Choosy Designers Choose GIFs

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August 28, 2013

Gif provided by: Matthew DiVito. Click on the image to view more of his awesome work.

I don’t love to comment on new design trends. The moment we try to make sense of them is the moment another surfaces. The success, or lack there of, for specific design aesthetics should be discussed on a case by case basis. All designs have different viewpoints, contexts, brand ingredients and requirements. With that being said, I feel there is one current trend in particular within the realm of web design that I feel is of some value; the use of GIFs in email marketing.



History, Controversy & Popularity

Animated GIFs have had a bit of controversy in the media recently. As it’s creator, Steve Wilhite was honored this year for a Webby Lifetime Achievement award, he accepted the award with none other than an animation of his own design that stated “It’s pronounced JIF not GIF”. That sent Twitter and other popular social media outlets buzzing while news syndicates couldn’t stop writing about it. As web developer Steve Olsen explains, employees that worked with Mr. Wilhite corrected them when they pronounced it with a hard G with “Choosy developers choose GIF”.

This format of short animation quickly became popular in the early 90’s and with that popularity resulted in an overabundance and abuse of the format. Soon it became a kitschy trend. The same reason that shelved this popular format a decade ago would also become a big reason for it’s comeback; a loud and flashy visual that can show meaning rather than say it.

A Time & Place

The first time I saw an animated GIF being used in the last couple of years was for a Twitter profile image. I thought it was a bit too distracting, therefore I stopped following that user. For almost a year now, Twitter has actually stopped supporting animated GIFs for profiles. There is certainly a time and place for this specific design trend and that brings me to it’s recent usage in email design.

GIFs for Joy

Yes, these little animated bits of joy can be funny and sometimes pretty entertaining, but where can these actually be used to support a good marketing message? Why not in a marketing email where 50% of the time users already chose to view images as well as in a context that is much more openminded to different types of content.

Exhibit A

Boden has used a GIF to show different variations in the products they offer. If the red doesn’t suite you, you can get it in yellow. They didn’t use a GIF just to be eye-catching, there is a concept here that showcases the actual product.

Exhibit B

This email graphic for the film Looper is even more subtle in it’s construction. Yet the idea behind the animations support the movie’s overall theme.

Exhibit C

Mail Chimp, an email marketing company, addresses the use of GIF’s in this short blog post. They promote the use of GIFs with their software but on a good content = good email basis. They use this animation technique to show a few features in their software. The use of animation here is perfect because you can show actual interaction and change in screen view.

Use GIFs Appropriately

When used strategically and appropriately this small bitmap can turn any email into something fun and interesting. Using it inside your email marketing with a certain amount of finesse can create mood and can, at times, be used to improve the experience over static images. I’m not saying you need to use this on every email you send out, but if the concept you are trying to convey can utilize the animation to help get the concept across, animate away!

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