Designing with Multimedia

While people who are are hard of hearing and deaf rely on captions, there are many more who depend on them as well. Others who share the multimedia struggle include those operating in a second language and people who are in a busy, loud environment — or even people who just want to watch a video fast.

Videos, images, and other multimedia effects can be a great way to convey information, but relying only on audio or visuals can be problematic, as many can struggle if you are relying entirely on it to convey information.

A good rule of thumb is to include any information contained in a non-text item elsewhere. Captions, transcripts, and visual descriptions are all suggested, and captions can be used for creating interactive transcripts.


What's the difference between captions, transcripts, and visual descriptions?


3 Play Media says that "[c]losed captions are a textual representation of the sounds on a video, timed with the action on screen. They capture not just the speech but also essential sounds, like [doorbell], [laughter], [applause], etc." These usually appear at the bottom of the screen and allow someone "to read the text and absorb the visuals at the same time."

Transcripts, on the other hand, often only include spoken elements and are not timed on-screen with the video. They are a text document, just like this page.


Lastly, visual descriptions communicate "all necessary visual information, such as who is in screen, where they are, what they are doing, their facial expressions, and any writing that is on the screen." They describe anything on screen that isn't said or heard.


Visual descriptions are also used on images. In this context, they are usually called Alternative Text, or Alt Text. This way, when a screen reader comes across the image, it can give an accurate description of what's in the image. Alt Text is also used when a picture on a page doesn't load so that viewers still have an understanding of what's going on; a case of the curb cut effect.

Captioning can be done by an outside company, or you can do it yourself as outlined by University of Washington. If you’re uploading a video to YouTube, YouTube will auto-generate captions. These captions can vary in quality, but they provide a jumping off place. The Office of Information Technology at University of Colorado Boulder has created instructions on using YouTube to add, synchronize, or make captions.

Published 2018

Content written by EmilyG Design