What Skills Do You Need To Become an Animation Designer?

Marissa Sapega, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

An animation designer creates animated designs and special visual effects for a variety of media—such as websites, video games, and movies. Animation is a crucial design and branding tool, and designers with animation skills are an essential asset to any team. The nature of the job depends on team makeup and project, but generally, animation designers are responsible for a variety of design tasks, including animation, wireframing, storyboarding, writing, and more.

So what skills do you need to become an animation designer? Because the position can encompass so many different things, it requires more than just artistic ability. Animation designers must possess a varied skill set to be successful at their jobs.

While challenging and complex, an animation designer’s job can also be immensely fulfilling. In this post, we’ll explore the essential skills (both hard and soft) and qualifications you need to break into animation design.

We’ll cover:

  1. What does an animation designer actually do?
  2. What qualifications do you need to become an animation designer?
  3. What are the key hard skills for animation designers?
  4. What are the key soft skills for animation designers?
  5. How to start learning animation design
  6. Key takeaways and next steps

Ready? Let’s go.

1. What does an animation designer actually do?

In a nutshell, animation is the process of adding motion to UI elements to enhance the interactivity of a digital product. Engaging, interactive visuals not only help to create a memorable user experience; they also serve to guide the user, helping them navigate an interface and complete their desired tasks, whether thats logging in to an account, completing a purchase, or anything else in the user journey!

An animation designer (or a UX or UI designer with animation skills) is responsible for creating these interactive, animated elements. So how do they actually do it?

Many people think that an animation designer’s role is limited to churning out drawings that will eventually come together in a full-fledged animation. To be fair, that is a big part of their job. Whether it’s hand-drawn characters that they scan into a computer or pixel-based creations they dream up on their laptop, animation designers do spend quite a bit of time drawing.

But they are also responsible for other aspects of creating an animation, including brainstorming concepts with team members, transforming their static drawings into smooth, engaging animations using special UI animation tools, drafting storyboards, and more. As part of a team, animation designers are frequently responsible for writing and editing scripts and prototyping new products.

To learn more about this role, here are 5 animation guidelines UX and UI designers should follow.

And you can learn more about UI animation and what it actually entails in this guide, and get a glimpse into a typical day in the life of an animation designer here.

For now, let’s take a look at the skills and qualifications you might need to become an animation designer.

2. What qualifications do you need to become an animation designer?

A job with such a broad range of responsibilities necessitates an extensive set of skills, many of which a fledgling designer can acquire through education and on-the-job training. The exact skills and qualifications needed depend on the industry you want to work in, but generally speaking, animation designers need a solid foundation in user interface (UI) design, together with some knowledge of key user experience (UX) principles. Once you’ve got those, you can go on to learn the specifics of animation design. With that in mind, here are some qualifications a prospective animation designer will find helpful, if not necessary, to get started:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in design (web or graphic), fine arts, or computer animation: A degree in one of these areas will teach students the fundamentals of drawing and design. This background will well serve animation designers who spend a good portion of their days creating imagery. A Bachelor’s degree in one of the previously mentioned fields will also help budding animation designers become comfortable working with computer software to create visual compositions and concepts.
  • Industry certification: As the field of animation design grows more popular, an industry certification will help candidates stand out from their peers. The certification itself does not have to be in animation design, either. Animation designers will benefit from several different curriculums (such as UI design) because much of the core education is highly relevant to animation design.
  • Internships: While not a requirement to become an animation designer, internships can be incredibly beneficial for acquiring hands-on experience and building relationships in the industry.

It’s important to remember that there is no single path into animation design, and there are many different ways to get there. Whether you opt for a college degree, a design bootcamp, or self-taught tutorials, the most important thing is to learn the necessary hard and soft skills in such a way that allows you to apply them in a real-world setting. So what are the necessary skills for a career in animation design? Let’s take a look now.

3. What are the key hard skills for animation designers?

Whether you’re weighing up a career transition or evaluating certification or higher education course offerings, it’s essential to understand what key hard skills you’ll need as an animation designer. Because animation designers are often responsible for a broad set of tasks, these hard skills are quite wide-ranging. Here are some fundamental competencies an animation designer should possess:

  • User research: All good design starts with user research, so an understanding of user research techniques is key. Even if you’re not leading the user research, it’s important that you understand the audience for whom you’re designing
  • Interaction design: When designing for any kind of digital experience, it’s essential to understand how a user will interact with the product. This means getting to grips with core interactive design principles, such as consistency, cognitive load, and affordance
  • 3D modeling/CGI: This involves manipulating vertices in a digital 2D environment to form a “mesh,” which will ultimately become the computer-generated imagery (CGI) 3D object
  • Editing/writing: Crafting and editingcontent for scripts, narrations, or voiceovers (especially if you’re using your animation skills in the context of advertising, gaming, or movies)
  • Prototyping: Transitioning a concept from brainstorming to the first stage of “life,” often by creating a very rough approximation of the final product. You’ll find a complete guide to prototyping here.
  • UI design: Focusing on a user’s visual experience with a digital product. We explain exactly what user interface (UI) design is in this guide
  • UX wireframes and storyboarding: Visually documenting the entire experience a user can expect when engaging with a product. A wireframe sets out the bare bones of a digital product, while a storyboard visualizes each individual frame that makes up an overall sequence or motion
  • Graphic design: Creating images using computer software
  • Animation: Transforming a host of single frames into an animated video (and editing it) using animation software

Employers will also be looking for knowledge of industry tools, such as Adobe After Effects, InVision Studio, and Animate.CSS. We’ve rounded up some of the most important UI animation tools here.

4. What are the key soft skills for animation designers?

A stellar education will help prospective animation designers to learn the core skills they’ll need to competently perform their jobs, but there are several “soft” skills that will enable them to work smoothly and effectively with others. Here are some of the top soft skills animation designers can leverage for success:

  • Creativity: As an animation designer, people will constantly look to you to provide all types of innovative, engaging content.
  • Collaboration and communication: Animation designers work as part of a team; as such, they need to be willing to compromise, support other members, communicate clearly and promptly, and never lose sight of what will help the team (not just them personally) succeed.
  • Organization and project management: Juggling concurrent projects and varied tasks takes discipline and organizational skills to stay on top of priorities.
  • Time management: Animation designers, like everyone else on their team, are often under strict deadlines, necessitating an almost obsessive dedication to time management.
  • Attention to detail: To create flawless animations, surface typos in scripts, and consistently perform at the high level required by the job, attention to detail is a must-have skill.
  • Ability to take feedback and criticism: The ability to put the team’s success before your ego is perhaps one of the most undervalued soft skills an animation designer can possess.

5. How to start learning animation design

If you’re brand new to the design field, start by exploring user interface (UI) design and familiarizing yourself with key concepts such as user research, wireframing, color theory, and typography. After an initial exploration of the field, consider formalizing your UI design skills with a certification program or course. If you’ve already got a solid design foundation, you can dive straight in with animation. You can start by reading up on the different types of animation, and experimenting with various industry tools. From there, start checking out some UI animation tutorials for beginners. Again, you may wish to formalize your skills further down the line with a specialized course. At the same time, remember to hone those key soft skills we highlighted in section four. In fact, you’re probably already applying some of them to your current job, so start thinking about how you might transfer them to a design-focused role. Whichever route you take, we recommend reading up on the field in  more detail and making sure it speaks to your interests, natural abilities, and career plans.

6. Key takeaways and next steps

An animation designer’s job is not easy by any means. It requires discipline, creativity, and a dedication to supporting a team and keeping on top of design trends. Yet, if it’s the right fit for your skills and temperament, it can also be incredibly gratifying. Of course, being successful in this role is contingent on your competency in many of the essential skills mentioned in this article, such as UI and interaction design, animation, writing, time management, and collaboration.

If you’re interested in switching jobs or starting your professional career as an animation designer, try a free UI short course to better understand if it’s the right role for you. To learn more about the exciting field of UI design, check out the following:

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