Infographics have taken the online world by storm as they have swiftly become the primary way to get information across graphically in the way that social media participants prefer: At a glance. Although there is a broad range of creativity to be witnessed in the infographic field, at some point we have to face up to the reality which is that most infographics resemble each other. There really does exist such a thing as the Universal Infographic Look (UIL) and if you are trying to break out from the crowd the best way is not to venture into the extremes of Dadaist art, but to put your infographic in motion through the old internet standby format of animated gifs.

Cylon eyevisor oscillating laser beams

Animated gifs formed the stereotype of the early web where it seemed that every page available online was marred by shooting stars, rolling buttons, and Cylon eyevisor oscillating laser beams. It would be wrong to blame the format for the egregious violations of taste and aesthetics which were rampant in the Nineties, as animated gifs have many virtues which can be readily implemented by the infographic designer in order to abandon the UIL and seek out new infographic horizons.

Animated gifs are limited to 256 colors

Unlike a Flash or HTML5 design you can’t just plunge in and start tossing around all sorts of image animations at your animated gif infographic. Designing an animated gif which actually looks and works correctly takes some fundamental understanding of the format itself. An animated gif is limited to a palette of (yikes!) just 256 colors. To a generation raised on 32 bit color where the hues available range in the millions, this may seem like a throwback to Clinton Administration. That factor does not equate to the abandonment of the animated gif format for a great-looking infographic, but does require some fairly serious planning.

Avoid photorealism and graduated screens

For the type of graphics which constitute the UIL, the animated gif format can work beautifully as many are actually limited in color range. Remember, you can have any color you want as long as the total number of colors does not exceed 256. So if you avoid lifelike images and problematic designs like graduated screens, the animated gif can be the infographic designer’s best friend. You have to be very careful when crafting every element in your infographic to ensure that you are well within the 256 limit as if you exceed it your graphic will degrade to that familiarly icky “animated gif look” where the colors are dithered to the point of pointillism.

The animated png has a problem: It doesn’t work

Before you start designing your animated gif around that ridiculously restrictive 256 color palette you might want to ask why you shouldn’t just use the animated gif’s younger and more technically hip cousin, the animated png which handles 24 bit images with aplomb? The answer to that is simple, as although the animated png format excels at all the aspects which make animated gif designers rip their hair out in frustration, it is not an officially supported format so works sporadically if at all on various platforms. The animated gif may have its retro limitations but it’s as common and platform friendly as garden-variety ASCII.

An 800×800 patch is a smaller file than a 40×40 photo

Another factor you have to consider is that it’s easy to get your file size to gargantuan unless you design your animated gif infographic properly. In the animated gif world, a patch of 800 x 800 pixels of one color might result in a file with fewer bytes than a photorealistic 40 x 40 thumbnail so keeping your colors big and constant is going to prevent file bloat. Also keep in mind that your animation speed is limited to no faster than 10 frames a second which isn’t exactly Cineplex smoothness. Avoid swoops/morphs and other graphic maneuvers that require smooth display and you’ll be fine.

To the savvy designer the animated gif format brings innumerable benefits in animating infographics which break away from the evil UIL!