebase UX team, we’ve basically decided to communicate primarily in Bitmoji.

Check out more Android expert profiles below or in the official Google+ collection -- and stay tuned for even more entries in the weeks to come!

Icons in title image courtesy of Freepik at flaticon.com.

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