This blog post describes the design process of creating the integrated titles for Notes on BlindnessNotes on Blindness is an award-winning documentary film from 2016, directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney. It is based on a number of audio casettes recorded by John Hull that document his experiences with steadily deteriorating vision and ultimately complete loss of sight, as well as his autobiography Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness from 1990. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016 and includes a multi-platform project and impact campaign.

I was approached in order to create “creative subtitles for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences”, meaning linguistically and visually functional titles that are not bound by standard fonts, sizes or positions.

Integrated titles are based on the educational concept of “Text information [that is placed] directly into the picture” (Bayram/Bayraktar 2012: 82) with other terms being ‘creative subtitles’, ‘speaker-following subtitles’, and ‘dynamic subtitles’. Integrated titles are placed based on image composition, typographic identity, and target group of the film.

As a first step, I talked to the producer and directors of the film. We defined the goals to be intuitiveness, usefulness, and satisfaction. These should be achieved through title placement, indication of depth, contrast, image composition, typographic identity, and a  ‘natural’ focus based on where people would look in the scene anyways.

The most important aspect of this project was the target group: Creating SDH (subtitles for deaf and hard-of-hearing), you have to account for sound perception, age and level of hearing loss, and reading skills and speed. While SDH usually indicate names and relevant sounds, they rarely use typographic or sophisticated color-based approaches.

After the trial run at an SDH screening in the UK, I defined the following features:

  • Title placement: The placement of the individual titles should allow for an easy speaker identification by placing titles below or next to a speaker, close to the general main focus, in consistant areas within scenes and, when possible, indicate speaking direction. They generally should respect the overall image composition and off-screen voices.
  • Color: The color of the titles should allow for an easier speaker identification and support the scene’s atmosphere as well as provide a strong contrast, support readability.
  • Typographic effects should be at a minimum, but cleary indicate noises, be descriptive, identify music song titles and lyrics and mark regular speech clearly.
  • Effects: While a range of effects were offered to the audience during the test screening (kinetic, spatial/depth of field, repetitive, simultaneity, transformative, typographic, fading), the final selection only included the indication of unfinished speech and speaking space. These two effects should allow an easier recognition of emotions, the nature of the descripted noise and simultaneity.

Have a look at the following video to see examples of the above mentioned features.