Teaching Kinetic Type: Prioritizing Form and Space in motion design with Analog Making Processes

I’ve developed a project that has evolved over the years but has ultimately become a kinetic typography project. Kinetic typography—or type in motion—is an animation technique mixing motion and text to express ideas and communicate messages over time.

In this project, students work with type, form, and space to design a 30-second motion piece with time and movement. Students write (or select an excerpt of writing) to visualize in motion. Students learn and apply motion principles, and work with effects and processes in Aftereffects. 

The goals of the project are:

  1. to create work that is expressive and evokes a mood for your audience.
  2. to create work that uses time and movement as design elements on screen.
  3. to create work that demonstrates strong manipulation of type, form, and space on screen.
  4. to create work as narrative; paying attention to cadence and pacing at it relates to time and readability.
  5. to learn After Effects and demonstrate a beginner knowledge of its application in one’s practice.

I’ve taught motion design to undergraduate students at ECU since 2019. I’ve taught different versions of this project over the years, but one thing that I have become adamant about in my teaching is that “Goal #3: To create work that demonstrates strong manipulation of type, form, and space on screen” is the most important goal for my graphic design students, regardless of new tools or concepts being introduced. If my students are not able to create strong visual compositions with type and space in motion, then we need to reprioritize our foundational skills and attention.

Here’s what I noticed.

Storyboarding doesn’t always cut it.

I would often rely on storyboarding as the technique to help students realize goal #2 and goal #4. Storyboarding is helpful for understanding narrative and how time and movement relate to design elements on screen. Through the development of keyframes and annotations, designers can communicate an overall vision and narrative of a motion design piece. However, storyboarding does not always make students think about all the keyframes that they really need to fully consider the visual design and composition of a motion design piece. And, although storyboarding communicates vision and narrative well, it can often stifles the exploration of ideas in early phases of development.

In the current version of the project, storyboarding did not provide the best format for exploring type and composition—the 2D principles of design and implied motion. It was too solution oriented and action oriented.

Type is tricky and needs more attention.

In previous modes of this assignment, I constrained students to working with only shape and line. Because students did not have to work with type and text (and therefore readability), outcomes were relatively successful. Here are two case examples: Motion, sound, and movement and Dancing Shapes collaboration project. In these cases, students were able to express a mood, create work with time and motion, demonstrate strong manipulation of form and space, create a narrative with cadence and pacing, and learn AE. They did not need to demonstrate strong manipulation of type, nor did they have to consider readability.

In the current version of this project, students needed time in the design process to work with type and composition, particularly to have space to explore the micro and macro details of typographic design for motion.

Action does NOT trump the moment.

Thinking about movement and time while working in After Effects is fun and exciting to learn (I love tinkering with new tools). You can learn a lot from tools and exploring capabilities. However, realizing concept ideas through the means of tools often redirected or distracted my graphic design students from creating work that demonstrated strong manipulation of type, form, and space over time. Instead, students would focus only on movement and time.

In the current version of this project, students needed to explore the capabilities of the software with informed intentionality, considering moments of pause and transition with a detail oriented eye. This meant integrating composition, time, and movement with better care.

The Solution:

I revised the design process for this project. Instead of starting with a traditional motion design process that started with concept development and storyboarding, I started with type research and keyframe compositions. Students printed type and composed keyframe compositions by hand to explore ideas and possibilities for storyboarding. In this process, they learned about their type through the exercise of tracing (or referring to) and their attention was placed on the macro and micro details of typography and composition.

Students created 50 keyframes to begin. Keyframes needed to capture “moments of pause and moments of transition.” Students were asked to convey implied motion in this process.

Depending on their focus for the first 50, they were then asked to build and expand their keyframes to 75 total, paying attention to composition and experimentation of ideas, overall message and tone, cadence and pacing of narrative, expression and readability of segments. All the keyframe compositions would then be finalized into a storyboard direction for working in After Effects and beginning motion tests.


Type & composition is so much better!

Some further attention in AE could make the motion pieces stronger in regard to pace and sequence. For example, attention on cadence, rhythm, and movement (the affordances of working with the tool) would help student’s make stronger final pieces.

Student Work:
Kirsten Keel, 2021
Parker Estes, 2022.
Kineke Jordan, 2021.
Annaka Chhabra, 2021.
Lane Sweeny, 2021.
Tyler King, 2021.

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