Kinetic typography: Language in motion

Lately I’ve become completely enamored with kinetic typography.

Known as the art of integrating movement with text, kinetic typography is a design concept popularized in 1950s movie title sequences and credits. During this time, filmmakers realized that title sequences could be more than simply an obligatory list of names. Instead, they could be used as a way to capture and hold the attention of viewers from the opening sequence of a feature film until its ending credits. Kinetic typography has seen a resurgence in today’s market; it's now cropping up in commercials and online viral graphic design videos.

Kinetic typography pioneer Saul Bass was an Academy Award-winning filmmaker and graphic designer who created some of the most iconic movie posters and title sequences of that era. Some of his most well-known work in kinetic typography appears in Alfred Hitchcock’s feature films, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest .

Although these opening credits may not look like much by Hollywood's current standards, they are memorable for their extensive use of evocative moving type in expressive fonts, and were the first of their kind. The text itself invokes the intrinsic energy and suspense of the movies.

Kinetic technique

Aside from engaging a viewer’s attention by presenting words to read as well as visually track (like when you want to put a spin on a bland commercial), kinetic typography also uses movement and font selection to evoke emotions, especially when paired with an audio track.

Political speeches also can assume added meaning with kinetic typography when the words being said, and not the speaker, are showcased as the message’s central focus. Take the following short clip of President Barack Obama’s victory speech and pay close attention to how the meanings of particular words are animated for emphasis and gravity. Keep an eye out for font changes too–although only one font is used throughout the majority of the piece, it is changed every so often during key moments.

Due to software like Adobe Flash and After Effects, Maxon Cinema 4D, and Apple Motion (part of Final Cut Studio), the number of amateur and professional kinetic typography pieces—from music lyrics to political speeches—has been growing. The genre is getting popular again.

Perhaps because of the neutrality and disinterestedness that words physically convey, a number of social awareness campaigns have turned to kinetic typography to spread their message and elevate it to a higher level of meaning. Other times however, a simple movie scene can reach a new plane of entertainment by illustrating the sheer absurdity behind every word. Look closely in this typography piece made to Vince Vaughn’s monologue in Wedding Crashers , and notice how kinetic typography aids the pacing and comic timing of the message. Pay close attention to 0:30 and 0:45 of the video to see how the designer uses words and letters as a whole, not clip art like the Obama speech, to embellish the message.

Often, emotion can be lost or mistaken by merely reading words; after all, how many times have you misinterpreted a sarcastic text from a friend on your cell phone? To help mitigate the risk of miscommunication, designers have been using kinetic typography to experiment with how time and motion affect the expression of words and seek to draw out more depth from every piece of text.

While I know that I’d probably get nauseated if every piece of writing was set to some kinetic dance, I cannot help but scope the Internet for new and brilliant typography pieces. In a world where most text is set for the sake of comprehension, kinetic typography is a simple and aesthetically pleasing way for graphic artists to breathe life into seemingly static words.

[Lynn La is a Macworld intern.]

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