Those products use various design tools to colour our perception through user interfaces. How they look, how they sound – even how they feel, through haptic feedback – all contribute to our feelings toward a brand. But one tool truly shapes a beautifully considered and distinctive user experience: the way it moves.
Motion design is powerful, but often underused. It can create a greater emotional response than static visuals alone. And motion is no longer something just for digital natives – it’s an expected aspect of every online experience. With that in mind, our design team have been exploring the role motion plays for modern brands, and how to maximise the opportunities it presents.
It’s important to consider motion’s role as part of the overall design process and brand toolkit, and not just an add-on. That way, it can be woven through the design and build of a digital product. ‘Brand with character’ is one of the five guiding principles that underpin our design work. So it’s no surprise that it’s our starting point for determining how a brand moves.
Movement affects how brands are perceived because it carries their character. In the same way that clues to someone’s behaviour can be identified through body language, the way a brand moves offers an idea of its personality.
Through motion, we can dial appropriate character traits up and down at different moments in an experience. A ‘fluid’ trait might be reflected playfully in transitions between screens. And it can be used subtly in a form-filling exercise, where the user needs time to get things right, rather than being distracted.
In its simplest form, motion signifies change. Whether it’s a clicked button, an animated loading icon or the addition of an item to a shopping cart, the response we see from a digital product as a result of our own action helps us understand the journey we’re on and how far we are along it. It should help, not hinder, our experience by being assistive and directive.
The holy grail is for motion to feel natural and intrinsic to an experience – so it becomes almost invisible. That might mean adding subtle winks, like Pinterest’s zooms and wipes, that bring a new dimension to an interface. Or considering more elaborate and noticeable moments, if the time is right in the user journey, as with Timepage from Moleskine’s welcome moment or Mucho’s loading screen.
But purpose of motion and context of experience have to be considered for a digital product to feel frictionless. When done right, animation stitches together various states of an experience with visual responses that reflect a brand’s character, which ultimately guides people through it.
Motion provides untapped possibilities for brands to express themselves, by creating rich, immersive experiences that broaden emotional impact. While static design can lack empathy and warmth, motion sparks our senses and triggers a positive response. It’s a way of adding more meaning to a brand’s digital experience, whether introducing an element of play to hold interest, or demonstrating inventiveness to reinforce trust.
That was the thinking that went into our work for The Mill, a global creative partner to agencies, production companies and brands. To tell The Mill’s story in the most accessible and impactful way, we developed a new site built around an ‘infinite canvas’, where motion is essential to the functionality.
The result is almost hypnotic, serving up user journeys that can satisfy any degree of curiosity. On both desktop and mobile, the way users navigate content relies deeply on motion. By guiding, enhancing and providing feedback, movement is integral to the site.
Without the right attention to detail, digital products become static applications providing stale, repetitive experiences. They can feel unloved and incomplete. Motion can bring them to life, but it’s a tricky thing to get right.
As with most aspects of design, it’s ultimately about balance. At its best, motion design adds assistance, distinctiveness and craft. It reflects a brand’s character while enhancing its user experience. And it allows a brand to express itself in an entirely new way. It’s time to put it to work.