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I am a motion graphics designer (previously: motion graphics for TV, games, etc), but more recently, I worked on prototyping UI motion for an app - which I really enjoyed!

I have mainly used After Effects up until this point and have read that quite a few UI/UX designers use this to prototype transitions and interactions.

As I move into this field, for those already working in it, do you see a use for someone to come in, like myself, on a freelance basis to prototype motion in AE? What other tools do you find beneficial for this?

I have read about Quartz Composer, which apparently has a rather steep learning curve - but would like to learn if that would be a desirable skill to have?

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4 Answers 4

First, I applaud anyone showing an interest in focusing on the interaction side of design. In corporate UX groups, I find that the one thing that often does fall through the cracks is the interaction design (often due to waterfall development processes). The UI may look stunning, the back end, tight and responsive, but then you put them together and things still feel clunky because no thought was put into the transitions, or hovers, or animated reveals, etc.

So, any UX team that would have you, would be an excellent UX team to be a part of as there is clearly consideration for this.

As for what tool to use, that's where I get a little more skeptical of anything but the actual medium one is working in. I'm a strong advocate that if you're working on prototyping motion for a web app, use the medium of HTML, CSS, and JS to do it. If it's a native iOS app, grab Quartz Composer and use native animations.

That's not to say After Effects isn't a great tool, though. Ultimately, it's the person behind the tool that's key. That said, when only the tool is used, teams can get overly reliant on the interactions that exist only within that tool. For example, a team that only uses Axure may end up unknowingly creating web sites that simply feel like default Axure interactions.

SharePoint is another good takes a herculean effort to build a SharePoint site that doesn't 'feel' like SharePoint because you're stuck within the medium of SharePoint.

In summary:

do you see a use for someone to come in, like myself, on a freelance basis to prototype motion in AE?

Do I? Absolutely! And hopefully other UX teams do as well.

What other tools do you find beneficial for this?

I'd start playing with jQuery. Get your hands dirty with some JS and CSS3. Even if you don't ultimately work in that, it will give a lot of great context to take back to better create your After Effects work.

Other popular tools that include different forms of interaction prototyping that UX teams use:

  • Axure
  • iRise
  • Muse
  • InVision
  • and (again) HTML, CSS and JS.
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DA01's answer was fantastic and thorough. I'd like to applaud you for making the transition as well!

Getting comfortable with the code itself is incredibly valuable because it will allow you to understand and communicate with developers and SWEs in ways that allow your ideas to come to fruition in production. Additionally, it can decrease production time dramatically because you can exert ultimate control (and reduce the number of production code iterations) over your transitions and animations.

I'd like to note that some open-source tools like Framer have fairly low overhead and will allow you to move empower yourself to move towards more code-based design. If you're composing static mocks yourself or working with designers who like different tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, etc.), you don't need to press them to change their workflow to create polished motion designs.

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I used to work in a firm where they really tried to encourage the use of animation in user interfaces. Their belief was that animation should be defined roughly at the very earliest stages of prototyping. Hence, it was the duty of the UX people to enhance their wire-frames with animations.

So when they searched for a tool that even UX people with no graphic or visual design training, they found out that the most cost-efficient tool was in fact MS PowerPoint. Remember, this was for low-fidelity prototyping purposes, and PowerPoint just excelled at that (no pun intended). The learning curve is very quick, the effort required is light, and the results get the general animation idea across.

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This is a complicated question that touches on several important issues. I will attempt to answer by focusing on two core issues.

Do you see a use for someone to come in, like myself, on a freelance basis to prototype motion in AE? What other tools do you find beneficial for this?

  1. Absolutely. There is a large demand for freelancers to provide speciality services in areas outside of core business offering for businesses of all kinds and sizes. Check out Freelancing on Stack, Freelancers Union to learn about being a freelancer, learn about Business Models (you will be a business owner of one) to map out all the pieces of owning a business and read Design is a Job for practical application of your craft. You will need to discover a market (Scientific Visualization, Game Design, etc.), align your pitch, learn about competitive rates in this area, then do honest hard work.
  2. Since you are asking a UX crowd, we can prototype with verbal stories, paper, white boards, story boards, tools like AXURE and Basalmiq, or hi-fi protos in HTML/CSS/JS or native environments. The key here is determining what to test and who to test. The goal is to validate assumptions about what problems need solving and the best way to solve them as cheap and quick as possible for consumer products - may be different for research settings. However hifi protos are meant to test complex interactions as they will be in the wild.

There might not be a substitute for AE. If you are fast and good, applying a prototype process like RITE can help you be a rock-star animation prototyper. Ask yourself why should you choose other methods? Maybe you need to partner with a usability research group that needs a rockstar AE animator.

Find a way to apply your passion. That is the beauty of being a freelancer. You choose your own way.

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