Everything old is new again

I've been working in the design and advertising industry for nearly 20-years. So, I am used to seeing trends come, go, and come back again. Whether it's skeuomorphic design, vernacular typography or neon color schemes; I've seen 'em, used 'em and maybe even abused 'em. But I never anticipated the antiquated technology of the GIF to rear it's ugly head again — in a good way.

I have a love/hate relationship with the animated GIF. In the early-90s, I didn't get a job because I didn't know what the GIF89a format was or how to use the software GifBuilder. By the mid-90s, I had built more animated gif banners than I could stand. When Flash came along I—like most of the design community—sighed with relief.

Now, back in the olden days, we had to use GIFs because we had no other option. HTML and Javascript were really only capable of enabling roll-overs and blink tags. Video? It was a pipe dream. Remember, people were still using modems and dial-up. All we had was the GIF, and we had to push it to the very limits to bring motion to the web. 

That's why when Flash—and it's predecessor Shockwave—hit the scene, we all ran to it with open arms. We went from 256 to millions of colors. We went from clunky frame-by-frame animation to tweening and action script. We even got video—when broadband could finally support it.

So, I have to say, I was surprised when the GIF started making a comeback. It got a fancy new name: the cinemagraph. It also got some indie-credibility because it works in the mobile arena. But what I like most about its come back is the fact that it has been reinvented—or to be more accurate—rebranded. It is no longer the technology that made fire burn, flags wave, banners irritate and the web generally an uglier place. The GIF has become a digital art tool. Meme's come to life. Photographs have subtle elegant movement. Cats dance. Is it art? Well, that is for someone else to decide.

September 27, 2012
Theo Fanning ECD

Theo is an illustrator and filmmaker by design, a designer and copywriter by necessity, and his office is living proof that vintage tin toys and crystal skulls can live harmoniously with deer heads and silver emulsion photo cells.