Kinetic typography as a storytelling technique

by Lauren M. Rabaino

You’ve seen the technique before. On TV commercials, on viral music videos, as user-created fan art — words swooping into the screen with flashy graphics while a narrator speaks over it. The technique is called kinetic typography (fancy way of saying “moving text”) and it’s an engaging way of relaying words and stats to your audience.

Put simply, kinetic typography is the practice of telling a text-based story through animated words, supplemented by graphics, charts, photos and/or video.

How journalists can apply the technique to storytelling

There’s huge value in being able to tell a story that people will read all the way through– from start to finish– and then share with all their friends and family. Kinetic type lends itself to exactly that kind of attentiveness and shareability.

I’m not alone in watching those videos all the way through, every time. We’re of a visual era. We like seeing content in a way that engages us, a way that attracts our full attention. These videos are addicting — but not just because they’re fun. You walk away from them with a new wealth of knowledge that is easily digestible and thus easily retainable.

From a journalistic standpoint, kinetic type has the most potential for effectiveness when used for stories that have massive amounts of data and statistics.

There are a few examples of news outlets already using kinetic type as a form of storytelling. GOOD Magainze (disclosue: I’m a huge GOOD fangirl), does it best in videos that integrate graphics, typography and other animation with narration and text:

News21, a student reporting project led by 12 of America’s leading research universities, does an incredible video series on “A Changing America,” and last year’s intro video made great use of kinetic type (focusing more on the graphic aspect that the typography):

The Economist and Shift Happens partner every year to do a “Did You Know?” video which includes statistics focusing on the changing media landscape. This example shows the power of pure text and graphics without any narration:

Kinetic type has been proven as an engaging format for storytelling in other arenas already:

  • Mainstream advertisers: I first saw the technique used on a Ford F150 ad and fell in love with it. Starbucks also used kinetic type for an ad promoting their free coffee on election day.
  • Random people just for fun: Just search “kinetic typography” on YouTube and you’ll find tons of examples from people who make fan-art style videos using scenes from their favorite movies or excerpts from their favorite books. As a testament to the viralness associated with kinetic type videos, take a look at the number of views per video– some have hundreds of thousands.
  • Public relations and advocates: Kinetic type is especially powerful as a means of persuasion. If you have an agenda or viewpoint to push, kinetic type can be mixed with the right typeface, graphics and background music to make it particularly compelling. (Update: a great example of this is from Mindy McAdams in the comments — The Girl Effect— a video about a solution to poverty).

How to do it

To create a kinetic-type-style video with all the bells and whistles, you ideally need Adobe Illustrator and Adobe After Effects. This will allow you to do all the cool zooming, blurs and other effects. (Note: You can mimic the same effect using a series of images and adding a new word to each subsequent image, then dumping them into iMovie or SoundSlides, but it’s not efficient and I don’t recommend it.)