When I design new applications, I realized I use a couple patterns that I haven’t seen in much use elsewhere, so I’ll start to blog about them. The first pattern in this series is called morphing.

What is morphing?

Bush-Obama morphing

Morphing essentially describes a state change on an element, transforming it into another. Many UI frameworks have helpers for morphing, usually in the form of class animations. jQuery UI has made it transparent to animate jQuery’s class manipulation functions like addClass, script.aculo.us has Effect.morph which essentially does the same.

Why is it useful?

From a higher level UI perspective, morphing really describes that one element becomes another based on the context. It is essentially very powerful because it gives your users a visual cue what is happening, how is happening and why it is happening. Instead of doing an instant change, the users eye can follow the motion and you therefore give them a better feeling of control over the whole situation.

Show me!

Let’s do an example. While working on smart.fm’s new item builder, I had to visualize the following steps: Clicking on a button to add text, then displaying a text input, and hiding the button since you cannot add text twice. Usually, it would roughly look like this:

However, with morphing, it not only looks hot but solves the issue in style:

This was a particularly lazy example, since it doesn’t even truly morph one item into another – it just animates the width of the button and fades in the input on top. But visually, the element clearly transforms.

Morphing in the wild: Inline editing

One technique that was is heavily inspired by morphing is inline editing. Essentially, you click on a paragraph or element, and it transforms into and editable element. Most solutions don’t actually morph, but you get the idea. There are thousands of other usecases out there waiting to be discovered, and if you have some, I’d love it of you share them with me!