Low Resolution as a Motif

An explanation as to why the GIFs and other images on Tedium look so terrible. It’s an intentional choice.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me how I created GIFs for Tedium, and this was my answer:

(By the way, I was mistaken; it was the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California.)

I’m sure I have to be the only person out there that’s designing graphics in this specific way, so that everything is as low-resolution as possible. So that the “stretching” of GIFs or JPGs looks like an intentional choice, rather than something that was accidental.

The header on the front page of the site is a great example of this. The image, which is a shot of Samuel Langley’s “Aerodrome A,” an early attempt at an airplane that predates the Wright Brothers by a year or two, is cropped and stylized in such a way that it looks like something familiar, but that you can’t place it. Here’s the original JPG that was on the website upon its launch (278kb):

Compare it to the original photo (165kb):

Obviously, I halftoned it, I took out a ton of the colors, and I added a bunch of layers of white on top of it.

But the image, despite all my attempts to modify it for my needs, has always been fairly large. So I’ve played with it. For months, I ran a version of the image in JPG format that was heavily compressed, at about 10 percent quality (57kb):

Whole lot of artifacting on that. It looked bad, but blurry, rather than washed-out. Just recently, in an attempt to further experiment, I switched to a PNG-formatted version that’s smaller in size, about 800px wide, and only includes three colors (58kb):

It keeps the original look, but is much more faded out and, on the site, stretched to oblivion.

The thing is, the average reader isn’t going to notice this, but I love the fact that it’s stretched out and pixelated and kind of looks terrible. Doing this intentionally gives the image the look of a bad copy. In fact, it would be great if I could take this image, print it out on a dot matrix printer or an early HP Laserjet, then copy it on an old Xerox. I want this thing to look like it’s seen some history.

My GIFs are the same way. At first, they were bigger, with more animation, but recently, I’ve been trimming them to be as simplistic and minimalist as possible. Five frames. 24 (or sometimes, 18) colors. Faded to hell.

One of my favorite-ever GIFs for Tedium was for a piece on music charts. I had the idea of showing a pan of a music chart going to the top, kind of like what they did for Behind the Music back in the day. I found an old episode of the show, scanned through, and found the three seconds that showed this pan. That’s the kind of research I do to find GIFs.

This newsletter has very specific uses for GIFs—things that would never be animated otherwise are animated for this newsletter.

The reason is simple—both for the clunky, chunky image style and the willingness to intentionally stretch images: I want the visuals to be part of the story—that, when you open up an issue of Tedium, they feel like a little surprise themselves, like they’re part of the mystery of these weird things I cover.

Because, let’s face it—not enough folks consider the importance of combining words and visuals.

Editor of @readtedium, the dull side of the internet. You may know me from @ShortFormBlog. Subscribe to my thought machine: http://tedium.co/