Animation in Web Design: The Design Trend

Animation in Web Design: The Design Trend

animated homepage
SYBIL by Zak Steele Eklund for Studio VoR via Dribbble

Animation in web design has played a huge role from early internet to present. Animation has given the internet robust interactivity and unique personalities as the art of animation in web design has evolved throughout the years and have served many purposes. After witnessing the breakthroughs of web animation, it has become clear that animation will continue to hold up in its future as a strong web design element.

The History of Web Animation

During the early internet, there was not much when it came to technology for web animation. In fact, colors were very limited and web designers wanted to find new ways to capture the attention of users in a dynamic fashion. One of the ways that can be done is using binary animations such as flashes. In other words, designers would create a switch on websites that would automatically alter colors in order to help create a spot for attention. It was used in backgrounds for pages and ad banners. Although creating color switches was known to be a great way to catch attention,  it eventually got to the point where frequent users became desensitized to such feature to the point where it almost felt unnecessary and in some cases, obnoxious. Designers and developers began seeking new ways to catch attention, but in a more subtle fashion.

The Birth of GIF

The new form of internet animation came in files that were Graphics Interchange Format or “GIF”. Launched in 1987, GIF files were used as a way to compress images so that they would better be optimized for the internet. The technology also allowed animations to become compressed and optimized for the web. Animated GIF files were used across the internet to help increase user interactivity and served as a new tool for design.

gif example
Animated GIF

GIF changed the way users browse web pages. At the time, it was incredibly difficult to ignore any animated GIF in a web layout. Sites would often use GIF to do things such as animate logos and backgrounds. In fact, advertisers have evolved their banners to include GIF animations to help further extend their reach to users. 

GIF created a pathway for designers who valued animation and user interactivity. The breakthrough became so significant, it changed the way web designs were produced.

Flash Animation

In the early 2000s, Macromedia (later acquired by Adobe) launched a media tool that was used for animations and desktop applications known as Flash. It was powered by the ActionScript programming language and was used to create dynamic animations from scratch. There was very little difficulty in building custom shapes and implementing custom sounds in Flash animations. Flash quickly became supported by common web browsers, and was used heavily by web developers and designers.

flash site example
Example of a Flash Site

Flash quickly became the preferred choice in animation. It was such a powerful tool, that it was commonplace for developers to build an entire interactive site in ActionScript, which was the language that powered Flash, versus HTML. Users could spend a lot of time exploring and interacting with web pages on these sites.

For years, Flash had dominated animation on the web. Although Flash has created many opportunities for web design, web browsers seem to have a harder time supporting it over time. Flash was shown to have many security vulnerabilities and seemed to demand more resources than it was worth putting into. In 2010, Apple had limited the use of Flash on their products since it did not perform well on mobile devices and took a large toll on battery life. Because of the development of HTML5 and the capabilities it had to create animations, Flash slowly became an obsolete format.


Although HTML5 by itself was not capable of animation, it served as an effective canvas when supplemented with CSS and Javascript. It requires very little resources to create animations compared to Flash. CSS animations are commonly used such as parallax scrolling and motion icons. HTML5 became the new way to animate on the web given the fact that HTML5 animations are optimized for both desktop and mobile devices.

Although HTML5 can be a very dynamic tool, UX ideologies state that sophisticated animations are not ideal for a user’s experience. Over the years, animations have became simpler to help users not lose track of their online tasks. Simple animations in a web layout keeps users engaged on a site. It can also help provide subtle cues to help guide users to the completion of their task.

animated icon example
Button Submit by Lucas via Dribbble

Web animation have evolved in terms of purpose and how it is designed.  As web technology advances, animation will continue to serve a place and move along with the rest of the trends of web design.