When we think of animations, we’re often taken back to memories of our favorite childhood cartoons and movies. This leads to a common opinion that animations are meant to delight and entertain (which they certainly can). However when utilized as a design tool, animations can be valuable for a few other, very important reasons.
Information about the UI
There are many instances where a unique or unusual interface may add value to an application. While many designers see the value that branded gestures can provide to an experience, it is important that these interactions aren’t too obscure for the user to discover. How do we teach the user what to do? Coach marks? Tutorials? Modals with detailed instructions? These solutions are all disruptive, and discouraging to the user. This is where animations can be incredibly useful! Hint animations can quickly indicate or suggest unique gestures or specific navigation. If a user has to swipe upwards diagonally to confirm a purchase, an animation can indicate that with a small bounce up or down immediately after an order is placed. This solution is time efficient, non-disruptive, and is usually understood on a subconscious level.
Simple animations can also help users understand an interface by providing feedback. An example most people are familiar with are edge or boundary indicators (think of the iOS gray linen, or the Android blue edge glow). Again, these are very simple solutions to providing contextual information, without distracting or demanding too much information from the user.
Overall Feel of the App
If the basic movement of the app and how it responds to basic gestures is taken into consideration, an app can be designed to feel more “real”. Imagine a screen that scrolled at the same speed from beginning to end, no matter how fast you swipe. Compare that to an app that was sensitive to the intensity of gestures, and simulated the basic physics of real life, by easing in and out at the beginning and end of any movement.
The choice seems pretty clear. Animations provide much more value than they get credit for, and I personally find that to be part of their beauty. The challenge for designer’s and developers is to use them tastefully and when they serve a purpose, rather than cramming them in places for “wow” value.