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kinetic typography

noun [uncountable/countable]

an animation technique involving moving text, usually accompanied by corresponding speech

'… Motion typography (or kinetic typography) refers to the art and technique of expression with animated text. Expressing yourself through animated words with graphics can be really convincing and cool to see. Flying, floating, growing, expanding, turning characters …'

marcofolio.net March 2008

Remember the old adage 'pictures speak louder than words'? Text is conventionally thought of as less instantly expressive than other forms of visual communication, requiring the time-consuming process of decoding the message by digesting and connecting individual words. But what if the words themselves could behave a bit more like pictures, exploring colour, shape and other artistic parameters, and better still, what if they could move? In an attempt to enhance the expressive power of text, these are the techniques employed by kinetic typography. If you're finding this hard to visualise, then before you read on, take a look at our very own example.

defying the conventions of horizontal text, kinetic typography attempts to engage a viewer's attention by forcing them to visually track words which move across, up or down the page

Kinetic typography, sometimes also referred to as motion typography, is known as the art of integrating movement with text. Defying the conventions of horizontal text, it attempts to engage a viewer's attention by forcing them to visually track words which move across, up or down the page. It also uses colour, size and font selection to highlight particular words. This can in turn evoke particular emotions in the viewer/reader, especially when paired with audio using corresponding emphasis and intonation.

In conventional text, words in their physical form are 'neutral', allowing readers the opportunity to distance themselves and their feelings. By contrast, kinetic typography enhances the expressive power of words so that they cause a more immediate, involuntary reaction in the reader. It is for this reason that political and social awareness campaigns have turned to kinetic typography to spread their message. The technique can be used to showcase the words being spoken, rather than the speaker, as this short excerpt from President Obama's victory speech illustrates.

Background – kinetic typography or motion typography

The term kinetic typography dates back to the late 1950s. An early pioneer was Saul Bass, an award-winning film-maker and graphic designer who first used the technique in Alfred Hitchcock's film North by Northwest in 1959. The film's opening sequence featured credits that flew in from off-screen and faded out into the film itself, evoking the intrinsic energy and suspense of the movie.

Due to the availability of animation software like Adobe Flash, Adobe After Effects and Apple Motion, interest in kinetic typography has more recently been rekindled, with the technique growing increasingly popular both in amateur and professional circles.

The adjective kinetic, a scientific term meaning 'relating to movement', has its origins in 19th century Greek kinein which means 'to move'. The noun typography, referring to 'the arrangement of words and letters in a printed document', dates back even further to the 17th century, deriving from French typographie and modern Latin typographia.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 2nd February 2010.

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