We are starting to see more and more animation being used in web design. One of the best advice one can get when it comes to using animation on their websites is moderation. Simple and small animations can be fun and engaging and when done right, the average user might not even notice them. This is considered to be the holy grail of animation use as they should be a part of a good design flow and not a hindrance or an eye sore.
What makes animation so useful in today’s web design trends is the effect of realism they provide. Most websites rely on flat, minimal design style, so the average user needs more visual cues in order to fully understand how to use the website. Simple animation is used to direct the user to a certain part of the website without drastically changing the overall aesthetic of the website. They should provide clear instructions and order to types of design that are too visually simple to be able to provide sufficient direction for the users.
When should animation be used?
The primary goal for animation use must always be the increase in usability. Small bits of animation can be an excellent tool for providing the user with additional contexts, such as what a specific button does or where to head next on the website. They should highlight the specific action available to the user and create an overall flow to the way a website is used. Of course, usability isn’t the only reason for using animations. They can be used to embellish and decorate the content provided on the website, help tells a specific story or simply invoke an emotional response from the visitor.
Small vs. Large animations
Small animations should be looked at as bits and pieces the users discovers when they interact with your website. Whether it’s a simple hover animation, usability guide or an ornament, they should accent the overall look and feel of the website and not be the emphasis of the design. Larger animations have a scale to them. They fill most of the screen and often have the characteristics of a short clip or a movie. They should be used as the main focus of the overall design where the user doesn’t have to perform an action in order to see the actual animation.
This is one of the oldest use for animations. Their sole purpose is to distract the average user from long loading times. Even a short loading animation can add some sophistication, or simply entertain the user during the wait. They are very popular for use in flat and minimal designs, sites that have only one page and portfolios. But you need to remember, best loading animations are the simplest ones. If you ever need to use additional audio and visual effects, make sure they match the overall “personality” of your website.
Non-scrolling menus and navigation
One of the recent trends used by web designers to save screen space is hiding the navigation menus. They remain hidden until the users hover their mouse over the button or actually click it. The most used example is the “hamburger icon”, or the three small horizontal lines stacked on each other which hide the navigation portion of the website. The recommended animation for this kind of menus is either the pop-out or a simple slide in and out of the picture. These aren’t the only options, of course, designers also use sticky bars and sliders to make the transition animation of the navigation elements look familiar, but fresh at the same time.
Hover animations are the most used form of navigation in today’s web design. This is mostly due to their practicality, as they familiarize the user with all the interactive elements of the website. Most often, hover animations are the only visual key that a part of the text, a button or a sign are in fact clickable. If the user is unsure how certain elements function, chances are they’ll hover their mouse over that specific element anyway, which makes this kind of animations very intuitive and natural to use.
Animated galleries and slideshow
Gallery and slideshow animals are often misused and poorly executed, despite being used literally everywhere. This is due to two main reasons, with one of them being the extent of animation used for such a simple matter, i.e. overly complicated design. The other is messing around with the rate at which the images change and giving your site that “rushed” and unfinished feel. The actual design should always be minimal, with the average time for showing each picture never being shorter than 5 seconds and longer than 8-9 seconds.
Scrolling animations and page motion
Scrolling animations give the user some form of control over the way they consume content by dictating the pace at which they consume it. The key to having a great scrolling navigation, whether it’s short or long, is the quality of used animation. If the user has to scroll for a longer period of time, then chances are they could get bored at some point, or simply lose focus. This is where scrolling animations come into play and the web designer must use them to entertain the user using an interactive element during the scrolling process. Page motion is mostly used to make the site a little more enjoyable and interesting, they don’t have too many practical benefits.
When it comes to using animations on your website, make sure you remember that good animation should always enhance the user experience. Whether it’s by helping them understand what each part of the website does, guiding them through the content or simply eliciting an emotional response. Animation needs to have a concrete purpose, which should always be to breathe life into otherwise flat and two-dimensional design. Animation is becoming a standard for a large variety of applications, websites and marketing strategies and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Be moderate with their use, make sure you know why you are using them and always make sure they are there to provide the visitors with the best user experience possible.
John Stone is a web entrepreneur and SEO Consultant. Through years of experience, he became a devout believer in the notion that form should always follow function and that developing the ability to think outside of the box is a prerequisite of being a successful entrepreneur. He currently advises companies about Web Design in Sydney. You can find him on Twitter.