Meaning in Motion: An Interview with Val Head

Val Head is a designer and web animation consultant with a talent for getting designers and developers alike excited about the power of animation. She's also the author of The CSS Animations Pocket Guide, and the forthcoming Meaningful Motion, published by Rosenfeld Media. We caught up with the busy designer, developer, educator, and consultant to find out which juicy bits of web goodness most inspire her creatively—and what makes for a great animation experience on the web.

Image: Jeffrey Zeldman

How'd you get your start in design, and on the web?

Neither design nor the web were ever things I thought I'd be doing as a career. I started getting into design in university when my band needed flyers and artwork made. Design was never a thing I gave much thought to before then, but the more I had to design, the more I liked it.

Soon after that, the band needed a web presence and I had to learn how to do all that design stuff on the web. Thankfully, I had some friends who knew web development and were willing to tell me all about how the web worked over drinks after shows. Something about the web really stuck with me, and I've been doing it ever since.

What are some tools, tricks, and/or techniques you can't work without?

These days I'm finding tools like CodePen and both Chrome's and Firefox's animation inspection tools invaluable for designing quick web animation prototypes. Using CodePen and the browser tools together lets me work quickly and see exactly what's happening visually, which saves so much time.

Sketch has become a bigger part of my workflow lately, too. That's one I put off using for a while, but it just finally clicked with me during a recent project, and now I really like it.

What would you say is the most overlooked aspect of web design?

The people part of the web often gets overlooked. Sometimes we're so distracted by the latest framework or trend that we forget that we're making things for people in the end. Designing a thing that works for the audience it's intended for is more important than what tools we use to build it, but that sometimes gets lost.

What has you most excited these days?

So many things! But the biggest thing I'm excited about right now is my upcoming book, Meaningful Motion. We're finishing up the last few edits and details, and then it will be published by Rosenfeld Media this summer. It's my first full-length book and the writing process has been quite an adventure. After spending the last few months so focused on writing, I'm really excited to be able to share it with everyone soon!

You're giving a talk called “Designing Meaningful Animation” this year at AEA. It's clearly about animation, but what will people take away from it?

It is about animation! That's a big theme for me right now. More specifically, the talk is about looking at animation as a design tool and communicating meaningfully with it. Just like type or color, animation has something to say within your designs.

In the talk, I walk through an example of how you can use a few key classic animation principles to match animation to the rest of your design. Then, looking at the bigger picture, I discuss some techniques for choreographing all your interface animations to work together as a whole, plus ways to document these design decisions in your style guide to save time in the future. It's all about treating animation as part of a design system.

Val will bring “Designing Meaningful Animation” to An Event Apart Washington DC, July 25-27; An Event Apart Chicago, August 29-31; and An Event Apart Orlando: Special Edition, October 3-5. Don't miss out on this essential information—plus eleven other great presentations for people who create digital experiences.