Even in the ancient times people knew about the great power of motion. Literature, art, folklore, technologies all witness numerous attempts of people to explain motion as one of the brightest features of life. Probably that is why the Latin aphorism “Semper in motu” (Always in motion) is still one of the most popular expressions often becoming motto of active people and teams able to provide great results.
Working on diverse projects on UX/UI design, designers of Tubik Studio are deeply aware of the role and high potential of animation in modern efficient user interfaces. Well thought-out and tested interface animation as well as icons, whose role we analyzed in one of our previous articles, is able to support fast and easy interaction and has high potential to fulfill multiple functions. So, today we would like to consider some aspects of interface animation, its functions and role in modern design.
The essence of animation
The term “animation”, so popular in different spheres of human activity, has ancient and somehow romantic origin. It origins from Latin word anima meaning “air, soul” and in most cases defines the process of adding life and soul into the objects, first of all via motion. So, animation is the process of creating the illusion of motion which started since times immemorial, when people tried to show the illusion of movements in carvings or paintings, and has become widely popular worldwide via animated cartoons. It opened new horizons to artists and created new broad field of work with images.
Nowadays, animation has also won its special place in interface design as one of the most important tools of successful interaction. As people are mostly visually driven creatures, the force behind the picture, which is worth the thousand words, gets even stronger with the help of animation. With rapid growth of mobile devices, animation got even more significant popularity and diversity, enabling fast and easy processes for touchable interfaces, especially used on-the-go. Practice shows that animation is a very powerful way to make the product simple, clear, bright and user-centered thus providing positive user experience.
Types of interface animation
Animation is a very flexible and multi-functional tool satisfying different users needs. In general, being based on our practical experience of work with interfaces for different websites and mobile applications, we could define several functional groups of animation in UI:
animation enabling microinteraction
animation showing the path of the process
Before looking at them in a bit more detail, we should mention that this division is actually very relative because in most cases designers try to apply several functions of animated item at the same time to use its potential as much as possible.
Animation for microinteraction
The first type, including animation enabling microinteraction is, perhaps, the most useful type of motion design in the aspect of user interfaces. It becomes the way to make interaction quick and clear for the user, often imitating real physical interaction such as pushing the buttons, opening boxes or doors, pulling handles and so on and so forth. Animation of this kind is like health: people do not notice it when it works properly, but understand its importance when something goes wrong. Microinteractions enabled by interface animation are also hardly notable for user until the moment when they face the problem of their absence.
Microinteractions inform users that operations are successfully completed: the buttons are pushed, the toggles are moved, the necessary fields are filled, the rules are provided etc. And, vise versa, they can inform about the cases when the steps aren’t done successfully, so a user gets the information about the mistake or not completed operation in fast and easy way.
Animation applied for microinteractions are usually small but as all the small and simple elements of the interface they take a lot of time and effort to become clear and boost usability of the product.
Animation showing the process
This type of animation is somehow broadening the potential of the previous type. It includes different ways of demonstrating the stage of the processes to the user, for example different kinds of loading bars showing how fast the process goes and activates users expectation on possible time and way of getting results, preloaders and other kinds of such stuff.
This type of animation is widely popular in different tutorial and tool tips, but actually their potential is very high. Via motion of details, characters, illustrated items or copy, they provide diverse prompts to the users on how to deal with the application. Also animation of this type can engage users to make further steps which can be not so obvious at the first glance or explain some more complicated operations. It is especially important to provide usability of the products with big amount of information through which user should quickly find the one which is necessary for their aim. Therefore, they can increase the level of usability and desirability of the product.
Earlier we have provided the case study on decorative and promotional animation in the article called Case study: animation. Designing motion.
Benefits and drawbacks
Among the essential benefits of interface animation we would mention:
convenient and easy interaction
ability to fulfill several functions simultaneously
high potential of speeding up the processes of interaction
providing clear feedback to the user and creating necessary expectations
Everything mentioned above can seem convincing factors to use animation all around the app or website, but in practice we insist on being very careful and wise in applying motion in design. As nothing is ideal in our world, animation in UI also has the number of minuses that should be carefully researched and analysed before deciding on this or that animation. Some of them are:
taking big traffic resource for loading
If your animation is too heavy and the conditions of the product use were not analyzed thoughtfully, it can bring out the problem of long loading and annoy users instead of creating positive emotions
overloading the screen/page
Even purely decorative animations should have their aim, place and function which is based on the general concept. Animation used for pure attraction without enhancing positive emotions and efficient interaction risks losing lots of users who will find the way to their problem solution overloaded with unnecessary details.
Moreover, the screen which is overloaded with animated items decreases their potential. To make the analogy, you can like one song very much, but if you here it everywhere thousand times per day you can end up hating it just because you are fed up with it. Animation brings the same thing: when it is an interesting and engaging detail, it will work successfully to help a user and will look attractive in contrast with static elements. However, if you make everything on your page move, users will get tired very quickly. You can feel the power and joy of motion only if you have a chance to stop when needed.
In case of user interface design, even any smallest piece of animation should correspond to the aim of the page or screen. So, first of all UI/UX designer should research and think over the functions and aims of the screen or page as well as the abilities and wishes of target audience which will interact with them. If animation doesn’t solve any problem, doesn’t enhance positive experience and doesn’t support the user, it would be better to omit it in order to create the performance of the product only with essential details not overloading the general process.
To sum up, interface animation today is the great way to retain users as it makes their user experience pleasant and enables solving their problems faster. However, a designer should deeply analyze its potential for increasing usability, utility and desirability of the product before making a decision to apply it in design solutions.