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Motion can bring the screen to life, guide users through complex experiences, and help move them forward—from here to there, now to next, start to finish—and make progress.

Carbon in motion

Carbon components have motion built in for microinteractions. However, the motion design of the overarching UI — that is, how the components interact with each other and enter and exit the page itself — is up to each product team to implement. Use this guidance to customize, combine, coordinate, and choreograph this aspect of motion in the UI.


Carbon recognizes different types of moments in users’ experience and offers two styles of motion—productive motion, and expressive motion. The motion curves are designed to reflect the duality of man and machine.

Productivity and expression are both essential to an interface. Reserve expressive motion for occasional, important moments, to better capture the user’s attention and offer a rhythmic break to the productive experience.


Curve graphs representing differences between productive and expressive animation curves


Curve graphs representing differences between productive and expressive animation curves

Productive motion

Productive motion creates a sense of efficiency and responsiveness, while remain subtle and out of the way. Productive motion is appropriate for moments when the user needs to focus on completing tasks. Microinteractions in Carbon such as button states, dropdowns, revealing additional information, or rendering data tables and visualizations were all designed with productive motion.

Expressive motion

Expressive motion delivers enthusiastic, vibrant, and highly visible movement. Use expressive motion for significant moments such as opening a new page, clicking the primary action button, or when the movement itself conveys a meaning. System alerts and the appearance of notification boxes are great cases for expressive motion.

Productive moments are labeled in blue, and expressive moments are labeled in magenta.


Strictly linear movement appears unnatural to the human eye. Elements on the screen should speed up quickly and slow down smoothly, obeying the physics of a light-weight material. “Easing curves” describe the precise amount of accelerations in motion. We commonly use one of these three types of easing.

Elements on the screen speed up quickly and slow down smoothly, obeying the physics of a light-weight material.

Avoid easing curves that are unnatural, distracting, or purely decorative. IBM motion is essential and efficient, guiding users to value as quickly as possible.

Do not use easing curves that suggest bounce, stretch, or sudden stops.

Standard easing

Use standard-easing when an element is visible from the beginning to the end of a motion. Expanding tiles and the sorting of table rows are good examples.

StyleIBM Motion packageCSSAfter Effects
Productivemotion(standard, productive)cubic-bezier(0.2, 0, 0.38, 0.9)outgoing 20%, incoming 62%
Expressivemotion(standard, expressive)cubic-bezier(0.4, 0.14, 0.3, 1)outgoing 40%, incoming 70%

Entrance easing

With this style, an element quickly appears and slows down to a stop. Use entrance-ease when adding elements to the view, such as a modal or toaster appearing. Elements moving in response to the user’s input, such as a dropdown opening or toggle switching should also use this style.

StyleIBM Motion packageCSSAfter Effects
Productivemotion(entrance, productive)cubic-bezier(0, 0, 0.38, 0.9)outgoing 0%, incoming 62%
Expressivemotion(entrance, expressive)cubic-bezier(0, 0, 0.3, 1)outgoing 0%, incoming 70%

Exit easing

Use exit-easing when removing elements from view, such as closing a modal or toaster. The element speeds up as it exits from view, implying that its departure from the screen is permanent.

An exception to exits: if an element leaves the view but stays nearby, ready to reappear upon user action, use standard easing instead. A good example of this is a side panel. The panel leaves the view, but slows down as it exits, implying that it would come to rest just outside the view, and ready to be recalled.

StyleIBM motion packageCSSAfter Effects
Productivemotion(exit, productive)cubic-bezier(0.2, 0, 1, 0.9)outgoing 20%, incoming 0%
Expressivemotion(exit, expressive)cubic-bezier(0.4, 0.14, 1, 1)outgoing 40%, incoming 0%

Summary on easing

The IBM motion package has the easing curves stored for fast access. This is the recommended method to call an easing curve and stay connected to receive any future updates.

Easing curveProductiveExpressive
Standard easingmotion(standard, productive)motion(standard, expressive)
Entrance easingmotion(entrance, productive)motion(entrance, expressive)
Exit easingmotion(exit, productive)motion(exit, expressive)

If you are unable to use the above method, cubic-bezier curve notation is the standard way to express easing curves.

Easing curveProductiveExpressive
Standard easingcubic-bezier(0.2, 0, 0.38, 0.9)cubic-bezier(0.4, 0.14, 0.3, 1)
Entrance easingcubic-bezier(0, 0, 0.38, 0.9)cubic-bezier(0, 0, 0.3, 1)
Exit easingcubic-bezier(0.2, 0, 1, 0.9)cubic-bezier(0.4, 0.14, 1, 1)


Duration is calculated based on the style and size of the motion. Among the two motion styles, productive motion is significantly faster than expressive motion. Motion’s duration should be dynamic based on the size of the animation; the larger the change in distance (traveled) or size (scaling) of the element, the longer the animation takes.

Duration contrast between a taller and a shorter component.

When custom duration is possible, please use the Motion Generator to get the customized duration calculated for your element. Carbon uses a non-linear duration scale to achieve better perceived consistency across all distances.

Duration tokens

Dynamic duration is an upcoming built-in feature for Carbon components and a part of the motion package. Currently, there are six static value tokens for easier implementation.

duration--fast-01Micro-interactions such as button and toggle70ms
duration--fast-02Micro-interactions such as fade110ms
duration--moderate-01Micro-interactions, small expansion, short distance movements150ms
duration--moderate-02Expansion, system communication, toast240ms
duration--slow-01Large expansion, important system notifications400ms
duration--slow-02Background dimming700ms


Motion design strategy

Follow these steps to assess your interface for purposeful motion:

  1. Define the goals and values of the product.
  2. Establish information hierarchy within the view.
  3. Identify the journey you will guide users through.
  4. Identify key moments and opportunities for UI motion in the journey. Examples:
    • Give feedback, such as hover states and active state component behaviors like opening a dropdown menu
    • Solutions to a UX need, such as reducing cognitive load with progressive disclosure
    • Providing guidance, such as revealing a call to action to draw users’ attention
  5. Assign or determine either productive or expressive motion
  6. Prototype and test

Evaluation checklist

  1. Is your motion purposeful?
    • What problem is motion solving?
    • Does it enhance the user’s understanding of an action?
  2. Is your motion responsive?
    • Do user actions receive immediate feedback that’s seen and felt?
    • Do micro-interactions use ease-out on user input?
    • Do micro-interactions fall within a static duration ranging from 90–120 ms?
    • If there are large, or full screen, transitions in your product, are there continuous elements in your transition to guide the user?
  3. Is your motion meticulous?
    • Did you use the appropriate easing curves?
    • Is each motion individually considered?
    • Do related movements have a unified relationship with each other?
    • Is the motion effective across all screen sizes? Keep in mind that on mobile screens, subtle motions may be easily missed.
  4. Is your motion unobtrusive?
    • The best interface motion may go unnoticed, because it often keeps users engaged with their tasks. Is your motion frequently noticed by average users? If so, consider removing or minimizing it.

Adaptive interface motion design

A large population of users exist with impaired vision or impaired ability to perceive and handle motion in UI. In addition, not all devices are powerful enough to smoothly perform all the motion you would like, no matter how essential the motion design is. Always provide alternatives for interface state transitions. Consider simplified or reduced motion designs for mobile and tablet. Make sure there is always a way to communicate similar messages statically.