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To clarify: these are messages (text or symbols) that appear right at the point of interaction, and then float away and fade out.

You see this kind of animation when adding people to your Circle in Google+. A green +1 symbol floats up and disappears. You can see this for yourself using the Google Plus Demo without having to have a Google+ account.

Here on Stack Exchange, when you visit a chat room, your avatar floats gently down from the top of the screen and disappears, presumably as a notifcation that 'someone has just dropped in'.

It's common practice in platform games and immersive environments where points scored, or 'new life' symbols appear and then float away.

And we're starting to see this more on television where occasional animated fading text floats away from the relevant person. The BBCs Human planet and Sherlock are some examples.

My feeling is they are: more engaging compared to common status bars and message areas; contextual because of their localized positioning; flexible because of their free movement and independence from page structure and layout; not too invasive due to their transient nature.

But perhaps not so good in situations where you may not easily have the opportunity to repeat or re-live the prior sequence in order to see what happened after the notification has faded away, since once it's gone, it's gone.

So when is it appropriate to use this mechanism?

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Here's an example on YouTube of floating animated text used in the BBC's Sherlock. –  Roger Attrill Jul 22 '11 at 20:09
    
Not sure what your question is - if you're asking "should we do this?" then the answer will either be yes or no depending on how the answerer feels. If it's "are there examples" then you'll just get answers posting links to examples. Both of these don't really work as valid questions on UX.SE per the FAQ. Could you try clarifying what you're looking for? For instance "Is there any research indicating the value of fading animations?" –  Rahul Jul 22 '11 at 21:10
    
I'll try and rethink this...I do have a specific interest in what people think about this but not sure how to best phrase it... –  Roger Attrill Jul 22 '11 at 21:54
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I suspect this question isn't being answered because there simply hasn't been much 'hard' research done on the matter. Maybe you should broaden your question ("Do you think this pattern works? When is / isn't it appropriate?") to get more responses. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Jul 23 '11 at 20:57
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It's also rather long. I would recommend shortening it by half and writing your question in a single sentence at the top of the question. –  Rahul Jul 23 '11 at 20:59

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Generally animation should be used for these purposes:

  • To draw the user's attention to something that's happening but might otherwise go unnoticed
  • To provide feedback about the result of a user action. As an example, animation can highlight that a message was successfully sent, another great use would be when it failed to send.
  • To illustrate to a real world situation that can serve as a metaphor for the interaction

Note that's a generic list, there are more situations where animation adds value and some cases where my examples above don't benefit from the use of animation.

From your description the examples seem like a good opportunity for animation, as they're providing feedback that's important at the moment.

The point about "when they're gone, they're gone" illustrates a different problem. These types of animations should be used to convey when something has changed but shouldn't be the only indicator if there's value in showing the information persistently. In the case of "new life" changes there should be a way for the user to see the total number of lives they hold at the time. It may not be important to know when each life was earned (which was communicated at the time with animation) but there's value in knowing the current number of lives. I'm not a gamer but typically these sorts of counts are always visible or can be seen with minimal interaction like showing a map or some sort of overlay.

Somewhat unrelated, using animation excessively often causes users to discount their value at times when they actually communicate something important. It's necessary to be careful when deciding to add animation. If it doesn't convey something important it's often a disservice to the user and wastes programming effort that could be used on more important things.

Thanks for caring enough to ask. There's a tendency to go hog wild and add animations and other eye candy just because one can, rather than using them appropriately.

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I have used them to guide people through filling out a complex form.

A tool-tip has a similar concept - it appears next to the item you hover over and fades away.

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