Monday, February 02, 2015
by Dan Sharp

Art of the Post-GIF

You know what your website needs? A super-cool-wicked animated flame and an insane-awesome spinning metallic logo. More specifically, you need a GIF!

The original GIF specification came out in 1987. Early internet users chose this format when designing their web pages because of the small file size and the fact that you could embed animations easily. At one point on the web, you couldn’t move without tripping over a flashing 3D glass lozenge button or ducking to avoid the sharp point of a spinning lightning bolt. Clearly, we had too much of a good thing and change was just around the corner.

A trend for cleaner, more sophisticated web pages was being developed and the GIF was dead. Whilst some were visibly crying at the funeral, most were happily kicking the last mounds of soil over the coffin.

Crucially, the GIF suffered because its use was restricted not by the code, but by the creator. A generation of pro and amateur developers were still finding their feet in the world of online design, struggling to discover an innovative use for a format that was always going to be influenced by the design aesthetic of the 90’s.

Look closely however and you’ll find the GIF alive and well today and driving new ideas in everything from online commerce to high art. In the mid-to-late 2000’s, GIFs experienced an explosion of interest and innovation, fuelled by meme culture and the emergence of platforms like Reddit and Tumblr. Suddenly the format was transcending its core purpose and creative minds were thinking of new ways to use, and manipulate, the very code.

Whilst many were content with launching a pop-tart singing cat with a rainbow trail through space, others were lifting the hood, yanking at wires and seeing what happened. Over in the more mainstream circles, patterns were being looped with hypnotic effect, cut-and-paste enthusiasts were pushing the envelope of their own art and photographers were recycling old concepts through this new, exciting filter. The post-GIF was born, a new era for an old format.

It’s not surprising that these explorations in art and culture eventually informed the design decisions of web developers, influencing technique, style, colour, content, and juxtaposition. Now more than ever we are using the GIF as a innovative tool, rather than a simple image.

We have come full circle, something that Denfield is more than aware of, as we regularly use animated GIFs on websites and email campaigns to enhance the user experience. Art is a powerful and important part of our web culture and one of the things we reference when thinking up our next innovative online project.