Animation can turn a blah, boring website into a work of art which draws visitors back again and again. That’s rare because animation is generally not used very well.

Most webmasters go through several phases with animation.

  1. Their site contains no animations at all because they don’t know about it.
  2. They learn about animation and cautiously add a few here and there.
  3. Suddenly, they become addicted to animation, and their site gets hundreds of them per page.
  4. Someone tells them this is bad and they remove all of them. After all, it’s bad, right?
  5. Some years later they learn the truth – animation when used properly is great, when used improperly is terrible.

All of us have run into the type #3, the site with animations everywhere. I’ve even seen pages which have over 100 animated GIFs per page, combined with blinking text, loud colors and strange fonts. Actually, it was quite a site. Almost a work of art …

So what kind of animations (animated GIFs, flash, dynamic HTML and so on) are appropriate for a web site?

The thing to remember when adding anything to your site is simple. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Is this enhancing my visitors experience? Whatever you add to the site should make it more likely that people stick around to view your site and come back later to view it again.
  • Is this helping to meet the goal of the website? If the purpose of your site is to sell books, then only animations that further that purpose would be important. On the other hand, if you had a Star Trek fan site, then lots of little doodads that improved the Star Trek feeling might not only be appropriate, but are expected.
  • Is this making the site load too slowly? It really don’t matter how wonderful your animation is if it takes 60 minutes to download for one second of play time. Very few visitors are going to wait that long for anything.
  • Does the page look jumbled and disorganized? One of the problems with adding to many animations is that it tends to make the pages look terrible. Unless you are specifically trying to create a jumbled look for some reason, clean, crisp and organized is usually better.
  • Is the animation really necessary? An example is the trend towards using transition effects. You’ve seen those web sites where you click on a link and the new page kind of fades in, or a circle grows in the center of a page or the page slides in sideways. Yeah, these are cute, but in my humble opinion these are just silly tricks that slow down the visitor.

A very good rule of thumb regarding animations is “less is better”. You can generally achieve a very nice effect with a couple of animations on a page. Keep the number and size down to reasonable amounts.