Sparked by a conversation, I generate some animation thoughts.
And, as always, a transcript.
In a conversation the other day, my colleague mentioned how she was making a practice of creating animations. I found this interesting, because while I think animations are important, I don’t do them all that much (or so I thought). Particularly intriguing was the notion of what principles might guide animations, including when to use them. I was prompted to reflect, and so here are some animation thoughts.
First, let’s be clear what I mean. I’ve argued that we don’t use graphic novel/comic formats enough, and that likewise applies to cartoons. Which are also known as animations. Yet, that’s not really what I’m talking about. I think we could use them more, but that’s another reflection.
Instead, here I’m talking about animated diagrams. And I think there are times when these are not just engaging, but cognitively important. Diagrams map conceptual relationships to spatial ones, and can add additional coding with color and shape. Animations add the dimension of time, so these relationships can change. In my categorization, these are dynamic diagrams, useful when the conceptual relationships change in important ways depending on other factors.
Interestingly, in the conversation, it came up what one form of her animations were diagram builds. I use diagrams a lot, not only to communicate, but as a tool for my own understanding! And, I’d done some builds, but after Will Thalheimer’s Presentation Science course I realized I needed to do that more systematically (and now do so). Building diagrams is helpful. Cognitively, a diagram can be overwhelming if there are too many elements. By starting at one point, and gradually adding in other elements, you can prevent cognitive overload. And in a presentation, in particular, you want to highlight important points.
However, I also think that there are things worth indicating how they work dynamically. Like how a content system would work, e.g. context and rules combining to pull content out by description. Or how coordinates change based upon trigonometric values. I haven’t done much of this, for the simple reason that I don’t have a good animation tool. And, yes, I’m aware that you do motion in PowerPoint and/or Keynote, but I haven’t gotten into it. Time for a skill upgrade!
There are problems with animations, and guidelines. John Sweller’s cognitive load plays out with Dick Mayer’s work on multimedia research (as captured in his book with Ruth Clark: eLearning and the Science of Instruction), as indicated above. Thus, you shouldn’t try to have people read text while watching visual dynamics (use audio). Also, you should help people focus attention by removing extraneous details and/or highlighting the appropriate focus.
The general principles of media apply as well. Accessibility suggests some alternate representations. Timing suggests having a pause ability for any animation longer than a certain time, and of course the ability to replay. Similarly, the animation design should use appropriate white space, highlighting, and other aspects that make it visually clear and appealing.
Overall, I’d suggest that there are times when animations are the best option for conveying dynamic conceptual information. To use them, however, you have to take into account our cognitive limitations. So, these are some of my animation thoughts. I welcome yours.