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How (and Why) to Use Contrasting Values in Motion Design (Quick Tip Tutorial)

Jacob Richardson and Ryan Plummer

Master Motion Designer and SOM Alum Jacob Richardson Breaks Down the Dos and Don'ts of Designing with Value and Contrast

Many motion designers are quite keen on complexity. Rightfully so, since tricky designs can be great attention grabbers. They can't, however, mask or compensate for weak fundamentals.

When it comes to the basics, there's probably nothing more important than understanding contrasting values.

School of Motion alum Jacob Richardson, a Birmingham-based freelanced 2D animator and director, has developed a Quick Tip Tutorial video on value-based design.

If you've yet to master using lightness and darkness to design effective compositions, this brief tutorial is for you.


What is Value-Based Design?

Simply, value-based design refers to creating forms and signifying space or distance, or creating forms or the illusion of volume or mass within a shape or space, by adjusting relative lightness or darkness; or, how much tint (addition of white) or shade (addition of black) there is in a color.

The difference in contrasting values helps the eye separate elements of an image and understand the design being presented.

Images with high values express lightness, airiness, or openness; images with lower values express darkness, weight, or gloom.

In the illustrations below, Jacob demonstrates what happens when you adjust values (right), and when you don't (left). The fishbowl on the left is designed with different colors; however, since the values of all the colors are so similar, the illustration is difficult to decipher. On the right, that same fishbowl displays distinctly, with adjustments to the color values.

Value Based Design - Good vs Bad Fish Bowl Example.png


If the above illustration hasn't sold you, think about this.

What happens when you hit the street for a run at night, dressed in dark colors, without your reflective gear? You risk getting run over by a moving vehicle. Why? You blend in with your surroundings — no contrast! Now, imagine that same run at that same hour, outfitted with bright white sneakers, a neon jacket, arm bands, and a headlamp. You've significantly improved your chances of returning home in one piece. How? With your safety attire, you've leveraged contrasting values to increase your visibility, against your surroundings — exactly what artfully contrasted values achieve in dynamic design.

Below is a real-world design example. With its Samsung Galaxy Note 10 ad, Verizon achieves the desired effect with its stark, heavy, bold black text and phone shadow against the bright white background.

Value Based Design - Verizon Branding Example.png

For more on "making dynamic compositions" with contrasting values, watch this Design Theory video from The Futur, starring Matthew Encina:


Value and contrast are two of the many terms you'll need to know to excel as a motion designer.

Learning the lingo makes it easier to successfully complete continued education courses, collaborate with other designers and search online for tips. That's why we created The Essential Motion Design Dictionary, featuring 140 of the most important terms and concepts in the field.

Download it free today:



While our free online tutorials can make a major difference in your motion design career (try this one, for example), to truly take advantage of what SOM has to offer, you'll want to enroll in one of our courses, taught by the top motion designers in the world.

We know this isn't a decision to be made lightly. Our classes aren't easy, and they're not free. They're interactive and intensive, and that's why they're effective.

In fact, 99.7% of our alumni recommend School of Motion as a great way to learn motion design. (Makes sense: many of them go on to work for the biggest brands and best studios on earth!)

Want to make moves in the motion design industry?

Pick the course that's right for you:


You'll gain access to our private student groups; receive personalized, comprehensive critiques from professional artists; and grow faster than you ever thought possible.

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