Do anyone know of any studies or evidence to show the effects (positive or negative) of using images or animation to relate complex concepts?

I'm working on financial modelling tools where we take complex calculations to show people their future financial standing. There has been a historical push won these projects to use visualisations / animations / image to show people their results as a focus with their figures shown with less impact, as well as giving users access to the results in graphs and tables too.

Anecdotally, there's evidence that some people prefer this method and I am curious as to whether this method has ever been studied and any evidence for or against exists.

EDIT: To give you an example, if we were to create a tool to show compound interest and the benefit of saving more earlier, which benefits the user more: a image of a pile of money growing as they adjust a slider, the final figures, a graph of the final growth or a table of growth over the years.

Certain people prefer certain views but I'm trying to find out if the visualisation of the money growing has any pros or cons.

Previous issues I've found anecdotally was people trying to find meaning in the visualisation that was not there, such as trying to work out what ratio the coins were appearing and how much that meant they would have at different times.

3 Answers 3


There is an article by Smashing Magazine that says:

Functional animation is a subtle animation embedded in the UI design as a part of the functionality of that design. It reinforces the design and has very clear and logical purposes including:

  1. Reduce cognitive load
  2. Prevent change blindness
  3. Establish better recall in spatial relationships

Animation brings user interfaces to life. In a human-centered design approach, where the user is the prime focus, a user interface needs to be intuitive, responsive, and human. Functional animation helps you achieve these goals.

And according to this article, the benefits and drawbacks are:


  1. increased usability
  2. originality
  3. convenient and easy interaction
  4. ability to fulfill several functions simultaneously
  5. high potential of speeding up the processes of interaction
  6. providing clear feedback to the user and creating necessary expectations


  1. taking big traffic resource for loading
  2. overloading the screen/page
  3. distraction

The decision to use animation should be treated as any other design decision; you have to weigh the pros and cons and make sure that the user experience is not compromised.

Hope it helped.

  • Thanks, helpful but unfortunately the animation elements I'm discussing are a lot less subtle and are in fact the focus of the screen, I'll clarify my question. Thanks for the answer
    – Tony UK
    May 8, 2017 at 9:40
  • Do you have any example of other animations less subtle like the ones you want to implement? May 8, 2017 at 9:45
  • Just updated the question, I am unable to post examples of the visualisations unfortunately
    – Tony UK
    May 8, 2017 at 10:02

Not an exact answer to your question:


“When students have a physical experience moving the wheels, they are more likely to activate sensory and motor areas of the brain when they are later thinking about the science concepts they learned about,”

I will suggest that the animation analogue is also true. When you experience how your input stimulus impacts the output, you activate different learning capabilities than a pure lecture/reading experience.

Animation is relevant to seeing the output change.

With respect to a "pile of money" contrasted with "final figures", I have no solid answer.


As I perceive it, figures like "$10,067.45" gives the impression of an exact, calculated number. A stack of money on a histogram gives the impression of a rough approximation. Neither is inherently wrong for your purposes.

The stack of money may also have shortcomings, in that an international user may not identify the same currency, or may assign cultural significance to certain currency.


Have you heard of explorable explanations? I think this is what you are looking for.



Of course people will learn better if they get their hands on it. Being able to move, spin and change the parameters makes a complex concept less abstract. They become actively engaged and this makes it way easier to learn and remember.

I have learned a lot of complex things by using explorable explanations. In fact, I like them very much!

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