So much can be said with a GIF. It can be an exaggerated reaction, a visual analogy to something said in a conversation, or simply a non sequitur to punctuate online communication. But usually it's just a funny animation. Title animation by Csak.
As chief operating officer at Giphy, Adam Leibsohn's aspirations for the company lay beyond a simple search engine. He's passionate about the future of communication and he and his team are making animated GIFs available wherever you might need them, from Slack to Gmail to Facebook Messenger. I'm not sure if an abundance of GIFs helps or hurts my productivity, but I certainly use Giphy every day because it's fun. We caught up with Adam to learn a little about why GIFs remain relevant and how he works.
Location: Home = Brooklyn, Giphy = SoHo Current Gig: Chief Operating Officer, Giphy One word that best describes how you work: Strategically.
Giphy's a pretty unique place: we're creating new methods of communication, redefining content consumption and distribution, and inventing and advancing tech... all while working with some of the biggest media and technology partners in the world. At the same time, we have an uncanny ability to see into the future and then make that future a reality. So, it's really important to be able to keep track of what we're doing in the context of what we want to achieve today and tomorrow. As a result, what we do and why we do it is always purposeful and deliberate. It also happens to be a hell of a lot of fun.
Current mobile device: iPhone 6, but looking to get on a 6s for the 3D touch features. Current computer: MacBook 13", maxed out. Ultimately, I'm a MacBook Air devotee (home computer), but needed more processor + memory + Retina.
What apps, software, or tools can't you live without?
I'm on the phone a lot in my day-to-day. It might seem funny, but I really love the comfort of being able to wedge my phone between my shoulder and my ear. But that's not so easy to do with an iPhone. It used to be a more common behaviour when landlines were more prevalent. So, I've got this great attachment for my iPhone that mimics a classic landline handset. It keeps my phone in my pocket (away from my brain) and lets me do the shoulder-ear-wedge-thing all day. It's also bedazzled in pink diamante; facts only.
Also: Dark Sky. Best $US5 I've ever spent. (Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Dark Sky is not currently supported in Australia.)
What's your workspace setup like?
Giphy has a great office with some of the most creative and smartest people on the planet. We're building the future of GIF tech and search; so there's plenty of energy and activity to keep me going and engaged. Our office space is open and everyone has the same basic setup with a clean aesthetic. We've all got the same white desks, black Aeron chairs, and some version of an Apple workstation.
My workspace at the office is relatively minimalist so I can stay focused. I have my laptop and monitor, the standard peripherals, and a few knick knacks from travels, partners, etc.
I'm on the move a lot for work, so when I get back to my workstation, I need to GSD. To that end, I have my laptop dialed in pretty tightly with specific apps, systems settings, and window arrangements to try and be the most productive.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
We only ship products that we love and want to use. Case in point: it used to be extremely annoying to share GIFs in conversation, whether in email or text, in Facebook and Twitter or in Slack where we do the bulk of our internal communication. So, in a sense, my best time-saving shortcuts are simply using the products that we've spent the last few years building. For example, I use Giphy for Gmail constantly, and you would struggle to find three consecutive Slack messages I send that don't employ the "/giphy" command.
I also set up a bunch of custom keyboard shortcuts on my iPhone and double tap the screen to unlock my Mac using Knock. It's the little things.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
Even though we work in tech and are pushing a lot of boundaries, I still think the best thing on earth to manage to-do's and basic day-to-day needs is a notebook. Also, I love the act of writing; there's something grounding and thoughtful in it. It's much more deliberate and considered than tapping things out on a keyboard. And it creates a lot of freedom and efficiency to capture your thoughts in the forms that might suit them best: sketches, wireframes, graphs, diagrams, etc.... not just words.
Although I'm still trying to find the absolute perfect notebook (I've tried dozens), I'm closing in on perfection (for me) with Moleskine's squared soft notebook. I run my life and plan the future from these things. And the pen is just as important as the paper. Simple as it is, I've become partial to my matte black Space Pen because it's so easily pocketable. And because it was invented to go to outer space! OUTER SPACE!
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
Headphones. In the office I've got some old Bose noise-cancelling headphones; and I love them. They help me cut everything out and focus. And I've got some passive noise reduction ear phones for walking around. Either way, I'm always listening to music. It helps me think, focus and, mostly, it inspires me. Can't live without it.
Also: My watch. I'm on my phone so much for email, chats, and calls that it usually dies before the day's over. My schedule keeps going even when my phone doesn't, so my watch is pretty much essential.
Lastly: a portable battery back + Nomad keychain adaptor. See previous statement as to why. They're all essential because the world of Giphy never sleeps.
Bonus: Dry bags. These things have become indispensable to me. I have them in all shapes and sizes and keep a few of them packed with chargers, peripherals, batteries, dongles, cards, you name it. No matter how hard it rains or where I drop my stuff, it's always dry and always ready to go.
Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what's next?
Definitely [always working]. We've got so many things brewing... and staying busy suits me really well. I work best when I'm tackling a few things at once. It allows me to change things up, get some cognitive variety, see different perspectives, and have new inputs.
Between our thousands of content partners, our major platform integrations, our apps, our site and our search engine, I'm always thinking about a piece of our business. Usually, I'm thinking about a few things at once so that we stay on track in the present and are heading towards the right future-focused goals.
In short, what do you think is the appeal of the GIF?
GIFs are the atomic unit of information, distilling something big into one, single, looping point; if you didn't get it the first time, you'll get it the 20th. This also means that GIFs are an incredible means to translate a vast global culture of content into a bite-sized, shared visual language. In this way, GIFs have the capacity to express complex ideas in ways we find familiar on a cognitive, emotional and visual level. So when I say "I'm rolling my eyes at you," but instead of using words, I use a GIF of Seth Cohen from the OC, that means something more than just "eye roll" and works faster and better in digital environments that anything else. That's the core appeal of the GIF right now, and it's just the beginning.
The funny thing about GIFs is that it's an old format with large file sizes, but the prevalence of high speed internet has allowed for a resurgence. With all the new formats popping up (usually MP4 variants), do you think old school GIFs will always be around?
Also: it's less about the file format and more about the medium. GIFs as files are great today because every browser supports them, every OS supports them, and we've worked with the best social networks so they're supported there too. GIFs autoplay, they loop automatically, they're instant and can be sent anywhere. GIFs as content are great for exactly the same reasons. And that's what's most important: the content. If there's a better way to achieve all of the qualities that make this medium so powerful, effective and prevalent... we'll take a look. Or, we'll just invent it ourselves.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
I remember things visually... in a crazy, crazy way. So, I can recall and retrace routes into or out of somewhere just based on surroundings: the way street corners look, where shop's signs are, trees, etc. I've navigated out of some hairy places in Central America from visual memory alone. It's pretty useful when there's no signal.
What do you listen to while you work?
Spotify… all day. I've started to listen to the Discover playlist they make for me every week. I find a few tracks that I like, then I dig in on those artists and find more… and then related artists… and so on. Usually, it ranges from classic/new soul (Otis Redding, Luther Allison, Leon Bridges) to rap (Drake, Black Milk) to some of my favourites (Stevie Wonder, Beatles, Tedeschi Trucks).
What are you currently reading?
I love reading, and I love fiction. I just finished The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt and followed it up quickly with This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz. And just started researching what to read next...
How do you recharge?
Exercise. It's my recharge, but also my reset. I have to get some kind of a workout in frequently, and I have to push to my limit — I don't know any other way to go about it (used to be a competitive athlete in college; old habits die hard). I basically work myself into an exhausted puddle. After puddle-stage, I get to start over fresh.
Oh, and GIFs.
A browse through the Giphy app on my phone is always a good way to clear my mind in just a few minutes and have some laughs... and make some of my friends laugh, too.
What's your sleep routine like?
My brain doesn't like to slow down that much — so I'm a pretty big night owl (writing this at 1:30am, for instance). Usually that's when I get some quiet work done and do lot of thinking/planning/writing.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Less Probable: Stevie Wonder.
More Probable: Steve Wilhite [the inventor of the GIF].
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Your time on this planet is your ultimate non-renewable resource.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.