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Website Animation: All There Is To Know in 2024

November 8, 2023

John Hawley

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Motion Graphics | Web Design

Website animations are all around us!

Over your time exploring the internet, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a subtle button effect as you hover over it, or maybe you’ve seen exciting transitions guiding your journey down a webpage. 

Over the years, the capabilities in web design and the average quality of websites have skyrocketed between no-code website builders, new AI tools, and overall accessibility — we’re entering an unprecedented era of web design. 

In some ways, the standard of websites that look good and perform well has risen so much that we’re now in the era of looking for newer ways to make the experience more exciting. Of course, there’s still no shortage of uninspired or poorly executed website designs, but it isn’t exactly unusual to run into a fantastic one anymore.

One of the ways websites with cutting-edge designs have begun to differentiate themselves is by using website animation. You’ve probably already seen a bunch of it without even really paying attention to it. 

But how did we get here?

History of Website Animation

Website animation has come a long way over the years. In the early days of the web, we relied solely on GIFs to create cool animated experiences. You’d see websites created on Geocities that were littered with GIFs in a weird and almost endearingly awful way.

Website animation only had one format back in the day — .GIFs

And it mostly stayed that from 1987 to the late 90s. By the early 2000s, Flash player was the new kid on the block. Although it’s entirely deprecated now, at the time, Flash was the next frontier of animation on the web. Websites using Flash were absolutely everywhere — by 2005, it was the most installed media format on the web.

Nowadays, we opt for more modern solutions that both have better capabilities and also perform better and faster on the web. HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, and Canvas are just some of the tools we use today.

The Basics of Website Animation

When you think about website animation, you may think about flashy transitions or even straight-up videos embedded on a website. Still, website animation differs slightly from traditional animation or motion graphics. While those are great and have their place, web animations can range from subtle button hovers to immersive interactive experiences. 

But it’s not just about visual appeal; website animations guide users, provide feedback, and create memorable interactions. By understanding how animations influence user behavior, graphic designers can create seamless, immersive online journeys. Here are a few core benefits of website animation:

  • Encourages and prolongs user engagement.
  • Captures the user’s attention.
  • Website animations can assist your user navigation.
  • It creates an extra opportunity to create an emotional bond with viewers.
  • Improve user experience overall.

Types of Website Animation:


Hover animations for Website Animation

Hover Animations

Hover animations are one of the most widely used types of website animation — you’d be hard-pressed to find a website that doesn’t use it. As the name suggests, hover animations are triggered when your cursor hovers over an interactive element on a site — a button, for example. The resulting animation could be a color change, a scaling effect, and more. Hover animations are handy for telling a user that an element is interactable.

Despite its widespread use, the disadvantage of hover animation is that it does not perform appropriately on mobile devices with touch screens. Instead of activating on hover, they trigger after a finger press, which informs the user that something happened but provides no insight into why it was interactable in the first place.

Loading animations for Website Animation

Loading / Progression Animations

It’s no secret that people hate waiting on the web, so that’s why page speed is vital for websites. However, sometimes it’s unavoidable to have a page that’s a bit on the slower side. In these cases, loading animations can come in clutch. Loading animation or progression animation is another widely used technique — you’ve no doubt seen a loading bar or circle when using your computer. 

From a purely practical position, loading animations lets your users know that something is in the process of happening. But outside of that, it’s an opportunity to make the waiting process more fun than the web equivalent of watching paint dry — and contributes to the perception of a shorter loading time by (tastefully) distracting them of the fact.

Scroll Animations for Website Animation

Scroll Animations

Scrolling is as natural for internet users as breathing. It’s one of those foundational skills (like clicking) essential for any web experience. Scroll-triggered animations add depth and dynamism to the user experience, enhancing storytelling and engagement. These animations can include parallax effects, fade-ins, and element transformations. 

Click animations for Website Animation

Click Animations

Click animations activate when users interact with clickable elements like buttons and links — they’re one of the building blocks of the internet. These animations provide instant feedback, confirming the user’s action and creating a more responsive interface. Click effects can include ripples, shadows, or color changes.

Background animation for Website Animation

Background Animations

Background animations add movement to the background of your webpage. Animated video backgrounds, particle animations, and dynamic gradients all fall under this umbrella. Background animations are great for enhancing visual appeal and for conveying a specific mood or theme, depending on what you’re going for.

Navigation Animation for Website Animation

Navigation animations involve the transitions and animations applied to navigation menus and elements. Animated dropdowns, sliding menus, and interactive icons enhance navigation fluidity and user experience, which make website interactions more intuitive.

Microinteractions for for Website Animation

Microinteractions

Microinteractions are subtle animations that provide feedback for minimal user engagement. Validation messages for forms, button clicks, and tooltip animations are all good examples. Although micro-interactions may initially resemble hover or click animations, the primary difference is that they are utilized to validate user responses, simplifying and clarifying interactions.

Carousel and Slideshow Animations for Website Animation

Carousel and slideshow animations showcase multiple images or content items within a confined space. If you’ve been on the web for any amount of time, then you’ve seen them. These animations include sliding effects, fades, and zooms, creating engaging visual stories or product showcases. They’re good for condensing a lot of information into a more digestible format on the web without taking up too much real estate on the screen. However, poor use of carousels can hide critical information from the user, so it’s essential to use this with care.

Modal and Popup Animations for Website Animation

Modal and popup animations are applied to overlay elements that appear on top of the main website content. Modals are sort of like popup ads, just not annoying. They can be a good way of including more information on a page or helping them learn more without making the user leave the page. They can consist of fades, slides, or bounce effects, making them more visually appealing and attention-grabbing.

How do I create website animation?

You may be surprised to hear that adding website animations to your website is entirely different from creating motion graphics or other types of animation.

Instead of video production software, animation is added through programming or user-friendly website builders. Every method or framework will have its advantages, catering to different levels of complexity and user expertise. So, depending on your project requirements and coding proficiency, you should choose what works best to bring your website to life.

For the most part, programmers will handle this, as you’d need a good amount of knowledge in coding to create the sleekest look and best performance, especially if it’s a unique effect. Fortunately, there are plenty of no-code solutions, regardless of your skill level in creating websites.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets):

CSS is fundamental for creating website animations — offering the most straightforward and efficient way of the bunch. CSS animations are super lightweight and don’t require external calls, which helps you keep your webpage speed loading fast. They’re also highly compatible with any screen type, which is fantastic for keeping the same experience across all devices.

The downside of CSS is that compared to other options, its animation capabilities are lacking due to its simple nature and offer way less control/customization without extensive code (which can defeat the purpose of its innate advantage).

JavaScript (JS):

JavaScript is a powerful scripting language widely used to create dynamic and interactive website animations. By manipulating the Document Object Model (DOM) and leveraging various JavaScript libraries and frameworks (like GSAP, for example), developers can achieve a wide array of animations — the flexibility is unparalleled compared to CSS.

However, while powerful, JavaScript animations come with a caveat since complex animations can impact website performance, particularly on devices with limited processing power. This is why careful optimization and testing are essential to ensure your website’s performance doesn’t tank. There are plenty of ways to check webpage speed and optimize pages based on the technology used to create them.

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics):

SVG animations utilize XML-based vector graphics, known as Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs), ensuring fidelity regardless of size — so no blurry pixels, ever! This scalability makes them ideal for web animations, accommodating diverse website dimensions. SVG elements can be animated by using CSS or JavaScript.

JSON / Lottie

JSON/Lottie animations offer high-quality, interactive, and scalable web animations, and they integrate seamlessly and work across various platforms. Additionally, they’re often created in Adobe After Effects, which allows experienced motion designers to create near-identical quality animation to be added on the web. 

However, there are a few caveats to note. Naturally, their creation involves a learning curve — you need to know how to use After Effects, for one, and there are limitations on how they can be edited after export. Complex animations might also result in large file sizes, affecting website loading times. Additionally, potential compatibility issues with older browsers should be considered by designers and developers when choosing this animation format.

Overall, JSON/Lottie is an excellent option for web animation as long as you understand the trade-offs you make when using it. The key to any application is to ensure your website visitor has a good experience.

Canvas:

HTML5 Canvas allows dynamic rendering through JavaScript. You can draw and animate complex graphics directly on the canvas element. Canvas animations are powerful for games, interactive infographics, and data visualizations. On top of that, Canvas offers excellent performance, so you can execute high-level animation without sacrificing your website’s speed. However, there’s a steep learning curve, and it’s not as easily accessible as other methods of animation for the web.

WebGL (Web Graphics Library):

WebGL, a JavaScript API, provides high-performance 3D and 2D graphics in web browsers. Without getting into too much technical mumbo-jumbo, it uses your computer’s GPU to create immersive animations and games directly on websites. Because of its impressive performance, you can get pretty realistic 3D objects directly on the web — a feature that wouldn’t even be considered ten years ago. 

The reason for that is that it depends on the user’s GPU, the quality of its performance is dependent on the device used. Simply put, if you’re using a fossil of a computer — you probably won’t enjoy the experience very much.

As such, if you’re thinking of using WebGL for website animation, first evaluate the project’s complexity, the target audience, and the necessary level of interactivity. Because even though it offers unparalleled visual experiences, it’s crucial to balance its advantages with the technical challenges it presents.

Website Animation for Divi is as simple as choosing your desired effect and adjusting the parameters as needed.

(No-Code) Website Builders and Services:

Sophisticated website builders such as WordPress themes like Divi, Framer, or Webflow and other DIY website platforms like Wix or Squarespace will offer intuitive interfaces for adding animations without coding.

On the DIY side, you can achieve this by using drag-and-drop interfaces, pre-designed animation templates, and moderately customizable effects. These tools democratize animation, allowing users with little or no coding experience to enhance their websites with engaging animations.

The more advanced platforms like Divi or Framer will allow you to take it further and cover 95% of the use cases. But, of course, unique solutions will still require an experienced web designer.

Best Practices

The quality of your animation is more significant than the quantity you employ on your website. The needs of the user should always come first. Remember that your goal shouldn’t be to increase the percentage of animated content on a page—quality over quantity.

1. Keep it Purposeful:

Make sure that all of your animations serve a purpose and are contextually relevant. They should direct the user toward an action, draw their attention to something important, or confirm their action was taken. Avoid gratuitous animations that don’t add value to the user experience. Every animation should have a clear reason for being on the page. If you can’t think of a good reason for something to be animated, it’s probably a good idea to leave it that way.

2. Prioritize Performance:

Optimize and don’t overload the page with animations for a smoother performance, especially on mobile devices. Heavy and/or too many animations can slow down your website — and a poor page speed means a poor user experience. Keep things optimized!

3. Focus on User Feedback:

No, not the kind of feedback from user surveys (although that’s helpful, too). User feedback means that your animations should provide clear feedback to the user that something happened or was engaged on the page. Whether that animation confirms a button click, hover, or form submission — the animation should affirm the user’s interaction, which helps your website stay intuitive.

4. Implement Scroll-Triggered Animations Wisely:

Scroll-triggered animations can create a dynamic user experience. You’ve probably seen some really cool websites using this effect — like Apple, for example. However, make sure they enhance the content rather than distract from it. It’s often better to use them sparingly and in a way that doesn’t confuse the user. For example, if the user is scrolling vertically on the page, it doesn’t make sense for your website’s content to start scrolling horizontally; doing this can be jarring for the user. Also, we have come across whole-page scrolling animations that are down right confusing.

5. Test and Iterate:

Test your animations rigorously across various devices and browsers. Solicit feedback from users to understand their experience. Regularly iterate and refine your animations based on user response and behavior data. This is a good reason to use a creative agency to produce your website because everything is built by a team of people- there are multiple checks and balances within a team environment.

Website Animation Faux Pas (Avoid these at ALL costs)

While website animation can be a massive boon for making your site stand out, a few cardinal sins will work against your website:

website animation faux pas will make users close your site as quickly as they opened it
  1. Overwhelming Animation: One thing at a time, please! Too many moving elements can quickly confuse and distract users, causing them to bounce from your site.
  2. Slow or Unoptimized Animation: “This thing is taking forever!” is the last thought you want to cross your visitor’s minds. Heavy and unoptimized animations significantly slow down your website’s loading time. Users expect websites to load quickly, so sluggish animations are an easy way to frustrate your audience so they bounce.
  3. Disorienting or Distracting Animation: Remember — animation is meant to enhance the experience, not confuse it. Rapid movements, unexpected transitions, or animations without a clear purpose can confuse or annoy visitors and make them hesitant to engage further.
  4. Inconsistent Animation: Consistency is essential! For example, if you have a button that increases in size when a user hovers over it, don’t put that animation on anything that a user can’t interact with. Website animations must remain consistent with their intended function — engagement. 
  5. Ignoring Mobile Users: Mobile users constitute a significant portion of web traffic — in many cases, they even outweigh desktop users. So, it’s essential to ensure your animations are responsive and provide the same experience on smartphones and tablets as they do on desktops. Avoid animations that are too intricate for smaller screens — and any of the other no-gos on the list.

Wrapping Up

Yet, this isn’t merely about aesthetics; it’s about user engagement on a profound level; it’s about crafting experiences that linger in the memory, ensuring each interaction is meaningful and unforgettable.

As we wrap up, remember: website animation is a garnish; when executed tastefully on a website that is already well-designed, it’s the secret sauce that takes that site to the next level. However, good animation still can’t save a site that’s been poorly designed. 

If website design overwhelms you, we get it — and that’s why we’re here to help. At Mighty Fine, we like to make our client’s brands shine. And we’re no strangers to motion graphics or website animation. If you’re looking to supercharge your site, our team has your back. No question is too small, and no project is too big — your journey to captivating online experiences starts here.

Author

John Hawley
John is the lead designer at Mighty Fine and has been crafting visual solutions for clients for over a decade. Hailing previously from Boston, John graduated from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. Outside of work, he enjoys drawing, writing music, and playing video games.

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