In 1996, I was working at Macromedia, when Rob Burgess took over as CEO. Shortly after he came on board, an edict came down from the top: “no more gratuitous animation.” I saw people look at each other bewildered, most employees thought that the company was all about gratuitous animation. I agreed with Rob.
Don’t get me wrong. I love delightful motion graphics that make you feel immersed in an alternate space. We’re even teaching a class on it at Blazing Cloud, since we’re starting to see what used to be called “multimedia” arrive on the web sans plugin. If you’ve got a Chrome browser, you gotta check this out.
However, I believe we can do more with motion than purely entertain. We can use motion graphics to teach, to engage, and illustrate our conclusions. Zach Gemignani describes this well as Wow vs. Ah-ha (via FlowingData). We’re seeing many great examples of motion in human interface design that conveys meaning. The iPhone uses motion to convey a sense of greater space and to maintain visual persistence when screens change state — of course, this only works because the device is fast enough that the experience doesn’t slow down to teach us what it is doing. I’m excited to see increased use of thoughtful motion graphics in web, as well as mobile applications.