Functional Use of Animation in User Interfaces

Dec. 14, 2013 in Interactivity by Jake Blakeley

Interfaces have evolved from their static predecessors as animation and motion have become an integral part in creating a more consistent and fluid experience in almost any UI design. Although this article avoids the technical implementations in favour of explaining the functional use of animations, a few methods of creating web animations include; CSS transitions, CSS animations or Javascript such as the Jquery .animate()LINK function. Through my research I have found that the use of motion and animation in interfaces can be broken down into four major functions, as described below.

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A Full Responsive Website Design Guideline on How to Use Mobile in Today's Age

Oct. 14, 2013 in User Experience by Micheal Peterson

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Oct. 14, 2013 in Packaging by Micheal Peterson

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Functional Use of Animation in User Interfaces

Dec. 14, 2013 in Interactivity by Jake Blakeley

Interfaces have evolved from their static predecessors as animation and motion have become an integral part in creating a more consistent and fluid experience in almost any UI design. Although this article avoids the technical implementations in favour of explaining the functional use of animations, a few methods of creating web animations include; CSS transitions, CSS animations or Javascript such as the Jquery .animate() function. Through my research I have found that the use of motion and animation in interfaces can be broken down into four major functions, as described below.



Create a More Fluid Transition

The main property of any animation is time. Creating a fluid transition involves using time to smoothen a change of state or appearance. This involves transitioning from the start state to the end state over a set period of time rather than an instant and abrupt change from start state to end state. Animations do not always happen in a linear manner. This means that they can be transitioned slower or quicker throughout parts of the transition. For example, an animation can be slowed down or “eased-out” as it reaches the end state. Think of an animation’s state changing basedThe main property of any animation is time on a graph or bezier curve where the X-axis represents the time, and the Y axis represents the change from start to end state.

To show the benefit of creating fluid transitions, an example can be made of something that everyone has seen before - a pop up window. If a window was to just appear, most people would be confused as to where it came from. However, if a window expanded outwards from where the user clicked, they would have a much better context as to where it appeared from and why.

This is arguably the most necessary use of animation for creating a fluid experience and an easy to navigate interface. It is both more visually appealing and functional in the respect that it shows the viewer a changing state by giving them visual context over time instead of abruptly.



Give Visual Feedback or Context

Animations can be used to better communicate what is happening and display that information in a visual manner. The most basic example of this is a progress bar. A progress bar indicates that there is a process happening or loading, and how far along it is. If no visual feedback, such as a progress bar or loading icon after a form submit, a user can be left wondering if the form was actually submitted and if anything is really happening.



Create Hierarchy and Guide the User’s Attention

As with any design, hierarchy is key in creating interesting and effective layouts. Animated or moving elements have a unique ability to be the most apparent element within the hierarchy because, as a survival instinct, we are naturally drawn to motion. This is frequently used technique that video game designers use to direct players where to go on maps.

However, in the words of Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Do not overuse animations, and always ask yourself what is being achieved and how the animation benefits the experience. Something such as a constantly looping animation can be distracting. Remember Navi from Ocarina of Time? Do you really want the animation to say “hey, listen!” whenever the user looks away?

Always ask yourself what is being achieved and how the animation benefits the experience.

That being said, animations can be used to automatically control the user’s eyeflow to an element. A good example of this is a submit button that goes from grey to a colour once the form is complete. A good submit button would transition form grey to colour to quickly draw attention to the area and subsequently guide the user’s navigation.

Animations can give users hints to where they should go, and even point towards interactions to ensure the users know what they should be doing with the interface.



Hinting Possible Interactions

To further expand on using animations to draw a user’s attention, animations can also use this hinting to point towards an interaction or even a possible gesture. I will use my website, shameless self plug, as an example of this. When the content on the page loads, the images in the gallery slide in from the right side to the left side to show that the website scrolls horizontally rather than vertically.

An example of an animation that points towards an interaction is an auto refreshing content list. As the user scrolls down the list, new content could have been added at the top, and since the user is scrolled down, they cannot see this content. As a way to fix this, a notification could slide down from the top saying “load new content”, and clicking this could scroll back to the top to see the new content.



Conclusion

Just like any other aspect of design, there is a time to use animation and motion and there is a time to avoid it altogether. There are many ways to misuse animations in interfaces. One infamous example is an animation that moves links or other interactive elements as the user may be trying to click them. It is important to question the purpose of an animation and if it is adding to the interface or just creating fluff. If used properly, animations and motion can add to almost any interface experience and create a more immersive, easier to navigate and fluid interface.




About the Author

Jake Blakeley

I am a designer, passionate about creating the best solution to any problem. This means starting from the basics for a strong foundation, by rethinking the problem from every perspective and questioning the function of every detail.


Karen Loyd

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Sarah Svante

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James Wu

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