11 min read

How to Create Animations for Mobile Apps?

No matter what kind of mobile app you have, animations are key. 

They help facilitate specific tasks, draw attention to important information in the app, are used for navigation, and so much more, which we’ll get into later.

In short, animations are a crucial component of any modern mobile application.

If you’re not sure where to start in implementing high quality animations for mobile apps or how they might fit into your app project, we’ll cover everything you need to know in this article.

Table of Contents

  1. How Animations are Used in Modern Apps
  2. Reaction to Users
  3. App Navigation and Structure
  4. Function Changes
  5. App Guidance
  6. Creating Animations for Mobile Apps
  7. Custom Animations
  8. Out-of-the-Box Animations
  9. Animation Libraries for iOS and Android
  10. ViewAnimator
  11. Spruce
  12. Shimmer
  13. App Animation Guidelines for UX Design
  14. Animations Should be Carefully Thought Out
  15. Animations Should Reflect the Brand
  16. Animations Should Compliment, Not Overtake

Chapter #1: How Animations are Used in Modern Apps

How you implement animations in your app plays a key role in the user interface and user experience.

When you think of animations, don’t just think about gaming apps. Sure, those use animations too, but there are actually a wide breadth of applications for animation use.

Here are just a few examples of how animations are used in today’s mobile applications.

1.1 Reactions to Users

When using an app, it’s common for there to be app interface animations that occur when users do something specific.

For example, if a user taps a button in the app, you’ll notice the button changes color, gets larger, or some other animation occurs to let the user know that their action did something.

Another common animation reaction to users is swiping. 

If you’re in an app and, for example, swiping through images in a gallery, there’s usually a nice animation effect of moving the images, which of course gives users a more realistic impression of looking through photos.

Animations can be very subtle, but they can have a significant impact on the user experience.

Animations can also be especially useful when it comes to simplifying navigation for users.

After all, apps aren’t naturally intuitive to navigate. Mobile app designers need to use things like animations to help users find what they’re looking for and easily move around in the app.

Animations, in this context, serve as a visual reference and guide for users which helps them move through the app and remember how to use various buttons and icons.

It guides users’ eyes in order to reinforce a hierarchy of elements so they know what content to pay attention to.

In a menu, for example, users can see what are the main navigation elements and what are the less-important sub menu navigation elements.

1.3 Function Changes

Animations are often used to show individual elements of an application transforming. 

Since users are constantly using and interacting with various UI animations and elements on the screen, like buttons and images, it makes sense that these elements can change to reflect the functionality.

For example, let’s say an app has a clickable image. 

When users click the image, additional information about that image may slide out from beneath it, which draws in the user’s attention.

This is a simple example of how animation is used in relation to app functionality, and you’ll notice virtually everything you do in an app is accompanied by some form of animation, be it big or small.

1.4 App Guidance

Another common form of mobile app animations is in-app guidance. 

Some apps are more complex and need a way of easily explaining what to do to new users.

Rather than a basic long block of text, many apps incorporate animations to display relevant information to users in a fun and engaging way.

You’ll often see these animated guides when launching an app for the first time. 

It might highlight important navigation features or other important functionality the app wants to show you.

It’s also common to see this in gaming apps. No one wants to read a manual on how to play, so oftentimes, gaming apps will use animations to walk users through how to play the game.

Kind of like an animation tutorial.

PRO TIP:
No matter what kind of app you have, think about how animations can help your users and which are necessary. While it’s ok for some animations to be decorative, be careful about weighing down your app with loading animations that don’t serve a purpose.

Chapter #2: Creating Animations for Mobile Apps

If you’re ready to get started with creating animations for your next app, you’re probably wondering where to start.

There are essentially two options to implementing animations: a custom solution or out-of-the-box solutions.

And, of course, you can certainly mix the two options!

2.1 Custom Animations

Most high-profile mobile apps, like Instagram or Tik Tok, are going to use custom animations. This means that the animations you see within their app are designed from scratch.

It means they hired designers to create a completely unique solution.

Going for custom-made animations is always going to be a better option. After all, the animations are created specifically for your app and no one else’s.

This means the animations will be unique and optimized for your specific app’s needs.

Just keep in mind that going this route is going to take more time and money

Since the animations are being created from scratch, your design team will need time to come up with animation design ideas, create mockups or wireframes of those ideas, and once approved, use software or code to actually create the animations.

It’s a process.

If your project has the budget for custom animations, go for it! But if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford custom solutions, the next option may suit you better.

2.2 Out-of-the-Box Animations

What I mean by “out-of-the-box” is that your animations are already created. 

Just like there are ready-made code and components app developers can use in their project from open-source software and libraries, there’s also ready-made animations that exist which you can use.

Apple and Google both offer high quality animations designers can leverage in their mobile app projects. 

There are libraries and plugins available that can animate your images, buttons, navigation menu, and other app components so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

In the next chapter, we’ll review some popular animation libraries for Apple and iOS.

The ready-made animation solution also has its downsides. Since you’re using an out-of-the-box animation, you can expect many other developers are using it too.

This can give your animations a cookie-cutter look and feel, as opposed to custom solutions, which are unique.

And if you want to modify the animation, you’ll need to work with someone else’s code, which can be a bit tricky.

Chapter #3: Animation Libraries for iOS and Android

As mentioned above, you can certainly have your team create custom animations while also taking advantage of the wealth of animation tools and libraries available.

In this section, we’ll highlight some of the more popular animation software developers use in their app projects.

3.1 ViewAnimator

This library allows developers to build complex iOS UIView animations with ease.

ViewAnimator offers one line animations for any view including views that contain other views, such as UITableView and UICollectionView.

This library is available through CocoaPods—a dependency manager for Objective-C and Swift projects—and can be installed with just one line.

3.2 Spruce

This lightweight animation library for iOS and Android is great for choreographing the animations on your screen to ensure each one is animating at the correct time.

Spruce can also help designers request complex multi-view animations.

Spruce makes things easy by supporting both Carthage and CocoaPods, but they also offer pre-built downloadable frameworks which don’t require a package manager.

This software is written entirely in Swift but they do have a library for Android as well.

It comes packed with UIView extensions that simplify calling an app animation.

While the library does come with its own stock animations, developers can also customize and create their own.

3.3 Shimmer

The Shimmer library was originally created by Facebook for Android devices. It’s an easy way to add a shimmer effect to any view in Android apps.

Since it’s implemented as a layout, developers can simply nest any view inside a ShimmerFrameLayout tag and call it to begin the app animation from the code. That’s all that’s needed to get it working.

The layout uses the values specified in the tag using custom attributes or in the code to generate shimmer-like animations on the fly.

Chapter #4: App Animation Guidelines for UX Design

Giving life to a still static image can help convey whatever it is you’re trying to say. Just look at the millions of mobile app users glued to their mobile devices as proof.

Animations can help keep content interesting, interactive, and engaging.

Let’s review some basic principles regarding mobile app animations and best practices.

4.1 Animations Should Be Carefully Thought Out

When designing your mobile app, it’s important to think carefully about every element that’s going to appear in your app, including animations.

They should never be an afterthought—”hey let’s throw in an animation here and here and here”. 

Remember, animations are a key part of the user experience, which needs to be carefully planned and considered.

When animations are misused, it can become an unnecessary obstacle for users.

PRO TIP:
Think about animations when you’re sketching your wireframes and how they can give life to your app in a meaningful way. Every animation should serve a clearly defined purpose. If it doesn’t solve a problem, get rid of it.

4.2 Animations Should Reflect the Brand

Similar to other UI elements like your logo, font family, and images, animations also need to reflect your brand.

There are endless ways to add animation to the various functionalities of your app. The animation you choose is like adding your own personal flare or personality to the animation.

For example, when sliding in content on a screen, will it animate quick and snappy? Smooth and natural? Or will it bounce in?

Should you have an animated logo or include progress animations?

Think about the tone you’re trying to convey to your target audience

If the tone of your animations doesn’t fit right with users, it might make them feel out of place or lose trust in your brand.

Consider this. You visit a banking app and the animations are bouncy and colorful, like what you would find in a gaming app.

Wouldn’t that feel…off? You probably wouldn’t trust the app, especially since banking apps cater to financial services, which should make users feel safe and secure.

While it’s important to inject some personality into your app through the use of animations, always make sure it’s on-brand.

4.3 Animations Should Compliment, Not Overtake

Another key rule when it comes to animations is that they should serve to complement the user experience, not play center stage.

It can be tempting to show off your mobile animation skills, just don’t overdo it.

Don’t be too flashy with your animations. Doing so can take the user’s attention away from the main goal, which is to complete some task with the app.

Photo Credit: charcoal.marketing

Final Thoughts

Animations are a great way to supplement the UX and UI of your mobile app when done correctly.

Each piece of UI animation should serve a clear purpose and should never be superfluous.

Just like every other part of the mobile app development process, animations should be carefully considered—everything from placement to animation speed and affects.

One key element of our Simple Starter package is the inclusion of wireframes, which encompasses not only your app idea’s layout but also animations that can help enhance the overall user experience.

Which do you think is better, custom animations or ready-made solutions like libraries and plugins? 

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