Creating GIFs to Explain Charts

Footnotes Cartoon

So who has time to read the small print?

We are in an age where even large print is rarely read.

Unfortunately there a lot of really good charts that require at least a little bit of explanation.  So how do we convey that information to the audience?

Could we use a GIF?

What are GIFs?

Dancing Banana

GIFs, for those who don’t know, are a type of image file that can produce soundless moving pictures.  They can be shown by web browsers and most email applications without the reader even needing to click a button.

For years GIFs have been great internet meme fodder.  With creators often clipping popular scenes from movies and tv shows.  But can we use them professionally?

Let’s give it a try.

I decided to create a couple of GIFs to add a little explanation to charts.  The idea would be to pair the GIF with the chart as a way to add a little context without forcing the audience to fully engage with the chart.

These are just prototypes, what do you think?

Bar Chart Story


Dot Plot Explainer

Dot Plot Explainer GIF

Want to try yourself?

For those that are curious, I used Sketch to create these.

For those of you in the diydatadesign workshop, I created an activity for this where you’ll also find a few alternative methods.


  1. Alee on March 16, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Neat! I have a lot data and I want users to give me more so this is a cool way to show a “ah ha” directly on our intranet. Thank you!

    • Chris Lysy on March 16, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Cool, let me know how it works 🙂

  2. David Keyes on March 16, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Love this idea. Have you seen it in action anywhere?

    • Chris Lysy on March 16, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      It’s definitely used often in software user documentation. You’ll also see GIFs used as a type of motion graphic in visual email campaigns (politicians). But I can’t remember seeing GIFs used as a way to add explanation for charts.

      • David Keyes on March 16, 2016 at 1:18 pm

        Oh yeah, I’ve definitely seen it outside of the world of evaluation. I’m curious if you’ve seen it within this world. I haven’t really, which I think is a shame.

        • Chris Lysy on March 16, 2016 at 1:23 pm

          Another word for it is opportunity 🙂

          Found these in a Google search >
          I’m sure with a little digging we could find some more examples of visual infographics. But I think it’s up to people like us to bring this kind of stuff to the data worlds.

          • David Keyes on March 16, 2016 at 1:32 pm

            Opportunity indeed! I’ve started doing some freelance web design work for researchers and evaluators — another area of opportunity, as too many people and organizations in this area present their public face extremely poorly — with my newly launched company Panenka ( I’m hoping in the longer term to help people see the value in doing more creative and engaging presentation of results. Thanks for charting the way!

  3. Heather Mack on March 17, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Right on the money, Chris. That Dot Plot Explainer GIF is fantastic.
    I just started my eval consulting biz, and still in the learning curve, so there’s no spare room in my brain for your workshop yet. Making time to read this blog feels like an achievement in itself, but I keep coming back because you never fail to spark my creativity and re-energize my passion for this stuff, especially when I get bogged down.
    It’s like a public service 🙂
    Keep up the great work.

    • Chris Lysy on March 17, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks Heather 🙂

      I know I’m biased but I think the workshop would be perfect for you, right now. The discussions have a support group feel to them, filled with busy evaluators who don’t have a ton of time. All the activities are setup to be focused, quick, and just plain useful.

      It’s not the kind of workshop where you need to be in the discussion every week or set aside hours of your time to get value. Join us and let’s add some fun services to your evaluation offerings 🙂

  4. Dowsen on March 18, 2016 at 1:18 am

    This is revolutionary. Great stuff