Motion (R)evolution: How Animation Changes the Design Process

Design has gone through tremendous changes. Back in its heyday, in a time not too far removed, prototypes were hand-drawn, and individual copies had to be made to be submitted to approval. Thanks to the wonders of technological advancement, that is no longer needed, and virtually all steps of the design process have been digitized. Today, we’re looking at yet a new evolution, or perhaps a revolution: animation.

The Evolution of the Design Process: Key Moments

When we talk about the design process, everyone has their own thoughts about where it starts and where it ends. For the sake of this article, we’ll be focusing on the steps between the formation of an idea and the execution of that idea into a product. Over time, the design process has undergone multiple phases; and just as in any discipline, traditional methodologies and tools walked so that modern solutions could run.

The evolution of the design process has been marked by events that have left an indelible mark on its trajectory. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, when mechanization influenced craftsmanship, all the way to today’s digital era, in which technology has become the cornerstone of design, each era brought a significant contribution to making the design process what it is today.

Among the most important milestones is the shift from handcrafted design to computer-aided design. To this day, this development has resulted in the most seismic changes in the industry. It’s the very event that has set the stage for the radical transformations we witness in design today. The 20th century has been the backdrop of other major events in the development of design, such as the appearance of the Modernist movement, the rise of user-centered design, the advent of digital prototyping and, last but certainly not least, the integration of design thinking.

One can say that traditional design methods served as the building blocks for what we’re seeing today: a transformation of design using modern technologies and an updated perspective on the most common design problems. In fact, we can even go as far as to say that the current design process, in its most common form, is the result of traditional and modern methods plus technological advancements infused with a contemporary view of common design problems.

Digital Tools and Their Impact on Design

Digital tools have become integral to reshaping the design process, playing a fundamental role in some of the most important steps of the design process, such as ideation, iteration, and prototyping. But they weren’t simply a means to an end; design software has contributed significantly to shape design, and served as accelerators for its innovation.

Design’s new digital toolkit ranges from ideation tools that facilitate collaborative brainstorming to prototyping tools that enable rapid iteration and foster collaboration among teams. Those reasons alone are a testament to the transformative power that digital tools had on design.

Animations: Reshaping the Design Process

There’s a new face in the design arena: animations. Although animations are not a recent development, as they have been in use for quite some time, they now play a larger role in revamping the design process, ushering it into a new era by infusing life into narratives, and notably, enriching the user experience.

The integration of animations in the design process is instrumental in shaping user interactions, influencing navigation, and contributing to the overall usability of digital experiences. To illustrate this transformative power, just think of the way websites and apps employ subtle animations to help guide users through complex processes and improve their navigation.

Here are some examples of animations that do just that.

Rethinking Design for the Digital World

A paradigm shift is necessary in design thinking. And this shift needs to place user-centric design principles and strategies for crafting resonant digital experiences at the center.

As mentioned earlier, animations are instrumental for this change, as digital environments demand agility and adaptability, along with iterative methodologies, for designers to keep pace with the dynamic nature of the digital world.

The user-centric approach to design goes beyond demographics: it takes user behaviors, preferences, and aspirations into account; it is however up to designers to craft experiences that resonate deeply with users through immersive digital interactions.

The emphasis on user-centricity is justified by its guiding role in the design process. It would be a mistake to consider user-centric practices as simply influencing aesthetics, as that wouldn’t do justice to the pivotal role that they play. A product needs to be just as impactful as it is visually-pleasant to truly work.

Design’s Leap into the Future with Animation

If you’ve come this far in the article, you know by now that design is constantly evolving. In this landscape, it goes without saying that adaptability is crucial, and designers need to embrace animation as a fundamental tool in their creative arsenal to stand design’s motion (r)evolution.

Animation isn’t merely a trend: it will mark a fundamental shift in the way designers approach creativity and innovation, just like the switch to computer-aided design did back in the day. Their integration will continue to be a driving force and will guide designers toward new horizons of creativity and innovation, and ultimately be a catalyst for design’s leap into the future.

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Gianmarco Caprio Avatar

Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.