How to Sell Web Animation

This article was first published on the User Defenders podcast Bi-Weekly Bugle.

Ever since I heard Twitter founder Jack Dorsey say that one of his core principles has always been to “delight the user.”, I’ve tried to adopt that philosophy in anything I build.

It’s a great principle indeed, and I mean the dude has done pretty well abiding in that.

I’ve also always thought of animation in an interactive experience to be more of a flourish…a delight factor if you will.

That is until I interviewed Rachel Nabors on the User Defenders podcast.

She shed light on something that I never cognitively put the pieces together on before, and helped form a critical new neural pathway in my brain about how web animation is so much more than delight.

It’s essential to the user experience.

“Web animation isn’t delightful by itself. It’s about the major cognitive wins connected with user actions.” — Rachel Nabors

Smartphone users (a.k.a. practically anyone reading this) and Watch users: Can you imagine tapping an icon to open an app, only to be “jump cut” to a white screen for a second (no spinning loader animation), and then suddenly being jolted into the app’s splash screen?

You’d cognitively feel like you went two entirely different places, and question whether you ended up in the right place if the app wasn’t branded well, and especially if it’s one you don’t open often.

Animation is essential to the feedback heuristic of user experiences.

Animation is more than delight

As Rachel and I discuss in this special episode, if you’re purely selling animation as a delight factor (even though there is delight in smart animation), you’re guaranteed to get pushback from numbers-oriented stakeholders…especially when there’s a tight turn on the project.

And let’s be honest, when isn’t there a tight turn on a biz project?

This is where understanding the science behind how our brains perceive motion is important.

“You don’t justify animation for ‘delight’, you justify animation for an improved experience.” — Rachel Nabors

Thankfully, Rachel has taken the legwork out, and offered us her extensive research in her fantastic new book, “Animation at Work”.

Chapter 1 (Human Perception and Animation) & Chapter 2 (Patterns and Purpose) especially dives into these concepts.

How to sell animation

Let’s start with when. Rachel says:

“When you’re making design mockups, that’s the time to be talking about animations.”

A great way to sell animation is to speak to the importance of reducing friction and cognitive load, which is inherently tied into decision fatigue that results from lack of expected feedback in a digital user experience.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the quote (or read the book), “Don’t make me think”.

Smart, timely animation in a digital user experience is going to help your users to not have to think about where they are, what they’re doing, and have a more un-fractured experience with your brand and/or product.

This = your users being less likely to abandon your experience, which is more likely to produce better task/business conversion, which will prick up the ears and support of your stakeholders!

I’m also pretty sure you’ve heard the expression, “good design is invisible”.

Good design is invisible…like Carson Daly on The Voice.

Why is that?

It’s because elements like animation in intuitive experiences are so well-thought out beforehand by empathetic designers, that the user doesn’t even know they’re happening.

I never thought much of the animation happening all around my Watch experience before reading “Animation at Work” and in preparing for my conversation with Rachel.

I’d also never thought much about the intentional design of stage setup that a major concert experience has.

Next time you go to a show with a headliner act that has at least two openers–observe how much bigger, better, brighter and more animated the stage gets leading up to (and especially during) the headline act.

Intentional and meaningful animation makes all the difference.

In closing

I say all this to reinforce the fact that animation is all around us (as clearly articulated in the highly celebrated “Illusion of Life” book).

We live in an animated world.

Let’s not take it for granted.

Let’s animate responsibly, and use smart motion in our experiences that help reduce friction, and cognitive load to help our users accomplish the tasks that they’re there for.

After all, that’s what they’re there for.