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In so-called "single page applications" for the web, I am seeing a trend, especially in demo applications, where any navigation between sections of the application/site involves a css animation of a page content "chunk".

To be fair, these animations are often subtle enough so as not to be annoying, yet at the same time I have to wonder, isn't this nice little trick going to start bothering users? It gives demo apps a certain "cool" factor at first glance, but imagine if you are a user who has to use an app like that hours a day. Would you really want a .3 second page slide effect every time you visit a page you have visited hundreds of times before? Gmail is a single page app, and if Google wanted too, they could add all sorts of unobtrusive animation effects as content changes. Yet Gmail avoids this; Google uses a small yellow progress indicator in certain cases, but that's it.

So my question is: for a content-rich single page application, can any case be made from a design or usability perspective that it would be good idea to include subtle page transition effects?

(I am aware of this article: Smart Transitions In User Experience Design, but do not see that its points, such as animated scrolling, relate 100% to a single page app like Gmail .)

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2 Answers 2

I would say that Google/Gmail hit the sweet spot - It's doing something to let you know it's working but you can still use it. Here are a few points that are important from it:

  • The moment it's done doing its stuff, it's ready
  • It tells you it's doing something without blocking you from looking at the screen
  • It isn't huge, in-your-face HELLO THERE I AM WORKING!! thing
  • If you wanted to ignore it you could absolutely do so with no negative side-effects
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Well, to be fair, any application can also includes an option to "turn off all animation". Windows, for example, includes that option like that (not exactly) in the system options, to turn off all fancy designs and strip all to bare, to maximize the function, rather than the (maybe) obtrusive design. In that way, everybody wins. People who likes the animation can turn the animation option on. People who don't want to see the animation can turn it off. I, personally, likes the subtle and quick animation, and not bothered to live with it everyday, just as long as it's really quick and subtle.

I like Gmail for it's simplicity and solidity. But then again, it's often based on subjective reason. For example:

  • if we see a novice designer designs something simple and clean, we often say the designer is inexperienced or didn't have creativity.
  • if we see a pro designer designs something simple and clean, we often say the designer understand that function is better than fancy design and put it in spotlight.
  • if we see a novice designer designs something very complex and artistic, we often say the designer is too idealistic, and design something nobody can use.
  • if we see a pro designer designs something very complex and artistic, we often say the designer knows what he's doing, this is the new trend, and people should learn to adapt with the new changes.

Google obviously falls into the pro designer category. I'm not trying to put Google on fire here. I just tried to point out the subjectivity in our mind before we judge one design is good and another is bad based on how famous or seasoned the designer is.

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