Take a Page From the Motion Identity Playbook

If your brand doesn’t move, does it even exist?

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It’s no secret that the social media landscape is changing at a breaking speed. Instagram and TikTok are placing evermore emphasis on video, tweaking their algorithms to favor moving content over static images. Reels are drawing the lion’s share of attention in people’s feeds, and we’re yet to see the full impact of Generative AI on content creation.

Add to all this our ever-reducing attention spans and the challenge is clear: It is now harder than ever for brands to engage audiences without video. The necessity for creating a consistent cadence of content that incorporates motion design and animation is driving a very real need for brands to enhance their visual identities by adding motion identity guidelines.

Beyond ubiquitous phone screens, the sustained benefit of establishing a robust motion identity is that it can add memorability and meaning for a brand in virtually every space and place. While a visual identity system provides the essentials—logo, colors, typography, imagery, icons, patterns—a motion identity expands this toolbox into the realm of video with principles, behaviors, guidelines and templates that establish new dimensions of the brand, such as timing, pacing and rhythm. A library of animation styles can be set for the most-used applications, while flexible guidelines encourage inventive play for special occasions. A great motion identity not only helps engage people in new ways, but also empowers brand teams to be creative, consistent and cohesive anywhere video is essential—which, arguably, is everywhere now.

Here’s how to evolve your design ecosystem to continually captivate your intended audience without investing the time and resources required for a full rebrand

The motion identity playbook

The entertainment industry pioneered the practice of establishing an ownable motion identity for each distinct sub-brand, especially in television. Every TV channel since the 1950s has used motion graphics as the “glue” that lets viewers know what they’re watching, what’s next and what’s new.

As social media platforms prioritize video, screens replace billboards and 5G internet reaches more people, it is vital for all business sectors to learn from the entertainment brand design playbook. The good news is, most established brands already have an extensive visual system and the foundational elements to help establish a motion behavior in place. Pinterest, for example, elevated its existing identity system through motion last year; usage of a motion behavior system that nods to user habits—the tactility of pinning on cork and the process of collaging ideas—brought the brand to life.

The need for distinguishable motion design far exceeds basic functionality: Motion is inherently emotional. It enables a brand to communicate to audiences with a unique style and personality that is emblematic of its brand position. Today, it’s not just entertainment brands that need motion design—every company needs the ability to engage, excite and entertain audiences across all the platforms where video thrives. With so many brands, from Accenture to Zoom, now creating animation and incorporating motion graphics into social posts, the question is how to draw the eye in a way that ties all your brand elements together.

Entertainment brands may have written the book, but what are the translatable rules that any brand can lift from its pages?

Understand your brand essence

To create a cohesive brand experience that resonates with your intended audience, you need to know your brand’s personality, values and target audience inside out. This foundational brand strategy inspires the principles and attributes that can be translated into motion. For example, Sesame Workshop’s approach to education and philanthropy is all about putting children on a positive path. To visually bring that promise to life, the nonprofit’s new motion identity is anchored by an ecosystem of streets and intersections that expand the brand’s visual vernacular.

Think beyond logos

While animated logos are a crucial aspect of a motion identity, we all know there is so much more to a brand design than its logo. A strong, enduring brand needs a flexible identity that can extend into motion on every screen. What are those touch points that matter most—websites, social and video platforms, retail environments, events? Each is an opportunity to create a more meaningful interaction with new and prospective customers. Consider how brand elements such as animated typography, iconography, illustrations or video can combine to underscore the larger brand story. A landscape audit of your brand’s touch points alongside other leaders across the cultural landscape can provide immediate insight into where a motion identity will provide a more cohesive and exciting brand experience.

Create clear guidelines

While off-the-shelf templates are excellent for budding video creators, purpose-built animation toolkits and motion identity guidelines—rules and specifications around position, scale, rotation, easing, depth and layering—are necessities for established brands. These toolkits are designed to connect a brand’s strategy to an ownable style of motion design that differentiates and elevates the brand experience. This supports more emotional brand storytelling and empowers internal teams to implement motion across platforms.

Consistency is key

Maintaining consistency across all motion elements establishes a unified brand identity. This calls for congruous use of color schemes, typography and visual style to ensure a brand is recognizable and travels well across digital platforms. I’m a particular fan of DixonBaxi’s on-screen graphics work for the Premier League—it transfers seamlessly from TV broadcasts to match day marketing, to EA Sports’ FIFA video game.

Test and iterate

One of the best ways for brands to stay culturally relevant and meaningful is to continually evolve. This is the realm of strategic design optimization, where modest investments in evolving a brand offer immediate impacts. Regularly test and refine your motion identity to ensure it aligns with changing audience preferences and platform trends, collecting and analyzing engagement metrics to make informed decisions for further optimization.

Set for success

A motion identity has become a necessity for brands aiming to stay competitive. It helps capture attention, differentiate from competitors and create memorable brand experiences that build both immediate and lasting relationships. What better tool than motion graphics to tell Uber’s evolving story as a platform for global mobility? The company’s 2018 rebrand came at a time of significant change, with new leadership and a strategic shift from growth-focused rideshare company to people-centered platform helping the world move. A new visual identity and motion system tied all the new brand elements together. Five years later, the identity is still going strong. 

By carefully designing and evolving a motion identity, any brand can ensure it stays relevant in today’s video-driven landscape. Go one step further—reverse the typical branding process to make motion identity the primary driver, as entertainment brands do—and you’ll edge ahead of the curve.