Liven up your app: How to use animation in mobile development?

Animations are a natural way to liven up interfaces and stress the simplest interactions both in websites and mobile applications. In the real world, nothing happens instantly and the digital world has to reflect the real motion of each element. Nowadays, animations have become a natural feature of a well-designed mobile application and thereby allow designers and programmers to show their talents.

Animations are one of the main Interaction Design techniques and are widely used in various parts of the interface. In many design systems, such as Material Design, iOS and Lighting Design System, basic movements of an animation are predetermined, helping designers to create the right effects. However, there is no universal set of effects which will fit every interface. Therefore, it is the designer’s job to find the most suitable ideas for an animation, which will match the product’s functionality and brand.

HOW TO USE ANIMATIONS IN MOBILE APPS?

There are numerous uses of animation in mobile applications but we can summarize them in several most important functions. Those include:

  • increasing engagement – by responding to users gestures, animations evoke positive emotions;
  • making it easier to understand how the application works – animations help to reduce cognitive load, teach how to use the interface and help to understand the flow of an app from the very first screen;
  • accelerating an interaction with the interface during the process of content loading – while an app is loading the content, a simple loader animation can divert the user’s attention and signal a transition to a new screen;
  • showing the hierarchy between different interface elements.

The use of any animated elements should be well-thought and have its own clear goal. Using them only for aesthetic reasons can mislead users, especially if the designer doesn’t keep the animations consistent.
On the other hand, animations provide designers with a large scope for creativity which allows them to bring static elements to life. Thanks to such animated elements, the designer can direct users attention, suggest certain actions and create a virtual space within the smartphone screen.
 

HOW DO ANIMATIONS WORK?

Behind the scenes, an animation is just a motion which can be characterized by the time, easing and a curve or a straight line along which the element moves.

The time of an animation in mobile devices differs depending on the type of an animation and the size of the device.

No less important feature is the easing. It is a factor which determines the acceleration or deceleration of the moving element. In mobile interfaces, the most common types of movements are Ease-In and Ease-Out, which give the most realistic effect and look very smooth.

Animations differ greatly from one app to another but of course, their main goal stays the same: they help users to understand how the app works and to define app’s character. For example, a quick, jumping move is considered as lively and energetic while deceleration causes the feeling of balance and stability.

ANIMATION EXAMPLES

SCREEN LOADING

Almost every mobile app uses animation from the very first moment it turns on. The loader animation can be a good opportunity to get users interest and make the loading process seem shorter. The latest trend in this field is to use a framework of the screen which looks as if the elements of the screen were being loaded and at the same time – shortens the time needed to load the screen.

The use of animated elements in other parts of an app is also crucial, especially when it comes to smooth transitions between the screens which require some time to load or await user’s interaction.
 

 

BUTTONS

Buttons are one of the basic elements of the app interface and when designed well, they can increase app’s conversion. As a dynamic element, a button can change its color, shape or padding. Adding an animation can enrich these effects and direct user’s attention.
 

 

NAVIGATION

Although navigation structures are based on dedicated frameworks of the main mobile platforms – Android and iOS, a lot of applications have a very complex architecture and it is designer’s job to simplify it. In this case, animations can help to orientate in app’s space as well as to create an additional hierarchy of elements if the app structure is very complex.
 

 

MICROINTERACTIONS

Microinteractions are the animations of small app’s elements and are one of the key interactions in UI/UX design. They appear when an action is being done and inform users about the action’s status – for example in case of buttons, forms or navigation elements. Such animations are parts of many app’s interfaces – the simplest one being a ‘like’ button in Facebook which after clicking, shows how the number of ‘likes’ has changed. When used wisely, micro interactions increase usability and speed of the final product.
 

 

EXPLANATORY ANIMATIONS

Animations are a powerful tool and their full potential can be realized in explanatory features. A well-designed animation can make a user complete a certain action or to engage in a certain path within the app. When there is a complex strategy or a great number of options in place, such animations can be a good example to combine the intended functionality with an interesting interaction.
 

 

DECORATIONS & VISUAL EFFECTS

It’s worth to remember that apart from fulfilling a certain function, animations are also a very attractive addition to the standard interface. Thanks to using them, an app can stand out from the crowd and become more interesting. For example, the effects of animated objects and even figures can be combined with the effects of the background, creating an interesting process of gamification. This way, an app can not only be convenient to use but will also entertain and encourage to come back. However, such animations require a thorough usability and usefulness analysis – especially important when the app is used almost every day.
 

KEY TAKEAWAY

To sum up, interface animations are a great way to keep users attention and make apps even more convenient to use. However, the designer should make sure that the moving elements of an app are a well-thought part of apps interactions and create an intuitive, simple and easy-to-use user experience.

Mariusz Sojka
UX/UI Designer

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