There are plenty of questions/answers discussing when/where to optionally include animation in an app. Now it comes to the point, there is almost ubiquitous animation all over media. Even a few traditionally static media like print is receiving the animation touch- think the covers of many 3D blu-ray movies have the side-to-side 3D effect.

I suppose, this question may even touch on animation between scenes in video.

This question is specific to UI on web and in mobile apps. After one answer and further thinking about the UI/UX that I'm studying, it's better to consider this from a context where everything can be animated. There is at least one context, that is the case of games.

So.. when is animation really not preferable?

  • 1
    Also related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/47942/… Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 22:37
  • @DannyVarod I updated the question, it's a bit wordy now but I'm trying to give a better sense of the context I'm trying to answer. Hope that's cool with you.
    – Tom Pace
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 22:45
  • It was OK before too. I only added that link because its answers were related to this question. Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 13:53

5 Answers 5


Animation in its very basic form is used to signify change. Whether that's a change in relationship between elements or the status of an element itself, doesn't matter.

However, this is when you look at animation in the context of animation vs no animation.

If you take it out of that context, animation is like color, pattern, shape, etc. It's just another tool to either bring attention to something, or the exact opposite (if everything moves, the thing that doesn't move stands out).

Point: animation is another tool in our toolbox that we can use to draw attention to something, or draw it away from something.

Whether that's what you want or not, depends on what you're trying to do.

  • Good point. I like your point drawing comparison with colour, shape, pattern, and such. Leads me to thinking that animation can provide added depth and meaning, in the way various elements of line and colours can add a personality, influence the mood of the viewer. Animation could be used to give life. You're right. A new example comes to mind to answer my question: LACK of animation could imply separation (of whatever meaning) from the primary animated content. Example: legal fine-print or copyright notice on game menu screen.
    – Tom Pace
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 0:29
  • I wouldn't separate game ui from web ui, or app ui for that matter. They're all the same. The only difference is technological limitations, they follow the same principles.
    – Dirk v B
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 0:36
  • Maybe, but most people don't consider a fully-animated UI in most uses, in order to start subtracting animation for good reasons. I like a fully animated interface, but then it's mostly due to my current study of UI, especially taking game UI philosophy and applying it back to non-games.
    – Tom Pace
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 0:42
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    I'd answer with equal parts "it depends" and "no", since it's the same as "is there anything you never want colored red".
    – Dirk v B
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 0:55
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    I agree with @DirkvB. However, I'd like to add that specially when we talk about natural user interfaces (the ones we interact on touch screens), where things are usually manipulated in a more direct way (no cursor, you touch the thing), animations may play a very important role on giving affordance to something. In other words, animations may help to visually indicate how a object is supposed to be manipulated, or what it can do, or how it behaves. So, if something is not supposed to be manipulated, probably I won't animate it somehow. Like a text, a navigation bar, an icon, etc.
    – pcattai
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 2:11

When thinking about games specifically, animation is a great way to distinguish between the "thing" and "the icon representing the thing."

For example, I designed an inventory drawer where a player would pick up an object and drop it into the world (this was a flash town simulation game). In the inventory drawer it was motionless and dead. Once the object reached the world however, it would move and produce sound like it was alive.

The rule of thumb I've used for representational icons is that they can move when they're active in a world, but static when they are icons or potential choices.


If it's not adding value to the user experience then it shouldn't be there. In my opinion you only need animation for two things - to show a user where something is coming from/where it's going or to get a user's attention. I think most uses boil down to these two scenarios.

For example, in the former you're using it to inform the user that a drop-down menu is only temporarily sitting atop the current UI elements. Another example is in windows when you minimize a window to the task bar.

In the latter, you have something like a "toaster" type notification in the corner of the screen. The movement catches the user's eye and they read the notification.

Animation looks cool, but it can be cumbersome. That extra 500ms a user has to wait while you're slowly animating things can be frustrating. It's just another tool. If it's not solving an identifiable UX problem, don't use it. I know you were looking for when not to use it, but I think the simple rule is - don't use it unless you need it.

  • I've been studying games for quite a while, and from what I've seen and read, that seems to be an ultimate category, dividing software yes-or-no, if it's a game, then it gets certain rules. And I get a sense, animation in games is permissible anywhere.
    – Tom Pace
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 22:16
  • Another use is to show the user that something is happening or that the system isn't stuck e.g. hourglass animation. Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 22:35
  • Hi John S, I've updated the question a bit to give a better any-animation-goes context.
    – Tom Pace
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 22:46

One thing nobody's mentioned so far: Our experiences with non-animated user interfaces are degenerate. We old-timers are the weird ones. The real world is "animated", everything constantly gives feedback by moving, and our minds were created to take advantage of that.

As we barely had the CPU cycles to reflect changes the user made in real-time in the past, we are still catching up in this regard.

When I type on my computer on my lap, it shakes slightly, and my brain corrects for it. Yet I'm subconsciously aware and will adjust it to not fall. UI cue successful, computer not in bits on the floor. If my curtain sways gently in the wind, I'm made aware that my window is still open, but my brain is set up to ignore this. If, OTOH, somebody sets up a dancing robot toy in my room that's constantly jerking about, it will annoy me.

We are constantly surrounded by millions of small "animated" cues that inform us not just of motion, progress and dangers, but also of simple status. However, the important ones tend to be larger and more obnoxious, and our brain tends to be conditioned to inform us of these and filter the others. UI design can take advantage of this, but is not always successful.


I agree with Dirk and John S but would like to point out that UI design is very trend driven, and trends tend to get abused. Just because animation is popular right now doesn't mean it's good. Often animation is overused and abused, so don't just incorporate it because it's popular. Dirk is spot on saying "animation is another tool in our toolbox".

  • You'll be amazed how often that line applies.
    – Dirk v B
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 1:21

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