Why triggering more senses in design should be common sense

Graphic design used to be a handcraft. Gone are the days when designers took a pencil and a piece of paper and loudly complained who, for the love of God, stole their erasers this time. Today, design combines different media and forms of expression. Static became animation. Sounds were added. And erasers were forever replaced by Cmd+Z. It became a way to engage the audience and convey emotions. And for the first time ever, design played an important role in connecting with audiences on a deeper level.

More than meets the eye

Every visual medium we know today is based on five fundamental elements: lines, shapes, form, texture, color and the way they balance. Together, they make for almost everything we see and create. When design moved on to digital, that much remained the same. As did its basic goals: informing, educating or persuading. True magic happens at the intersections of these different goals, skilfully put together.

Design is more than meets the eye. It’s the feeling you get when experiencing a truly great video. It’s the signals you receive through all your senses - combining into that ultimate emotion you want to evoke with your brand.

So whether you’re watching the tiniest animation when scrolling endlessly through your Instagram feed for the 34th time or a giant visual installation at a live concert, they all have one thing in common: they create connection. So let’s look into ways of achieving just that. Let’s go.


Bringing graphic design to life

The core strength of motion is the way it transforms a static design into something that feels alive. And it’s not even about the most complex character animations we know; I’m talking about short, subtle but effective animations. So, what does 'effective' mean in this context? Motion doesn’t only help designers deliver the message more efficiently, it’s also making the design or story more engaging, drive behavioral changes, challenge preconceptions and educate or inform your target audience.

Sometimes, even the most subtle motion can be of great value. When you create an animated logo, for example, you can create an iconic impact on brand awareness. Animating your logo on the splash page of your website, social media ads or an end frame of every video you are posting online, can become a recognizable element of your branding, almost like a catchy radio jingle.

If you seek to add motion to your brand, the possibilities are endless. It can start with a simple animation of the textures or colors you use. Making it breathe, bubble, or sparkle, already gives your audience a specific feeling that you want to connect your brand with: from calm and serene to bold and expressive.

Motion also gives you the possibility to explain difficult or abstract concepts in a way no static image, text, or a traditional film can. Well-scripted and well-designed motion, especially combined with good copywriting, can show and explain anything in an engaging and memorable way.

Way too often, adding motion to a design is only happening at the end of the process, as a sort of 'final touch'. I believe, however, that if we use motion as a foundation for the design - if we 'think in motion' - we are able to apply it in ways that truly evoke emotions and build connection. And that’s something that people will remember.

Adding music and sounds is adding feelings

If you know that sound and music can enable you to 'see' with your ears, it means you understand the impact of this medium. Sound effects add some kind of realism to what you see on your screen. Even in a motion video with unrealistic characters or, again, just an animated logo, it has limitless potential for transforming the way people connect with your brand.

When you add sound effects, you add an extra aspect that you can control. Whether you go for a very realistic approach or you choose to add a surreal, 'fantasy' feeling to your animation, you are suddenly able to construct your video around the whole new dimension.

As I already mentioned, motion design is a vital element of experience design. But what do you do and how do you communicate when the user's eyes are not glued to the screen? Maybe it’s already the fifth commercial they see when waiting for their show to begin, or yet another sponsored Instagram story. As a motion designer, I realize that sound design is equally important for grabbing people’s attention.

I believe that sound is an area that should be explored and considered more when creating unique experiences for people who connect with our brands through screens.

Let’s take the example of the hardware reveal video of the PS5. First, watch it with the sound off:

Looking at the video for the first time without sound gives you a feeling that you are missing connection. After 20 seconds you also lose attention because you are not at all immersed in the tension of the big reveal.

Now, look at the video one more time, but now with the audio on. You immediately have the feeling that the little blue spheres are living elements. As they move, forming a bigger form, you feel the power of this assembly, as if it were a living animal. You can feel the tension and the way it’s building up to something. Your curiosity is triggered. It’s the sounds that make you believe that the ‘sculpture’ is alive. The designers of this video also used a very simple but powerful trick of adding a black screen before each beat drop in the music. That’s how the involvement, immersion is created.


How motion elevates live concerts to an immersive experience

At its core, music is the combination of audio frequency patterns floating through the air and classing together in your ears that process waves of sounds, which eventually triggers an emotion in your brain. Even more, think about the adrenaline that can go through your body when the song drops or the way you can get goosebumps listening to a great guitar solo. What if we also trigger your eyes to make those emotions and feelings you experience even stronger?

Very often, you get to experience this magnificent combination of triggered senses when you go to live concerts, which are no longer merely light shows with some spotlights, smoke machines and lazers. Stage artists are experimenting with new technologies and hardware to give their audience exactly the feelings and emotions they expect.

An example of how an artist can give 100,000 people an overdose of emotions and a bigger experience to music is Beyoncé’s Formation tour. Stage designer Es Devlin created a massive 4-sided LED sculpture that could move and rotate, showing expressionist art and empowering video content. Even if you weren’t standing in the best place, the installation made everyone in the stadium experience the intimacy of being in the front row.

Now, let’s take a look at the electronic music scene. More specifically, the live sets of Eric Prydz and his mind-blowing stage visuals. He and his team are committed to developing unforgettable shows, using the newest technologies to trigger both eyes and ears.

In 2018, they used a transparent LED wall forming a cube. The content that used to be screen wallpapers is now submerging Eric in multiple dimensions. In 2020, they went even further and created a holosphere: an 8 meter tall transparent sphere covered with LED stripes. Eric is playing his music in the middle of the sphere that can be transformed into a massive eyeball, fireball or even the head of an astronaut. When you are standing in the crowd, the adrenaline and emotions are flowing through your body thanks to the combination of visuals and music.

Animation brings the digital environment to life

The screens we are all glued to every day, are cold media. They don’t really inherently possess any form of life or feelings. Once you add motion to such a cold medium, you bring it alive in some sense. And it’s not just about the aesthetics. It’s also a powerful tool for a positive user experience.

It all started with the waiting process. Sometimes, multiple processes are running in the background, out of sight of the user. It seems like nothing really is happening and it’s not clear as to why things are taking so long. Blank screen. It is through motion that you can inform the user that a computer, an app or a website is processing the information. Users will interpret the animation as information: the process is ongoing. When the animation stops, the output is ready.

The waiting spinner is just one example of the power of interface animation in UX and UI design. It also provides guidance to the user. When you animate a transition between different sections, it becomes clearer how the different elements are related to each other. You can make sure the users are focused on what’s important by animating a selected element in a way that’s not distracting. Motion can also be used to express your brand personality or to send feedback to the user when an error comes up. The options are endless, but one thing is certain: well-designed motion facilitates a clear, smooth and positive experience. Need help?