Everyone uses typography, whether or not they are aware of it. From creating a professional resume to creating an eye-catching poster for your community theater group, the font you choose affects how the viewer interprets what you created. Now, I’m not here to get into details about font types, kerning, texture, and everything in-between; if you’re interested in how different components of typography determine the emotion behind the text, read Stephanie Sprouse’s most recent blog post. In this post, I’m going to discuss how to use animated text (aka kinetic typography) effectively. Thoughtfully executed animation can make the difference between on-screen text feeling like a 10-page research paper vs. being engaging and dynamic. If you’re making creative decisions on projects involving animated text, this post is for you, whether you’re a Creative Director, Marketing Professional, Animator, or Designer.
Below is a kinetic typography video we created for the Virginia Department of Health in a campaign to raise awareness about HIV and STIs. This video shows how to keep your fonts consistent, create useful patterns, and keep things simple so the focus stays on the messaging.
Pick a Font and Stick with It
There’s a whole world of fonts out there, and picking just one can be challenging. Feel free to try to use them all, but odds are your end product will look like a jumbled mess. Instead, choose a large font family (such as Helvetica or Open Sans) that has a number of styles to choose from. This gives you the diversity you need while keeping your product consistent. There are also many ways of varying your text, like font size and kerning. Also, while fonts themselves convey emotion, with kinetic typography you have unique tools, such as movement and interaction, to give words personality. For instance, a neutral font such as Helvetica can appear angry, sad, happy, etc., just with a change in the way a word moves. That said, I do recommend sticking with a sans serif for easy on-screen readability.
Have you ever watched a movie or TV show where the pacing seemed off? To name a few examples: Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad, The Justice League, or any other new DC movie. While the cheesy script doesn’t help, many of these movies are also all over the place with their storytelling. This pitfall can apply to kinetic typography as well. If you don’t establish patterns early on, you will lose your viewers. This doesn’t mean you need to spoon-feed your audience; in fact, a well-done video will make the audience feel smart because they have figured something out.
Keep It Simple
When you have too much going on in your animation, it can look like the creator opened iMovie for the first time, discovered all of the fun presets, and felt compelled to use them all. Instead of overdoing the effects, be complex in your simplicity. The Stranger Things intro is a good example of this principle. The opening credits are just sliding letters at various scales until they come together to spell the title, but there is also an eerie flicker, color, and glow to them. This is a simple and clever way to convey the emotional themes of the show without being too literal. When working on a kinetic typography project, consider how the words can be animated on their own or can be dynamic in how they interact with each other. For instance, perhaps some text flies into frame and bumps into other words slightly. Or perhaps the most important word in a sentence has a more dynamic, attention-grabbing animation than the others, making it stand out.
Starting a new kinetic typography project can be a daunting task. Choosing a font, developing patterns, and remaining subtle in your transitions and movements is a great way to begin creating a successful animation. Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and in the end, you have to do feels right for the project. But this is part of the fun of animation: there’s a world of possibility and you can’t advance if you don’t push the boundaries, making mistakes along the way.