10 Principles Of Animation Every Designer Should Know

In the realm of design, animation has come to occupy a pivotal role, influencing user experience, storytelling, and even branding. From mesmerizing motion graphics to nuanced character movements, animation breathes life into static design and engages the viewer on a deeper level. However, simply diving into animation without understanding its foundational principles could result in confusing or uninspiring work. 

Originating from classic 2D animation, but now equally relevant in the world of digital design, these ten guiding principles can help anyone—from beginners to experts—create more compelling animations.

1. Squash And Stretch

The principle of ‘Squash and Stretch’ is all about giving a sense of weight and flexibility to objects. Whether you’re animating a bouncing ball or a character’s facial expression, altering the object’s shape during motion will make it appear more realistic and natural. This is extremely useful in mediums like animated TV ads, where capturing viewer attention in a split second is crucial.

2. Anticipation

Anticipation prepares the audience for an action that is about to happen. This can be as simple as a character bending their knees before jumping. Without anticipation, actions can seem abrupt and confusing, disrupting the flow and realism of the animation.

3. Staging

This involves the arrangement of objects and characters in a way that directs the viewer’s attention to what’s important. Good staging can make it easier to understand an animated story or interface, emphasizing the main points and minimizing distractions.

4. Straight Ahead And Pose-To-Pose

These are two different approaches to animating that can be used depending on the context. ‘Straight Ahead’ animation involves drawing out frames in a linear sequence, which can create more fluid but less controlled movements. ‘Pose-to-Pose‘ involves creating keyframes first and then filling in the intervals, which allows for more control and precision.

5. Follow Through And Overlapping Action

Movements in real life seldom come to an abrupt stop. ‘Follow Through’ refers to the idea that separate parts of a body or object will continue moving after the main action has stopped. ‘Overlapping Action’ is related but deals with the slight delay between the movements of different parts of a body or object.

6. Slow In And Slow Out

This principle involves varying the speed of an action for more realistic movement. As in real life, actions usually start slowly, build momentum, and then slow down again. Adding more frames at the beginning and end of an action can achieve this effect.

7. Arcs

Natural actions usually follow an arched trajectory. Whether it’s an arm swinging or a ball bouncing, movements often follow a slightly curved path. Straight, mechanical motions are rare in the real world, and using arcs can lend more realism to your animation.

8. Secondary Action

These are smaller actions that occur as a result of the main action, adding more dimensions to characters or objects. For example, a character may swing their arms while walking. The secondary action should work in support of the primary action, not distract from it.

9. Timing

Timing is the cornerstone of any animation—too slow or too fast, and you lose your audience. It’s essential for establishing a character’s mood, reaction, and the overall tempo of the story. Good timing is achieved through the careful control of frames and pacing.

10. Exaggeration

Reality is often less visually impressive, so animation leverages exaggeration for effect. Whether it’s the emotion in a character’s face or the velocity of a car chase, a slight exaggeration can be more compelling and entertaining.


Animation has come a long way from the early days of 2D cartoons. Today, it’s an indispensable tool in various fields such as film, user interface design, and advertising. While software and tools have become more sophisticated, the foundational principles of animation remain constant. Understanding and applying these ten principles can dramatically improve the quality of your animations, making them more engaging, logical, and lifelike. 
As you venture further into the world of animation, always remember: these principles are not rules set in stone but guidelines to nurture your creativity and storytelling.

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