kimberley crofts


an information and communication designer living in London

Captioning for greater access

During the DD4D conference I was thinking about how captions can be used to help people better understand information. Captions are used in many areas of life such as:

  • television and movie captioning
  • speech bubbles in comic strips
  • captions underneath photographs in documents
  • audio or sign-language captioning on the web
  • hints within computer applications (the floating hint boxes above tools or the talking paper clip)

I thought about human captioning too, so having someone actually provide real-time captions to help people understand something, such as Al Gore in his movie the Inconvenient Truth. Without his presence, the data graphics would have been meaningless.

Captioning can lie, such as the captions placed over photos of Iraq as evidence to go to war. For example here.

What qualities does a caption need to have to be a successful conduit of information? What length, what structure? Where is the best place for it? Should viewers have the option to turn it on or off?

Could captioning help a less literate audience to make more informed decisions?

What qualities does the web have that make captioning successful? What lessons can be learned from print?

Rotha’s flms for Isotype are examples of captioning?

Studies into the effect that captions have on meaning-making. What happens to a picture without an image? What happens to pictorial instructions without sufficient explanation of what is going on in the picture?

Form design. The use of captions throughout a form to aid the form-filler.

Editorial design: the use of photographic captions as a way for readers to navigate a text. Do readers only read the captions? What does that mean for an editorial designer? Should they concentrate on the design and the writing of the captions more? Some tips from Poynter about writing captions here also here. This article explains how the eyes of online readers in a Standford/Poynter study, more often fixated first on briefs or captions. Also here.

What about the history of captions? When did people first start using captions to explain and support the use of images or diagrams? Ask Michael Twyman.

Consider how captions should be written for the sight-impaired for websites. Some information on this here, here, here.

Interesting wiki here about captions and here too.

The National Institute for Captioning (closed captioning) has a history of this particular area.

Comment on captions for sound files on websites from a hard-of-hearing person. More guidelines about this here.

I have always been frustrated with web sites or software or items that do not take account of those with hard of hearing problems. I suggest that all sound files should have an option that allows users to read the transcribed version of the file as a written text or have the option of captions. If these options are displayed along side the sound file icon, it will allow those of heard of hearing to take in the information much more easily and be less likely to mishear or neglect any part of the file. This is especially important in education based products with a new technical lexicon, where taking in new words and meanings at the same time can be difficult.

Gaudellet University has an access program that looks into the use of captions for deaf people. Many useful Links here.


Filed under: information literacy,

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