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Is there any research reporting on the effectiveness of subtle animations (sliding, fading in/out, etc) as a means to draw attention to the key part of a website?

A partner company is critiquing a website we're involved in. One of their suggestions is to use some very modest & subtle animation to draw attention to the call-to-action.

Fine with this. But is there any research to back us up if we support the change?

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Yes Animations can help in drawing attention to system actions as long as its not extensive in nature and annoying.

I recommend looking at this Microsoft Dev center article about the use of animations to drive user interaction and engagement. To quote the article :

Strategic use of animations and transitions can make your program easier to understand, feel smoother, more natural, and of higher quality, and be more engaging. But the gratuitous use of animations and transitions can make your program distracting and even annoying.

Generally, the best animations and transitions are used to communicate to users non-verbally, and to make state changes more natural and less noticeable. By contrast, the least effective are gratuitous in that they don't communicate anything or draw unnecessary attention. Animations are best used as a secondary form of communication. They should communicate information that is useful but not critical, and to be accessible, users should be able to determine equivalent information through other means.

The article also has a very significant call out about the importance of ensuring that people can still percieve the content without having to see or notice the animation. To quote the article again

  • Seeing the animation isn't essential. Equivalent information can be obtained in another way. Users might not benefit from the animation if:
  • They have turned animations off.
  • Their attention is elsewhere.
  • They are visually impaired.
  • The animation is obscured by another window.
  • The animation isn't played due to insufficient system performance.

I also recommend looking at these questions for additional inputs

How and when should you use animation in your application?

“Shaking” button leading to increase in conversion rate?

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Personally, I find any animation that I don't directly trigger to be distracting and annoying regardless of how subtle it is. –  JohnGB Feb 19 '13 at 16:40
    
I find it funny that the design of the progress bar seems to violate these guidelines. There is this animation in there that doesn't seems to add any information. –  André Feb 20 '13 at 9:56

Here's an interesting scientific study: http://leadserv.u-bourgogne.fr/files/publications/000191-an-eye-tracking-comparison-of-external-pointing-cues-and-internal-continuous-cues-in-learning-with-complex-animations.pdf

Short version: animation cues effectively draw attention provided that those cues align with the user's task.

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