Have you ever looked at a design and felt like it was moving—even though you knew, logically, that it was a static image? Well, that was no accident.
Movement is one of the core design principles that designers use to breathe life into their designs. So, if it looks like the design is moving, that’s because it was intended that way.
But how, exactly, do you create a sense of movement in a static image? Why is it so important? And what are techniques you can use to make your design elements come to life and appear to be moving on the screen or page?
Before we jump into how to create movement in design (and why it’s important), let’s briefly touch on the different types of movement that exist within graphic design.
Kinetic design relies on movement for effect. Or in other words, kinetic movement has to do with designs that actually move. So, if you create an animated logo or a GIF? That’s kinetic movement.
Ever seen an optical illusion—where it looks like different elements are actually pulsating on the screen or page? That’s motion illusion.
Motion illusion has to do with the way different design elements interact with each other in order to create the illusion of movement.
Rhythmic movement has to do with the way the eye naturally moves throughout the design. You can strategically use lines, forms, colors, and other design elements to guide your viewer’s eye throughout your design in a specific way—a rhythm, if you will—which, ultimately, creates a sense of movement.
The rhythmic design adds a sense of movement to this gymnast painting—and the bright, modern color palette adds visual interest. Want to create your own brightly hued, attention-grabbing designs? Get started with one of Canva’s templates, like the Purple August Celebrant Birthday Instagram Post or the Modern Countdown Instagram Post.
So, before we jump into how to create a sense of movement in graphic design, let’s first talk about why movement in design is so important.
Movement makes for more dynamic images. And while that might not be what you’re going for with every design, if you want your designs to have a lively feel, creating a sense of movement will bring that “aliveness” to your completed project.
There are tons of different kinds of designs that could benefit from a bit of movement. Are you illustrating a picnic scene? Incorporating movement can make it feel like your characters are about to get up, head to the cooler, and grab a PB + J. Designing a poster for a 60s music festival? Incorporating movement into geometric images can create a psychedelic effect that would speak to the era and audience. Want to create a logo that stands out from your competition? Incorporating kinetic elements (like moving shapes) can help set you apart from the pack.
The point is, infusing your designs with a sense of movement can make them feel more impactful, dynamic, and alive—which, in many cases, can be exactly what you need to take your designs to the next level.
Ok, so now that you know the “why” behind movement in designs, let’s cover the “how”—the different strategies and techniques you can use to create a sense of movement in your designs.
If you were the kind of kid who liked to draw stick figures and cartoon animals in the margins of your notebook, you know that drawing a set of lines behind those characters was a universal sign that they were in motion.
It worked when you were 10, and it still works today.
Adding motion lines behind a graphic element is a visual cue that lets anyone who’s looking at your design know that the design element is supposed to be in motion.
You can keep it simple and literally just use lines, or if you want to add more visual interest, you can create a more stylized version (like a comet tail or a water effect).
Let’s take a look at motion lines—and how they can add a sense of movement to your designs—in action:
Why it works: The motion lines in this logo design (which include a slightly blurred effect) make the cheetah look as though it’s in mid-sprint. Not only does this add a real sense of movement to the logo, but it also helps to strengthen the company’s branding (when you have the word “quick” in your business name, movement in your brand designs is a must!).
Strategically placed motion lines can be all you need to add a sense of movement to your designs. Capture the look with one of Canva’s templates, like the Pink and Gray Silhouette Breast Cancer Fundraising Poster or the Blue White Class Fundraising Poster.
One of the best ways to incorporate movement into your designs? Design things that are already in motion.
When you design something that’s already in motion, your viewer will anticipate that element will continue that motion. And, as a result, that movement continues for the viewer.
For example, let’s say you’re designing a book cover for a running memoir. Designing a cover where the runner is already in motion, feet about to hit the pavement? When someone sees that, in their mind’s eye, that runner is going to keep going to the finish line—and so the movement continues off the cover and into their imagination.
Let’s take a look at how using elements that are already in motion can inject a sense of movement into your designs:
Why it works: The four runners in this design may all have different strides, but they’re all clearly in the middle of an intense sprint. Add to this the fact that they’re all running in different directions (and towards different areas of the screen) and you have a design that’s bursting with movement.
Using design elements that depict people already in motion is a great way to infuse a sense of movement (and life!) into your designs. Get the look with one of Canva’s templates, like the Bright Dancing Silhouette Disco Balls Club Party Flyer or the Soft Pink Ballet Dancer Flyer.
When things move quickly, the eye picks up the movement as a blur. So, blurring different elements of your design (like the outline) can help to create a sense of movement when people look at it.
Curious as to how a blur effect can create movement? Let’s take a look at an example:
Why it works: Depending on the direction of each letter, the blurred effect behind the B, L, U, and R in this design make it look as though the letters are moving up, down, and across the page.
Blurring different elements (and blurring them in a strategic way) is a surefire way to add a sense of movement to your designs. Get the movement (and blur) you want in your designs with one of Canva’s templates, like the Hazy Subway Grayscale Kindle Book Cover or the Girl Outdoor Photo Wattpad Cover.
When you incorporate curved elements into your design, it typically forces the eye to move in circular motions throughout the composition in order to process all the elements. This is called optical movement—and, as the name implies, it can create a dynamic sense of movement in designs.
But how, exactly, does that play out in an actual design? Let’s take a look at an example (in fact, one of the world’s most famous and recognizable examples—The Great Wave) of using curves to add movement to a design:
Why it works: In order to fully take in The Great Wave, your eyes need to move across the curved surface of the ocean—and up and across the underside of the wave. This back-and-forth can actually mimic the movement of a churning ocean—which infuses the painting with that same sense of movement as well.
Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” is a masterpiece that can’t be duplicated—but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate a wave (and the resulting movement) into your designs! Capture a wave-inspired look with one of Canva’s templates, like the Brown Blue Water Beach Surfing Water Bottle Label or the Blue Waves Water Bottle Label.
There are some designs that you would swear were moving—but they’re actually not. This is what’s known as an optical illusion (or apparent motion).
When you have a design with a high number of repeated geometric patterns, the eye will actually produce a visual experience of motion—even though nothing is actually moving on the screen or page. Trippy, huh?
Not convinced? The proof is in the pudding (or, in this case, in the optical illusion). Let’s take a look at apparent motion in action:
Why it works: The funnel-shaped design and repeated heart pattern are a one-two punch that make it look as though the hearts in this design are moving in a circular motion (and the closer you get to the sphere in the center of the funnel, the more it looks like the hearts are moving).
You know what movement in graphic design is. You know why it’s important. You know the different ways to create movement. Now, all that’s left to do? Take what you’ve learned, get moving, and start creating movement in your own designs!