Magic GIFs

GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format), those animated, flashing monstrosities have been a bane since the early days of the web. They creep, crawl and make web pages dotted with them an exercise in tolerance if the content is worth staying with. Try reading a book with the margins full of flashing lights and jiggly worms – it’s precisely what the numerous Flash and GIF banners on a page do. Extensions like ‘Readability‘ were created exclusively to ensure that all the ‘attention grabbers’ on the page were screened out and the content could be read in peace. All those icons, smileys and neon crawls served to distract rather than focus attention on what they were peddling. They converted web properties into virtual Times Squares, a mass of seething signposts driving visitors to hit the ‘back’ button almost instantly. But with the increasing sophistication of designers, even those previously unusable sites have now morphed into well-mannered catalogs. The wild west has been ‘tamed’

GIFs became popular because they could be used to create animated web banners in extremely small sizes – an essential quality when every kilobyte added to the page loading time. And that’s precisely what they were overused for. Like the street signs in India dotted all over buildings, they managed to stay on precisely because there was no other alternative. Every advertiser wanted their banners to flash and attract attention – so all the development work went into making them as intrusive as possible. A lot like the ‘mouse rollovers‘ that are currently fashionable. Expanding to take up the entire screen when the pointer is moved over the targeted area.

But GIFs as an art form? That’s a first. But by animating just portions of the image and doing it unobtrusively, a design team has come up with what is possibly the best use of combining animation and still photography. The woman is static but her hair flies in the wind. A man reads a newspaper in a crowded street and only the newspaper flips. A quiet restaurant scene is interrupted by a taxi plying in the background every few seconds. A never-ending stream of chocolate pours deliciously into a tray. The effect is artistic, not kitschy. And one tends to linger with these shots. There is something mesmeric about them because they are not video and not completely static either. It looks like this transformation will be worth watching out for – to see where designers can take it.