Deep in the oldest part of our brain lies a mechanism that draws humans instinctively towards objects that move. Scientists call this our 'orienting response', a very useful trait that evolved to give us the edge as the hunters we once were...but what does this have to do with research design? It turns out that we can use this mechanism to help guide our audiences through the data stories we are trying to tell.
Oftentimes when visualizing data, the important bit gets lost in a sea of dots or lines. When we are trying to compare one value to a cluster of other values, we need a way to make the important data stand out. Adding a few moving elements on or around the data point we want to highlight will immediately draw the viewer's attention to that point. These moving elements will be effective even if they are subtle.
Causing one value to stand out is very useful, but what if there is more at play in the visual? Imagine trying to describe a series of events, a flow chart, or a journey. All of data might be designed to be up all at once, however we could use movement to show the sequence of events, bringing our audience along the journey.
The last thing we want is our audience to lose interest in what they are watching. One of the of the most powerful ways to use movement is to use it in a general sense to keep the viewer engaged. This can be achieved by adding subtle movement to various elements. It helps to be aware of and prepare for this movement early in the design phase of a project. Including background elements that naturally move, such as trees, clouds or blinking lights, can really help bring the piece to life.
As we weave our narratives, it is important to understand how audiences respond to movement. It is just one of many tools that we use to help highlight, guide, and keep our viewers engaged.