How to meaningfully incorporate motion into branding, with DIA, Studio Dumbar/DEPT® and Connor Campbell
As the framework of brand identities continues to evolve, we’re seeing more and more studios using animation to bring their work to life. Designing for digital spaces is now an integral part of the branding process, as internet traffic is increasingly consisting of video content – from Tiktok’s boom in popularity and Instagram’s annoying prioritisation of video to digital ad spaces and web-based campaigns. The medium can add emotion, expression and dynamism that can’t always be achieved by static means. To find out more about this topic, we spoke to three leaders in motion design – DIA, Studio Dumbar/DEPT®, and Connor Campbell – who revealed how they make animation an integral part of a project, so it’s actually part of the identity system, and not just something stuck on at the end.
Studio Dumbar/DEPT® are no strangers to motion design, having adopted it seamlessly into their practice. As lead designers Christopher Noort and Stan Haanappel explain, “the studio considers motion to be a vital part of contemporary brand design.” For the Rotterdam-based design agency, movement is “considered a fundament of expression” from the start of the design process in much the same way as typography, colour and composition – core elements of effective and emotive design. DIA’s Mitch Paone concurs, “we integrate design and motion entirely into one process.” For the NYC and Geneva-based branding and graphic design studio, motion is there “right from the start” and a foundational component of their approach – as the team specialises in kinetic identities and typographic systems. “Corporate branding work primarily lives in digital and time-based formats,” he points out, therefore motion is central to the design experience. This is reflected in one of the studio’s favourite sayings: “Time is Form, Form is Time,” in other words, “Design is Motion, Motion is Design.”
Some of the freeze-frame moments in a rough motion exploration can lead to creative routes within the static identity.
From leading his London-based experimental motion design studio, Connor Campbell observes that many clients often don’t share this viewpoint. “We get to focus solely on the motion element,” he notes “but often identities we’ve been briefed on have motion as an afterthought, as opposed to being a part of the design process from the early stages.” A major downside to this, as Campbell highlights, is that it loses the potential of some exciting discoveries in the identity’s development. “When motion is there from the outset, some of the freeze-frame moments in a rough motion exploration can lead to creative routes within the static identity.” This is one reason why Campbell believes getting a motion designer in at an early stage “will always lead to much more interesting outcomes.”
When connecting design and motion, Studio Dumbar/DEPT® hold the viewpoint that creative collaboration “from the first sketches onwards,” is key. “The visual designers, motion designers, and creative coders bring in their own input, work together on concepts, and borrow from each other’s ideas,” Noort and Haanappel tell us. This introduction of motion into the early stages of the process, therefore, allows more time for development, refinement and experimentation. Sharing the same viewpoint as Campbell, the Rotterdam-based agency believes “motion should enhance communication, rather than feel like an afterthought.”
Hiring animators to animate design does not work.
Paone explains why animating ‘as an afterthought’ doesn’t yield the best results, going one step further to discuss the skillset required. “Hiring animators to animate design does not work because the design work is still being developed from a static mindset.” For true integration, he suggests that designers become fully immersed in the theory of motion, whilst developing “extensive” technical skills in the software, particularly Cinema4D and After Effects. “Also, Cavalry, Houdini, TouchDesigner, and skills in creative coding are very beneficial,” he adds. With practice, Paone tells us, the fusion of animation and design becomes more natural and familiar. Studio Dumbar/DEPT® have embedded this into their own practice by organising ‘The Group’ – “bi-weekly dedicated hours to experiment, learn and enjoy motion design outside the context of work for clients.” These allotted sessions give the design team the space and time to learn, try new software, and get comfortable with the concepts and theory.
With design being more digital than ever, there are numerous benefits of motion in an identity system. In Paone’s opinion, traditional choices such as photography, illustration, and art direction are “short-term brand assets.” He emphasises that as time and trends pass these elements will evolve too, making them better suited for advertising campaigns rather than foundational elements of a brand identity. “What should remain constant is the frame where everything lives.” Motion creates tremendous amounts of expression and provides the emotional touch that static elements can’t. “Also, it makes production much more efficient where renders and stills can be quickly generated from toolkits, whereas illustrations need to be done by hand.” Although, Paone speculates, this could change with the evolution of AI in the future.
Motion should be meaningful.
Looking at the future of branding and ‘future-proofing’ identities for clients, not just the studios that created them, Campbell finds that there is something to consider in generative software, as well as the realm of possibility software provides. “Motion is also becoming more intertwined with creative coding,” Campbell notes, “where custom browser-based web tools can be handed over to clients, allowing them to make real-time motion assets of their own within the constraints of the tools provided.” As examples, he mentions Kiel Mutschelknaus’ work for Spotify ‘Wrapped’ or Hudson-Powell’s work on the recruitment tool Canvas. “With tools like this, an identity doesn’t have to stay fixed in one single state for the rest of its life and maybe we're eventually getting to a point where an identity is never just one mark, but takes many forms.”
Whatever the future leads, Noort and Haanappel explain that Studio Dumbar/DEPT® have – and will always – stick by their philosophy: a strong and lasting identity should be powerful, simple and pure. “Technology influences the way brands communicate, which is slowly moving to a purely digital realm. This allows motion design to be more present in telling a brand’s story and become a tool that can enhance visual communication.” However, they conclude with an important reminder. “This doesn’t mean that everything should always move – motion should be meaningful."