Animation tips for graphic designers

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March 24, 2021
5 minute read

Simply put, motion graphics—or animated videos—combine music, short-form text, voiceover and sound design to tell a story, explain a concept or showcase a product or service. It’s a great way to engage an audience on your website, blog or social media page or to draw attention at an event.

More than just a cool element

Everyone loves video. So much so that for animators (as well as for copywriters, art directors, other graphic designers, and everyone else who touches the project), it’s easy to go overboard. At the risk of sounding obvious, establish what you’re trying to achieve ahead of time: Are you looking to increase brand awareness? Give instructions? Guide viewers towards an action?

When animation is designed well and with a strong purpose in mind, it can achieve a number of different goals:

Build your brand promise: In marketing, we often refer to a “brand voice”—the personality that’s conveyed through the tone of your copy and visuals. Animation works much like a TV spot in that all of its elements—audio, visuals and music—work together to give your brand an actual voice. It’s a dynamic extension of your brand and should live within your brand guidelines, not outside of them.

Simplify a concept: Animated graphics are a great tool for giving instructions or explaining ideas that are too complicated to illustrate through words and static images alone. Typically, animation that’s instructional, such as explainer videos, product announcements, tutorials, and product demo’s tend to be longer than animation used for brand awareness.

Engage your audience: Web animation should add to the user experience and, ultimately, to your larger brand story. The experience can even start while the animation is loading—the simplest moving graphics can keep viewers engaged while they wait.

Tell a story: Animation is modern story-telling, a perfect opportunity to connect with your audience through a narrative that sets up a problem and then provides a resolution.

Take an action: Consider where your animation fits into your user experience. Is there an action you want your user to take once it’s complete? Give thought to where your spot will drive to and, if there’s a landing page, how to make that experience seamless.

Less is more

Simple ideas executed well are better than complicated ideas executed poorly. As much as we would all love endless amounts of time and budget to see our award-winning idea come to life, most of us have to design within time constraints and budget requirements. Start simple and, if constraints allow, build from there.

Here are 5 more tips on how to build motion graphics that hit the mark:

  1. Know your audience: Who are you trying to reach with your animation? Will your audience be interested in the topic? What sort of design style will appeal to this group? These factors will guide you in choosing the right style, colour palette, fonts, music and overall tone.
  2. Keep it accessible: Animated content that continually moves, blinks, scrolls or updates automatically can be distracting and pose a barrier for people who have trouble reading quickly or tracking moving objects. Ensure you provide a keyboard mechanism that can be easily perceived for users to pause, stop or hide animated content. Get to know online accessibility guidelines.
  3. Determine your ideal length (and stick to it): Motion graphics tend to run anywhere from a few seconds to five minutes. Once your goal is established, determine the ideal length for your animation ahead of time. A well-told narrative can hold attention longer than you think—but every second matters. Be ruthless in your editing and watch your word count.
  4. Figure out your speed: Pacing is key. Viewers need time to see what’s happening and to process the information, but the animation should move quickly enough to hold their attention. Give careful consideration to which moments need to be snappy and quick and which need to be slowed down.
  5. Make use of previews: When the full version of the animation is too long for the medium, showcase shorter clips instead. Previews make great teasers, especially in social media where users tend to scroll. Consider your preview an opportunity to hook your audience and then to draw users to your site where they can watch the full spot.

Show don’t tell

This old advertising adage is especially true in the world of animation. Why tell your audience how great something is when you can weave a narrative around it? How you go about that narrative, of course, is up to you. Have fun. Explore. And don’t be afraid to iterate often in initial stages. It’s far less discouraging to tweak storyboards than it is to change your final assets.