How to Captivate Your Audiences with Motion

There is a part of the visual cortex called MT that governs motion perception, making the human brain uniquely responsive to movement. We find it fascinating and stimulating. We gleefully use GIFs to convey just the right emotion, catch ourselves glued to moving screensavers, and who doesn’t love movies?

With a background in neuroscience, ballet and design, I find that motion is always on my mind. In fact, it’s on all of your minds too, albeit subconsciously. We all experience proprioception, an awareness of where each part of our bodies exists in space. Ballerinas are rigorously trained in proprioception. With it, they are able to execute extraordinary athletic feats with effortless poise. Designers experience something similar when orchestrating how a brand’s visual assets move. They have a specific vision for when, where, and how all the pieces move and interact in a space.

Motion communicates across disciplines. If we look at motion in neuroscience, dance and design, it’s just information displayed on different canvases: the brain, the stage or the screen, respectively. Activation in the brain is visualized via the BOLD (blood oxygen level-dependent) signal as blood dances from one brain region to the next as we think about and do different things. Choreographers transport us to other worlds by moving dancers on and off the stage and around each other. Motion designers create narratives by tweaking transitions and moving graphic elements around the screen.

Why is motion such an essential part of marketing? Because motion can evoke a very human response. Ogilvy’s Magic of Flying British Airways outdoor campaign stopped audiences in their tracks as they watched an adorable toddler on a billboard interrupt normal programming to amble towards every British Airways plane that crossed over London. The movement of the boy pointing in tandem with the movement of the plane created an emotional connection. The campaign, aimed at raising awareness for the frequency and quantity of British Airways flights was viewed 350 million times worldwide. It made me cry.

Motion is everywhere, and because we are so attuned to it, it becomes a powerful tool to engage and inform. With that in mind, how can we infuse motion into communications and create more dynamic experiences across all media, from print and packaging to events and apps? Here are a couple principles I find helpful for crafting experiences that excite and connect with audiences on a very human level.

1. RHYTHM

We have an innate ability to discern pace. When objects don’t behave according to the laws of physics, it makes us uncomfortable. For example, when a large object falls more slowly than a small one, it feels strange to the viewer. We may not be able to articulate why, but motion at unnatural speeds turns us off. Don’t create anxiety for your audience.

Rhythm in motion design speaks to what feels comfortable to the viewer in terms of speed. What if you suddenly started experiencing the world in time lapse? It would be so stressful, living life in fast forward. Don’t put your audience in that position, and disseminate information at a comfortable pace.

The New Yorker is a publication that sets a pleasant rhythm. By establishing a hierarchy of visuals and information, they control pace. Headlines appear at the top of the page of copy and are bigger than the rest of the text so we read them first. Little cartoons interrupt long columns of text to provide pauses and comic relief.

Remember, the rhythm you create — that strategic timing and placing of elements not only makes a more varied experience, but also a more enjoyable one.

2. EASE-IN + EASE-OUT

Every project should have a beginning, middle, and end. Your audience will feel gratified after having completed the ‘journey’. Don’t leave the user hanging.

Both ease-in and ease-out help motion designers create movement that obeys the laws of physics and generates a feeling of wholeness. An object at rest needs time to accelerate, reach its peak, and then decelerate. On a larger scale, the entire piece, including audio, should seamlessly ease in and out. Make sure you have a satisfying build, climax, and ending.

When you order your favorite Thai food off of Seamless, you go through a process. First you pick your restaurant, then select the items you want, and finally submit your order. The confirmation screen that thanks you for your order is truly gratifying. It lets your stomach know that in 30 to 45 minutes it will be much happier.

Ultimately, by giving your user a complete experience — easing in and easing out, they’ll keep coming back.

3. CONTEXT

A piece might have many moving elements, but it should always be very clear what the focus is. Let your audience know who or what is important.

Context focuses the viewer. A film might have many characters, but it’s always clear who the protagonist is. Even though multiple interactions occur between the main and supporting characters, which create secondary and tertiary storylines, at the end of the day the focus is still on the protagonist.

The most effective stories on Medium strike a balance between providing context and making a point. By introducing the background, the author emphasizes why the chosen subject matter is important, but by limiting it to context keeps the piece on track. The takeaway is the writer’s opinion alone.

Giving context comes down to being very clear what your message is, so that it doesn’t get lost on your audience.

4. ANTICIPATION

Set up some rules for your experience. They might dictate how objects move or when they appear, and they help your audience learn how to move through the experience. Let people know what’s coming.

Motion designers use anticipation to cue the viewer by setting up a visual expectation or pattern. In title sequences, text that appears in specific areas causes the viewer to look there without realizing it. Text can also transition in a certain way over and over again so that viewers can anticipate that specific movement. Sticking to rules that you create prevents your audience from frantically searching for where or how the next piece of information will appear.

I’m sure most of you have played or heard of Monument Valley. If you haven’t, you absolutely should, because the graphics are simply beautiful. The point of the game is to help Ida, the silent princess, find her way through the monuments. How do you know when you’ve mastered a level? Ida always takes an orb out of her hat that spins and grows larger to transition to the next level. When you see that orb, you feel a sense of accomplishment, it’s positive reinforcement to keep playing.

Understand that creating anticipation is just playing off of our predisposition to conditioning. It will help you guide users through experiences.

5. CONSISTENCY

You should think about the components of your projects as living within a brand or design system. Doing so will keep things cohesive and give the impression of a more thoughtful and comprehensive experience. Stick to your rules and keep the audience immersed.

In motion design you’re creating imaginary environments. Sometimes the whole environment is visible and sometimes you’re just providing a glimpse. Whatever the case, by adhering to the rules you create, such as confining objects to the boundaries of the screen or allowing them to float out of view, you avoid confusion and tell a better story.

Sleep No More is a fantastic example of immersive environment design. Every element of the “play”, from costumes, actors, set and lighting, down to the papers on the desks and the specimens in the jars, creates a certain look and feel. The entire McKittrick Hotel is part of the experience. From the minute you step into the elevator to the moment you leave the building, how you’re treated amongst the immersive surroundings makes you believe that you’re in another world.

Consistency requires a full commitment to a framework and makes the experience far more impactful.

6. SURPRISE

Surprise takes what is expected and subverts it. It can be as complex as turning an anticipated emotional response on its head, or as simple as changing size or color of text. The aim is to elicit a positive emotional response to delight the audience.

Motion designers use surprise like a secret weapon. It can drive home the climax, or it can create a break between sections. Sometimes elements travelling one way will suddenly switch direction, or an unexpected swatch of color swipes across the screen to signal a change.

Surprise is memorable. AXE released a spot to introduce their White Label line of products. The scene opens poolside at a luxurious hotel in an exotic locale where we see a handsome man sporting a dangerous swagger. Immediately intrigued, the beautiful woman nearby mistakes him for a secret agent. When he finally approaches and leans in to greet her, he hands her the bill. Her expression drives home AXE’s tagline: how you feel says it all. The spot starts out telling one story, but changes the narrative for a final positive punch. I rarely pay attention to AXE ads, but this ad left an impression.

Surprise can have a lasting impact. It can even draw in audiences outside your target demographic.

Well, there you have it. By capitalizing on our affinity for and sensitivity to motion, we have the ability to craft more engaging and impactful marketing creative. Motion is a visual language that speaks uniquely to audiences. It can make them laugh or cry, and they’ll remember your campaigns for it. By employing motion in your communications, you can create meaningful experiences that incite a visceral response. In turn, that will keep your branding and marketing fresh and profoundly change the way your brand is perceived.


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