Animation in Responsive Design

Animation and responsive design can sometimes feel like they’re at odds with each other. Animation often needs space to do its thing, but RWD tells us that the amount of space we’ll have available is going to change a lot. Balancing that can lead to some tricky animation situations.

Embracing the squishiness of responsive design doesn’t have to mean giving up on your creative animation ideas. There are three general techniques that can help you balance your web animaEon creaEvity with your responsive design needs. One or all of these approaches might help you sneak in something just a little extra into your next project.


Smaller viewports mean a smaller stage for your motion to play out on, and this tends to amplify any motion in your animation. Suddenly 100 pixels is really far and multiple moving parts can start looking like they’re battling for space. An effect that looked great on big viewports can become muddled and confusing when it’s reframed in a smaller space.

Making animated movements smaller will do the trick for simple motion like a basic move across the screen. But for more complex animation on smaller viewports, you’ll need to simplify and reduce the number of moving parts. The key to this is determining what the vital parts of the animation are, to zone in on the parts that are most important to its message. Then remove the less necessary bits to distill the motion’s message down to the essenEals.

For example, Rally InteracEve’s navigaEon [hLp://] folds down into place with two triangle shapes unfolding each corner on larger viewports. If this exact motion was just scaled down for narrower spaces the two corners would overlap as they unfolded. It would look unnatural and wouldn’t make much sense.

The main purpose of this animation is to show an unfolding acEon. To simplify the animaEon, Rally unfolds only one side for narrower viewports, with a slightly different animation. The acEon is sell easily interpreted as unfolding and it’s done in a way that is a beLer fit for the available space. The message the moEon was meant to convey has been preserved while the amount of motion was simplified.

Si Digital [hLp://] does something similar. The main concept of the design is to portray the studio as a creative lab. On large viewports, this is accomplished primarily through an animated illustration that runs the full length of the site and triggers its animations based on your scroll position. The illustration is there to support the laboratory concept visually, but it doesn’t contain critical content.

At first, it looks like Si Digital just turned off the animation of the illustraEon for smaller viewports. But they’ve actually been a liLle cleverer than that. They’ve also reduced the complexity of the illustraEon itself. Both the amount of moEon (reduced down to no motion) and the illustration were simplified to create a result that is much easier to glean the concept from.

The most interesEng thing about these two examples is that they’re solved more with though`ul art direcEon than complex code. Keeping the main concept of the animaEons at the forefront allowed each to adapt creative design solutions to viewports of varying size without losing the integrity of their design.

Pick a technology that matches your needs

One of the biggest advantages of the current web animaEon landscape is the range of tools we have available to us. We can use CSS animations and transitions to add just a dash of interface animaEon to our work, go all out with webGL to create a 3D experience, or anywhere in between. All within our browsers! Having this huge range of options is amazing and wonderful but it also means you need to be cognizant of what you’re using to get the job done.



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