Animated GIFs are great for those moments when words can’t do justice to what you want to say. Really, are there words that could express excitement any better than former Mexican national soccer team coach Miguel Herrera.
GIFs are not just funny ways to express yourself. Researchers and evaluators can use GIFs to communicate findings. Here’s how.
I’ve added all of the animated GIFs to the Outdoor School in Oregon digital report I’ve been working on. Check out the new report in action (you might consider opening it in a new tab so you can follow along) by clicking here or on the image below.
Use GIFs to highlight findings
One of the key pieces of advice that experts in data visualization offer over and over again is to highlight the main finding of each figure using color. GIFs can follow this same principle, with each frame of the animation an opportunity to isolate, and thus highlight a finding.
For example, one of the main findings in my Outdoor School in Oregon report that I’ve been writing about was that participation rates vary tremendously by county. I made a static map of the finding to use in the report.
Now, this is a high-quality visualization. But we can also present the information in a novel way. I made the GIF below, which cycles through the four levels of participation by county (0-25 percent, 25-50, 50-75, 75-100). Each frame of the animation highlights a finding. Because each level of participation is showed individually, the viewer can easily see where Outdoor School is common, and where it is not.
Use GIFs to highlight change over time
GIFs can also be used to show change over time. In my report, there is a graph that shows how long schools have had Outdoor School programs.
I can show this same information using an animated GIF that shows the growth of Outdoor School programs. As the GIF cycles through the years, more and more Outdoor School programs are added to the map. The dynamic nature of this type of visualization takes advantage of the online medium. The growth is quite amazing!
Use GIFs to show more complete information
GIFs can also let you show more information than is possible in your report. For example, in one section of my Outdoor School report, I showed that some camps hosted schools from across the state while others only hosted local schools. To show this finding, I used two representative camps.
Presenting the same finding in GIF form, I can include all of the camps, cycling through to show the difference between camps. Not only, then, does this make great content to share to engage potential readers, it also allows you to elegantly share more information than your report makes possible.
Added benefit of using GIFs: online engagement
Using GIFs have the added benefit of being eye-catching. How frustrating is it to work on research for months only to see it read by just a few people? Using GIFs has been shown to increase engagement online. Want to post something on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn and get people to click through to read your report? Using an animated GIF of several key findings can help!
How did I do this?
I know what was you’re asking: oh wow, this is super cool! How did you make these GIFs? I used an R package called gganimate that allows you to make animated GIFs. It makes a series of plots and then animates them automatically. Super cool. If you’re not an R user, you could make a series of graphs and then stitch them together into an animated GIF using something like Giphy. I’ve never done it, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.