Be Present

Digital Design Thesis Project 2021

Thesis Question

How might a motion design narrative inform young adults about the damage that continual smartphone use can cause during in-person interactions?


It is estimated that 5.6 billion people own a smartphone, with most users being between the ages of 18 to 30. This age group is more influenced by smartphones, and make up to 77% of smartphone users (Cell Phone Addiction, 2019). While smartphone use is becoming more and more common, it increases the potential to expand our social connections and maintain or enhance our relationships with friends and family. However, it also has unintended negative consequences on immediate social interactions, as its presence serves as a constant reminder of the broader social network that is potentially available. People may often disengage from their present company to attend, either in thought or action, to other people or events elsewhere in cyberspace. They have become so much a part of young adults’ lives that many do not realize their level of dependence and/or addiction to their cell phones (Roberts, 2015). So how might a motion design narrative inform young adults about the damage that continual smartphone use can cause during in-person interactions?

There are three major forms of narrative that have been researched over the years. They include personal narrative, historical narrative, and informational narrative. Personal narratives tell stories about significant events in one’s life and research shows that is one of the most common narratives used in social interactions. Historical narratives or historical documentation are stories that help people understand the past. The final narrative is informational. In a study about health communication and behavior change, it was found that these narratives are meant to inform or change the viewer’s attitudes or behaviors towards a specific topic (Lee et al., 2016). This form of narrative can have a powerful influence that can enhance one’s health and awareness, as they help people to make sense of the things happening in their lives. It is proven in research that the more one becomes engaged or immersed in the narrative the more the narrative has the potential to affect the attitudes and beliefs of the listener (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009). All this together suggests that narrative can be a powerful tool to inform and persuade an audience.

It is important to note that the concept of narrative has been around for a very long time, and uses concepts of experience, time, process, and change. It is proven through history and research that it is in our nature to tell stories and these stories often inform others of life events. In the beginning we told visual stories on the sides of caves. As most people are visual learners, drawings were an effective way to tell stories because they were a universal language that could be understood and appreciated by most (Mendoza, 2015). Visual narratives allow us to understand the world around us. The way we tell these narratives have changed overtime with the evolution of technology, specifically with smartphones. Even though these new technologies have allowed us to tell narratives to a broader audience, many researchers agree that the generation that has grown up with them have experienced negative impacts to their in-person conversations (Allred & Atkin, 2020; ROBERTS et al., 2014; Roberts et al., 2015; Thornton et al., 2014; Twenge, 2017).

People born between 1995 and the present will grow up with cell phones with most not remembering a time before the internet and many having some form of social media before they reach high school (Twenge, 2017). Research shows that the arrival of cell phones have changed this generation’s lives and many have become dependent on these small personal devices. They are often the first and last thing they see each day. They keep people up to date with what is happening in the world around them while also allowing them to keep in touch with friends and family (Beavis, 2013; Gladden, n.d.; “The Smartphone Generation,” 2018). However, it has also changed how people behave in social interactions and in some cases have really affected some people’s mental health. In a study, Twenge (2017) found that this generation now prefers texting over actual conversation and that the more time they spend on their phones rather than in in-person conversations, the more they feel a sense of loneliness. It is important to note that even though this generation does participate in face-face conversations with their peers, they are often distracted by their phones. Making some feel as though they like their phone more than they like the actual people they are with.

Communication is an important aspect of human development but it is shown that our ability to talk in person is diminishing. We learn to talk when we are young and over the years, we develop our communication skills through face-to-face interactions. Every person is at a different level when it comes to their communication skills, whether they be shy or outgoing, but our ability to communicate is also affected if we participate in less in person conversations. As people participate in less in-person conversations, the degree in which they are willing to engage also diminishes (Allred & Atkin, 2020).

Smartphones have become so much a part of young adults’ lives that many do not realize their level of dependence and/or addiction to their smartphones (Roberts, 2015). They have become an almost invisible driver of modern life that could be a problem to the future of in-person conversations. A motion narrative can be used to show this generation the merits of in person interactions and to put down their phones when participating in social interactions. Many campaigns have implemented narratives into their ads, and many have been successful. Even with just starting conversations between people about their attitudes and beliefs. An example of a successful public interest campaign, that happened in the last decade, was ‘Dumb Ways to Die’. Research shows that this campaign capitalized on the potential of new media platforms to promote their message in an effective way (Beavis, 2013). They wanted to reach a younger audience that usually does not want to hear safety messages and it was successful at doing so. It shows that a narrative used effectively and presented through motion on a device that most use every day, can be effective at helping to change people’s behavior, knowledge, and attitudes towards a topic.

Motion is a powerful tool that creates an emotional connection with the viewer far quicker than any other content platform according to Josh Miles (Miles, 2015). However, it takes a delicate balance of different components in order to achieve a great motion piece; from the initial storyboard faze to the audio mixing. The time it takes to accomplish this balance becomes worth it in the end as according to a 2014 Levels Beyond survey, 40% of consumers said they would rather watch a brand video than read the same information (French, 2017), and that number will only continue to rise as people continue to consume a massive amount of content each day. They are also great to use because they are usually not too long which is good, as people’s attention spans become shorter and shorter. 

When an issue or problem is combined with a motion narrative it helps us to understand it on an emotional level. The way in which stories have been told has changed over time with the most recent commonly used form being through the use of technology. The introduction of the smartphone really revolutionized the way we tell our own stories and communicate. Though they do help us stay connected, they have negative consequences to our in-person conversation which seems to be more relevant with young adults. A generation that has grown up with smartphones. Digital storytelling has become an effective way to engage with this generation and can help change people’s attitudes and beliefs.


Mood Board


Have you ever felt ignored during in person conversation because the person you were with was on their phone? Did it make you feel like you were not as important to them as their phone? This motion video will show a quick story about how someone might feel when the people they are with are on their smartphones. By showing these emotions that others have probably felt at one moment or another, we elicit an emotional response from the viewer that may encourage them to be actually present in their in person conversations.


This story will show viewers a variety of emotions that a person might have while being ignored by someone on their phone during an in person interaction. The goal is to try to portray this emotion without narration. To do this the piece will focus on the characters movements and the changing color palette with grey tones showing sadness and bright tones showing happiness. The color of the main character will also slightly change to emphasise their emotions. The goal is to show people how others feel when you are distracted by your phone. The overall style will be a cute simplified 2D feel with gradient texture added to create dimension. The piece will start out happy then will show how the main character slowly gets more annoyed by the other character. They will then transition to feel a little bit sad, followed by angry. Over the whole piece, slight humor will be added to make the viewer smile and make the piece memorable. The music audio will be mixed to match the actions of the main character with audio sweetening added to make their movements come to life.


Style Frame

Works Cited

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