Less is plenty – Motion Graphic Design best practice

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”

Michelangelo on the creation of David


I’m a big fan of the above sentiment from Italian Renaissance artist (and second-best Ninja Turtle) Michelangelo, responding to a question about his process. The previous two sculptors having been fired, Michelangelo was brought on to rescue the abandoned project. After envisioning the final form in the misshapen lump before him, he set to work removing every superfluous bit of stone: everything that wasn’t David.

Upon seeing the finished sculpture, you would not have expected his patrons to say:

“But we commissioned a 7-tonne slab of marble for this piece, and after all that chiselling, now it only weighs 6 tonnes: Where’s the rest?”


Communication through design

I find it hard to talk about design theory without it sounding like a bunch of wank, and smarter people than I have already written plenty about the two key design philosophies: ‘Design is communication’ and ‘Design is subtraction’. The former is fairly well-acknowledged in our industry; the latter not so much.

Too often in L&D and communications, ‘design’ is thought of as nothing more than ‘making something look pretty’. Graphic designers cop this worse than most; but whether graphic, learning, UX, interactive, motion or other; all designers will have their contribution diminished to that of base ornamentation at some point. A spoonful of sugar to help all that bland, stodgy content go down.


Get rid of the fluff

Our job as designers isn’t meant to be window dressing, or slapping a bow onto things. Our job is to smash things to bits then build something useful with a few of the pieces while discarding the rest of the rubble.

Like how a caterpillar breaks its body right down to a stem-cell goo then rebuilds itself from scratch to become a butterfly. You do get something pretty at the end but, more importantly, you get something functional and fit-for-purpose.


Stick to the point

With motion design, this comes up often when talking about how long an explainer video or animated communications piece should be. There is no fixed answer to this, though research shows that viewer retention averages at 70% for 30-, 60- and 90-second videos, drops to 65% once a video passes 2 minutes, then starts an exponential plummet from there as video length increases.

The message/goal of the video should always take precedent, but at Inspire Group we tend to advise clients that ideally 60 seconds should be the goal, and 90 seconds should be the upper limit (as we creep ever closer to that 2-minute precipice).

And yet having said that, if the key messages can be communicated in less than 60 seconds, there is no need to pad it out to 60 or 90 when it can be said in 30. Far better to spend time and budget polishing something short and to the point than doing a mediocre job of something bloated and overlong.

As I always say, the length of a video is like a golf score: your goal should to get the job done in as few strokes as possible…huh…maybe design theory is a load of wank after all.


Check out some of Mike’s great work, this motion graphic example is of Bupa’s Induction process


Mike is Lead Motion Designer at Inspire Group



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Categories: Learning Design

One Response to “Less is plenty – Motion Graphic Design best practice”

  1. Kathryn George

    Great article, Mike, and I totally concur with you along the lines of keeping things succinct and as short as practicably possible. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and I think all clients should read this before commissioning an explainer video!


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