How soon we forget. Now Google's page is always animated. The more they grow, the more they feel it is acceptable that user experience elements move, and more and more distractions are now acceptable, even pre-pending video ads at the beginning of videos, and animating Gmail sign-in boxes as they glide into place. But clearly, as evinced by the popularity of Adblock, distractions are annoying and unwelcome, Adblock is now so popular that makes a fortune accepting Google's payments to let distractions through, while users desperately search for ways to disable all possible animations. Somehow, it seems counterproductive to what we consider "good" UI design.
In fact, and depending entirely on who you consult, it seems that there can be no limit to the the idea that animation only ever makes the user experience richer. If it doesn't move in some way, it can be improved by movement. And this is the inherent, conflicting unquestioned assumption in the current state of UI design: movement is good. But where is the line between helpful movement and distractions? And is it the same for everyone?
Again, this is at odds with the anti-trend precepts that made Google popular, and at odds with the hate that we spew for animations and distractions on web pages, and especially for the videos that start playing when we land on a page.
But I ask you, seriously, as web and UI designers, in your head, where is that line between good UI design, and distracting, pointless movement? Does a line even exist? When it comes to UI design, is the sky the limit, and is it OK for everything to be animated at the whim of the designer, because they can utter incantations that justify their new, more animated, design?
Does anyone even think that UI animations, and animations in advertising, may both be simply manifestations of our innate desire to catch people's attention? Animations are the trend, but would anyone really miss them if they went away? Or worse, are some users actually distracted and impeded by them, but we don't want to know because it's less fun to design a static UI?
I can think of a dozen ways to design a UI with more efficient and accurate inputs than swipes, gestures, and carousels with artificially-induced momentum. Vista and Windows 8 failed miserably. Could it be that the commonality was that their core concept revolved around the assumption that users crave skeuomorphic movement? Will there come a time when someone says, these are all simply subclasses of the now-faded skeuomorphism fad of early UI design, the faux marble bitmaps and the cheesy animated gifs of the early web?
And could they, in some cases, actually be harmful enough that even though we think they are cool, we should always provide a way to switch them off?
And is the worst-case scenario, that we are simply wasting development time, and slowing down the user interface without really adding any value, time that could be better spent because what users really want is better performance, and real functionality?