Wake up and smell the GIFs

Jul. 02, 2013 | by Kim Slade

When I say animated GIF what do you think of? The answer will probably depend on your personal history with the internet. In fact, when I asked friends in the digital industry, as well as colleagues around the office, I received a mixed response.

Those who have worked with the web since the early days pictured “Under Construction” GIFs and remembered the feeling of progress when they first saw banners moving  - in colour! For others, plastering their Myspace page with ponies and other random pieces of psychedelic clip art was what they remembered best..

The majority see GIFs in a purely humorous light and shared some absolute crackers from boat crashes to failed high-fives, all of which get funnier as the loop goes on, much like a visual form of Semantic Satiation.   GIFs were used as a form of communication, conveying emotion, capturing a moment or a mood.

However, with every one of these memories , affectionate condescension followed, with words like “tacky” “cheap” “crass” “retro” and “cute”. The fact is, most people don’t take them seriously, which is perfectly understandable when you consider the nature of the majority of GIFs on the web, and the technical limitations of the file format.

With a maximum of 256 colours and either a 100% or 0% opacity, traditionally GIFs do not look as good as the technology that has surpassed like flash and html5. However the humble GIF has not just survived, but is clearly more popular than ever and was even named USA word of the year 2012 by Oxford Dictionaries.

The rise of Vine, although it does not use actual gifs, is an indicator of the growing appeal of short, looping, bites of imagery. As our time becomes even more limited, people are looking to the gif to get straight to the point -tell them a story, sum up an event or emotion, and all in just a couple of seconds.

So I think it’s time we change our perception of GIFs and recognise their potential.

GIFs don’t have to be “tacky”, they can be beautiful.  Consider the Cinimagraph, an image where just a small part is selected for animation with mesmerising results. Think of the possibilities for sectors like:

Travel (click to see full size images):




& food:


GIFs don’t need to be “cheap”, they can display and provide valuable information.  Consider using them to kick new life into the hackneyed infographic…


Or as an educational tool…


GIFs don’t need to be “crass”, they can be clever and artistic…


With this apparent new wave of creativity around the file format, and the increasing acceptance of them as an art form, we should no longer look at them as retro and cute, but modern and aesthetic. We should start to see GIFs in a serious light and consider using them for shareable content.


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    Comments (3)

    • Laetitia

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    • Lee

      that travel one is driving me insane. is there a reflection in the binoculars when they hit the vertical or is it just my eyes? WHAT IS IT? aaggghhhh.Jul 17, 2013 05:21 pm

    • jelly

      Really nice blog Kim, you've shared some great examples. Would be interesting to hear from the people who made some of the above gifs and how they put them together.Jul 8, 2013 04:02 pm

    • Matt Foale

      Check out these Gifs from Mr Div. They are a thing of beauty:

      http://mrdiv.tumblr.com/Jul 8, 2013 12:25 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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