Using the language of “Transitions” to create more effective information architecture

5 min readDec 12, 2023


Experiences have gaps within and between them. Often, the biggest design opportunities are in these gaps. When attention shifts, when the context changes or when pre-meditated tasks are completed, designers have the opportunity to intervene and bridge the gap. Considering these ‘transitions’ can help you create a more coherent and resilient information architecture that is more likely to support your users to do what they want and help you achieve your objectives.

Scott McCloud describes a set of transitions in his seminal book, Understanding Comics. I’ve adapted his list to talk about information architecture and UX design.

Comics have their own rules and information architecture, just like digital and physical environments. These rules are the often unconscious scaffolding that supports us as we make sense. As designers, when we understand the rules within our design we can reinforce them, exploit them and occasionally break them to create more effective experiences.

Transitions are part of the rules and grammar of experiences. They get us from A to B… and by developing a language to describe these different moments we can expand our information architecture and experience design into what would otherwise be risky gaps. Just like nature, intentional information architecture abhors a vacuum… so I use the following list of transitions to spot gaps that I can fill with additional parts of my designs.

Movement transitions

Experiences often involve moving between places. Digital experiences are no different. Most users think spatially about digital products and services –so whether it’s moving between apps, websites or sections within one of those larger types of place, we need to support movement.

Movement gives a sense of progress. It can also support focus and session optimisation.

Navigation is the most obvious example of movement. But we also see users move through content during consumption — scrolling and the progress of a media scrub bar reinforce the idea of movement.

For each type of transition you can consider where it occurs in your experience and what opportunities or risks it might contain, for example:

  • How could we make movement rewarding?
  • How could we increase motivation to encourage movement?
  • When should we minimize movement?
  • Can we move structures around the user, rather than requiring the user to move?

Action/task transitions

People use products and services to meet their needs. This often sees them complete specific actions and tasks. Sometimes these are targeted and specific — for example, check the current score in a sports match. Other actions are broader and contain more opportunities — for example, check the news headlines. Other actions are broader still — for example, find something to watch later.

Supporting tasks reliably increases trust and perceived value and is associated with ease of use.

  • What tasks must you support to meet the needs of your users?
  • What are the range of ”missions” or session types we need to support?
  • When is it appropriate to distract a user?
  • Which moments represent the biggest opportunities to deliver more value to audiences?

Subject transitions

Content is usually about something. We should be able to support users to focus on a particular topic or subject and change their focus at times and in ways that make sense.

The diversity of subjects your content covers presents both opportunities and challenges for relevance, continuity and the coherence of experiences.

  • How could we build up a picture of interests for the user?
  • How could we form connections between content at a subject-level?
  • What other categories can usefully interrelate content (eg. Format, genre, tone)

Scene/session transitions

People aren’t constantly interacting with your product or service — unless you’re the team behind gravity and/or oxygen, in which case, congrats.

Experiences and reslationships with products and services are mostly split across sessions and devices. Some sessions might be multi-device. Some sessions might be related through deferred or resumed consumption. Other sessions might be purposefully different.

Could you maintain a continuity so each interaction feels as though it benefits from an ongoing relationship, rather than just being a series of one-off transactions?

The value people get from your product and service is likely to be different across each session. How do you optimize interactions to meet specific needs in the moment?

  • How useful is connecting sessions?
  • Where are the biggest opportunities to create cross-session continuity?
  • What potential is there in “hand-offs” and second-device experiences?
  • Should similar products behave differently on different platforms?

Perspective transitions

People change. Their priorities, interests and motivations evolve. Great products and services grow around these changes, just as users grow around the products and services they adopt.

Is your product or service capable or evolving along with the user? Are there changes that your product or service is designed to initiate or facilitate? How do you do this and reinforce any behavioural or attitudinal changes on which your product or service depends?

  • How can you break the continuity of an experience or relationship to introduce something new?
  • What are the most effective ways to surprise and delight the audience?
  • How do you overcome perceptions of irrelevance to expand the users consideration for your products or services?

The power of information architecture

Information architecture isn’t just menus and navigation labels, it’s any structural feature or consideration we introduce to an environment and experience to direct or assist sensemaking. Thinking about transitions is a powerful approach because it extends our influence into moments of change. When we don’t intentionally bridge transitions, it’s more likely that the user will act in an undirected way or use external factors to support the transition. Compare a media playback product with auto-start at the end of a track, episode or playlist. This product manages the transition to encourage more consumption. Without that feature, the user is left to drift within the moment of transition — maybe they’ll explore and find more content, maybe they’ll turn to a competitor, maybe they’ll go outside for fresh air. Our choices can either fill a gap or leave two parts of our experience or environment unbridged and more difficult/effortful to navigate.

Scott McCloud describes the essence of comics as “closure”. He talks about how the comic artist can use art and craft to direct the reader to fill in blanks, but still transmit the story they’re intending to tell. As designers and information architects, we face the same job. We define the boundaries that contain an experience and in turn, these boundaries can define what makes sense within them. When we don’t consider transitions, we lose influence over these moments, so the sense-making is more likely to be provided by competitors or things outside of our design. When we do pay attention to the transitions, we have a much clearer and more intentional definition of what our product or service contains and wherre it ends.




I'm a Creative director at the BBC. I like words, design, data and magic. These are all my own views (apart from retweets. I borrowed those to look clever.)