Motion Design, the Future
Published on January 22, 2002
In May 2001, I left Razorfish Los Angeles, where I was the creative lead in the broadband and future TV areas, to start a business in Germany. Since then, I have done nothing but motion design with clients and on promotional basis. My experiences in the US with the changing face of all communication media on screens, makes me a believer in motion design. It's the design on screens that are not bandwidth restricted, TV, iTV, broadband, broadband wireless for example, that are fundamentally changing design, as we know it. By means of new media, Motion design is the synergy of interactive and classic communication.
Despite the circumstances that have pushed a bunch of companies out of business and have been turning the lives of many digital designers into misery, the process of mass-digitalization goes on. The other day I read that the number of broadband users in the US has doubled within the last year, from 10 to roughly 20 million households, and that has happened in the worst year for the digital universe, thus far.
On the other side of the globe, in Europe where I am located, iMode G3 phones have rolled out in the Netherlands and the German broadcasters finally agreed on a standard for interactive TV (called MHP) that enables a competitive landscape of services on the tube box. In the UK, 30% of the households have iTV capabilities according to Forrester Research. This is a snapshot of the news that I read twice a week when I collect news reviews, covering articles on convergence (to subscribe send an email to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org); There are significant things happening behind the curtains right now, but the outcome is clear and amazing: Everything that can be digital will be digital (Razorfish coined that tag line)
- everything digital will be bandwidth unrestricted
- everything bandwidth unrestricted will be (eventually) moving.
That's why I believe that motion design is big.
Almost everything that happens in a digital way requires some human involvement that gets translated onto screens, so that the person involved can make sense of it. This is true for PCs as much as for TV, mobile and fixed phones, for coffee machines, dishwashers, airplanes and so on. Almost everything electric is now electronic and is enhanced with digital technology. It's one thing that connects the machine technology to the user: the interface.
To understand the way the digital device 'ticks' is only possible with the help of a professional translator, a designer of the interface. His responsibility is to give visual form to the data that the machine surfaces. Regardless of where it comes from, be it the web, TV content or a machine interface, wherever there is image and type involved, it requires the eye of a graphic designer to give optimal sense to the content, to communicate the information.
There are more dimensions that have to be taken into consideration in this digital form than in the paper-based world. Interaction is possible and takes on various new shapes, even more important for the eye: Everything is in motion. When the screen appears to be static, it's really redrawing the same picture over and over. But more significant, is the rapid increase in digital design that makes use of 30 changed frames per second: Animation.
Everybody knows this, everybody has seen enough blinking, shifting, and glowing in the early days, replaced by random lines and the various loading spectacles today. This will increase, every possible thing that can be animated will be animated to get more attention from the viewer and to simply look more refined. It's entertaining. But is it design?
Sure, it's design, I think, the design of animated web sites. It is not yet graphic or communication design, which follows a certain concept to communicate a brand or an idea in visual form. But, it's slowly becoming, and has to be, a part of the new graphic design. In the same way as a corporate design has specific consistently used color-schemes, typographic styles and rules and. of course, a logo, it must have a unique motion and sound design.
By creating a footprint for a specific visual product, the identity becomes unique, recognizable, and hard to copy. On top of that, the screen object should take away confusion and comfort the user with the ease of a subconscious recognition.
Motion Design Options
To me, the fresh aspects of screen-based graphic design are often the most interesting. For the eye, it doesn't matter if the action (animation) happens when I mouse over or after I click. Animation on the screen is animation on the screen. Period. In the future, I expect the makers of hardware and software to take away many of the repetitive things that users have to deal with now.
Motion design, is actually the design already on screens, and we're in a refinement process that has brought many new and fascinating options to the makers. Flash, first and foremost, is the tool of the trade for all things moving on the web today, and recently many TV and film people have realized that it's also a fabulous and economical tool for creating broadcast design and animation (check out http://www.onedotzero.org, http://www.designinmotion.com and http://www.resfest.com to get an idea). Also, Flash is becoming integrated in Windows and Liberate interactiveTV middleware, enabling Flash development (in combination with XML) to be ported from one broadband medium to the other. There's already a small corner of Macromedia's Flashsite dedicated to the transition of Flash stuff to video and broadcast.
Designing with Flash is not the only way. Quicktime has tremendous options for creatives, and it is certainly on a rebound as a format now that MPEG4 seems to be turning into a general standard for digital movies (including the Real family of products).
In general, everything that produces sequential output can be used to create animations. Conventional programs like Photoshop and Illustrator can do motion design. Then there's After Effects, the mother of all motion design programs. After Effects is not only unlimited in options, but is also the most professional program I have ever used. Whatever animation you want to do on a computer, After Effects will probably be the right program to get it done. I have seen broadcast design companies that do 95% of their online-broadcast quality work using After Effects.
Get Started with Motion Design
Initially, I want to discuss technology and how-to-do things, but honestly, I think tools are getting easier to use, and with the same pace, the clear thinking goes down the drain. That's why I recommend the following to aspiring motion designers :
- Start with an idea (of WHAT you want to communicate)
- Make sketches (with the mouse, by hand, by tearing out sheets from fashion magazines, by photographing whatever feels right)
- Make boards (single key-frames) before animating
- Plan the project / workflow (assets, separation in sub-files and scenes)
- Always have enough coffee!
...now back to work. :)