This article explores my views on motion and product design while detailing my rationale for positioning as a visual designer providing technical expertise in building graphic user experiences for interactive products.
Positioning for ‘motion design’ is simply too broad in 2022. Traditionally well-guarded motion graphics techniques and industry secrets are now widely available. Restricting oneself to motion offerings places the designer in competition with animation enthusiasts already in the industry, the thousands more entering with the support of online training.
The above graphic shows my move out of motion design to include product design processes. While motion design requires only visual design and animation, bringing product processes is crucial to building interactive, immersive experiences.
The motion community's value of animation over design was the primary reason for my shift toward product. How elements move on-screen follows the function of the design, but I often found motion being applied for motion’s sake. Animation in design is ancillary to the form and accidental of the perceptual patterns determined by the brand. Applying animation as a solution to design problems is an incorrect approach. Motion design education has neglected design processes and principles in favor of technical software tutorials. Clearly defined process and understanding of design principles are what I see most often holding back fresh designers.
A stigma is placed on the generalist motion designer. Because you have not specialized, you will never be better than the specialist. The designer must fit into a rigid compartmentalized pipeline standardized by large studios. Animation, lighting, and modeling each have distinct places in the visual effects pipeline. Like the eight-hour work week, this is a hangover from the era of factory workers. Regardless of what particular software would be most effective for a solution, employees are bound to specific software in order to maximize efficiency.
Specialization is to the benefit of corporations and not to the development of the individual designer. Knowledge of a variety of software presents more design solutions. Attention paid only to motion or product limits understanding to the current styles and trends cluttering those hashtags. The persistent importance of design principles beyond particular industries proves that foundational design education benefits the designer far beyond technical knowledge.
Realizing that the only barriers to progress are one’s own focus and commitment is freeing. Relocating to scrape secrets from the grasp of industry is no longer a requirement as bountiful information is freely available for all those with the willingness to search. Developing a unique style and building a portfolio and career is not contingent on any other person or organization. Hearing about designers who feel the need to distance themselves from their families due to a perceived grandeur in favor of using design to better their local communities is disheartening.
All this being said, motion design as a discipline should not be ignored. Industry tools can be applied to not only motion but all fields of design. My newsletter pulls great insights from the motion design community every month.
BRINGING MOTION TO PRODUCT
Web design has advanced immensely since I began my motion design career in 2015. The hype of responsive design is well beyond standard practice. Reviewing the new capabilities of web opened my eyes to the numerous possibilities to bring motion design skills to product. Artistic visual imagery, technical graphics toolsets and motion graphics workflows are invaluable assets to the narrow processes of user experience.
Not having the traditional UI/UX experience of my competitors is an advantage. A background in visual communication design with a focus on motion design for the past seven years brings unique technical knowledge and a deep understanding of computer graphics to product. Because product has been heavily influenced by profit maximization, constant iteration of small details, the industry is not yet open to the full range of possibilities offered by newer, more experimental technologies.
Having a fundamental understanding of code and a connection with developers will put any designer miles ahead of those who refuse to peek their head under the hood. There will never be a substitute for understanding the capabilities and having an appreciation for a particular language. By having an understanding of how products and software work at a fundamental level, the designer can engage in meaningful dialogue with developers to solve increasingly complex problems. The ability to prototype in code is infinitely more valuable than a faux mockup in which the designer has never considered the codebase.
As a motion designer entering product spaces, there is an opportunity to provide unique insights and novel skillsets to provide value in ways that a pure user experience designer never will. Bringing the same level of quality seen in motion design to the web will be challenging. While web technologies have advanced significantly, constraints remain that the motion designer will need to work within.
THE VISUAL INTERACTION DECISION
Twenty years ago, Jesse James Garrett built the above visual model for understanding user experience design. It serves as a great starting point in describing how to position for business. For the motion designer entering product, their positioning and business decisions are predicated on their affinity for either animation or designer. For example, the animator may choose to go deep into interaction for user interface while the designer might choose to focus on visual design and strategy.
While it is important to understand all aspects of user experience and generalist knowledge is invaluable, the business offering must be niche and specific. The decision every designer must make is in their niche offering. Many designers fear that by choosing a particular lane in their business, they will be restricted to only one kind of work. They believe their entry into one specific door will lead to an isolated room. On the contrary, they will come to find a hallway with many new doors they had never before considered. The paradox of casting a wider net to catch more clients is that it results in fewer clients in the long term. The client will always choose the perceived expert over the generalist. A client who perceives the designer as a generalist will not pay an expert rate, the end result being more work for less money.
With my combination of experience, technical expertise, and taste, I feel unstoppable in the field of digital design. The only barrier I am encountering now is time. Learning how to learn has energized me to learn new processes, evaluating them to incorporate into my own process as necessary. Because of my diverse knowledge, I am able to approach design problems from numerous angles. The more tools I learn, the more efficient my processes become and unique combinations of disciplines present themselves.
Those ahead of the curve who are able to master the newer, more efficient workflows with a quality approaching the level of high-end studios stand to become highly profitable. The accomplishments of a team with a few people can demand the same price as a company of hundreds.
In 2022, I have positioned myself as a visual designer providing technical expertise in building graphic user experiences for interactive products.
This article was written by Gabriel Vincent Moon.
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