How to Attract & Engage Viewers with Emotional Triggers in Your Content


Today’s consumers have shorter attention spans, which is a major challenge because the amount of communication being delivered is higher than ever before. Through all of this “noise in communication,” consumers have become very selective in the messages they view and absorb. This selection is typically made subconsciously in a split second and driven by emotion. New technologies and channel proliferation are now profoundly changing the way consumers engage with communications and brands. In order to disrupt this selection process, emotional triggers must be used in content.

Understanding emotional triggers that help spark visual interest and engagement is vital to delivering solid content. Motion and sound both play an important role in stimulating these responses. Using them properly will increase the chances of content attracting, engaging and even retaining an audience. Disrupting normal behavior is often needed to make someone notice a digital experience, specifically in a noisy world filled with communications everywhere we look. Sound and/or movement, however, can catch a viewer’s attention, disrupt them and “make them look.”

Motion: Design has become a vital mechanism for delivering digital content. Adding motion to digital content is a great way to attract viewers, guide the eyes along the information and even help direct where viewers look or absorb information. Today, there are many tools available to content designers including HTML5, Adobe After Effects and several 3D animation applications that can all work very well together. However, technical knowledge of these tools does not always guarantee effective content creation. It is vital that good principles of design and animation be followed in order to ensure successful content engagement.

Principles of motion have been around long before motion graphics designers had these advanced tools. A great reference guide for any animation and motion design is a book titled The Illusion of Life, written by two of Disney’s master animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. The book identifies 12 Basic Principles of Animation, some of which are very applicable to digital signage content creation today. While there is an obvious difference between character animation and motion graphics design in digital content, these 12 principles can be applied in almost any motion-based design. While some principles relate closer than others, there are parallels in each one that can be related to content design.

A few of these 12 principles that best relate to motion content design:

  1. Squash and Stretch

Adding exaggeration to an object gives it a greater sense of weight and volume. This principle is often demonstrated in classical animation with a bouncing ball that is stretched when it is falling and squishes when it hits the ground giving it a more realistic feel. The subtle use of squash and stretch in animated-type transitions or graphical elements in the content design can add a sense of weight and volume that will subliminally seem familiar and natural to viewers of the motion graphics content. Making it familiar can increase length of exposure and retention of the visuals while also prompting a positive emotional reaction.

  1. Staging

Staging helps establish mood, create focus and clarify what is happening in the scene. In order to deliver an effective content composition, staging is a great way to build a proper scene. Balancing details in the background with foreground elements that must remain the main focus is very important. A good tactic might be moving the background while keeping type or copy messages in the center even though the scene is moving. As an example, this could improve both legibility and retention.

  1. Slow In & Slow Out

In the physical world, objects and humans need to pick up momentum before they can reach full speed. Similarly, it takes time to decrease speed before something can come to a complete stop. In motion design, “easing” is often used, which is basically the same principle as Slow In and Slow Out. This is a great way to keep animation from feeling abrupt or jumpy. Allowing elements to slow down before they stop or slowly speed up as objects begin to move makes things look smoother, more pleasing and familiar.

  1. Secondary Action

In the physical world, we can observe primary movement in the motion of a person walking or a bird flying. Secondary actions, such as a person swinging their arms as they walk or a bird’s feathers rippling in the wind, help support primary movements. In motion design, applying secondary animations that often overlap with each other are great transitional ways to help guide the eyes from one area of the canvas to another or from one piece of information to the next.

  1. Timing

In animation, timing is an essential aspect of the way frames are drawn, and ensuring that movement looks natural is one of the most important aspects of animation. In digital content, motion timing is everything. The amount of time given to be able to absorb a key message before another is displayed means providing enough time to read it. Balancing that with keeping the message as quick as possible is an art in and of itself.

The use of sound in digital content:

Sound is another great tool in creating disruptive content. A simple sound effect can also make your audience take notice. Sound is a very powerful tool used to increase comprehension, as people are able to take in visuals and sound simultaneously when absorbing information. Sound, however, does have its own challenges. When sound is repetitive for long periods of time, it can create a negative experience. This often is the case when store staff is positioned near a digital experience and are exposed to repetitive sound for long periods of time. Unfortunately, this can even lead to the sound being turned off.

When deciding on the use of sound, you need to consider your surroundings. Is there already a lot of ambient noise?  In most environments, there is chatter from customers, employees and equipment, all competing for attention.  Adding more audio stimulation might make it more likely to produce a negative experience. However, there are some solutions available. Directional sound is a great way to have sound focused in smaller areas that are only noticeable when entering or moving within a fixed area near or adjacent to the display.

Above all else, it is always critical to ensure that the tools and techniques used in the content consider the intended viewers in the specific environmental conditions in which they will receive the message. There is no black and white answer to this. Like many other factors in creating effective, branded experiences, it is always best to leave this work to professional agencies that specialize in connecting with customers at an emotional level with expertise in creating digital experiential content.

About Author

Director, Digital Experience
Shikatani Lacroix Design

Content Council

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