Closed captioning and subtitles play a crucial role in enhancing the UX Designing for Accessibility of digital content. In this article, we will explore the best practices for designing effective closed captioning and subtitles, ensuring they provide a seamless user experience. Let’s delve into the world of closed captioning and discover how to optimise it for improved UX.

The Importance of Closed Captioning

Closed captioning is not only beneficial in noisy environments but also serves as a valuable tool for various forms of media consumption. Whether it’s streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, video courses, social media content, or real-time communication on platforms like Zoom and Google Meet, closed captioning helps individuals who are hard of hearing access information effectively.

Moreover, closed captioning has become increasingly popular among individuals whose native language is different from the spoken language in the video. It also assists those who struggle with accents or prefer not to use headphones. By incorporating closed captions, content creators can enhance their audience reach, improve the overall user experience, and maximise return on investment (ROI).

Designing for Accessibility: Closed Captioning vs. Subtitles

Although closed captioning and subtitles share similarities, they serve distinct purposes. Captions are primarily designed for accessibility and cater to individuals with hearing difficulties. They include speaker identifications, sound descriptions, and other elements to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the content.

On the other hand, subtitles focus on language translation and internationalization. They enable individuals who don’t understand the original language to follow along by providing a written translation. Unlike captions, subtitles often lack speaker IDs and sound descriptions, making them less suitable for individuals with hearing impairments.

Enhancing Subtitles and Captions Design

To create effectively closed captions and subtitles, it’s crucial to adhere to established design conventions and best practices. Here are some guidelines for formatting and designing subtitles:

Clear Sentence Structure

Divide your sentences into two equal parts, creating a pyramid-like structure. The top line should contain approximately 40 characters, with the bottom line slightly shorter. This division ensures readability and avoids cluttered captions.

Optimal Reading Speed

Maintain an average reading speed of 20 to 30 characters per second. Adjust the duration of each caption sequence to last between 1 and 8 seconds, allowing viewers sufficient time to read the text comfortably.

Consistent Speaker Identification

Keep a person’s name or title together to provide clarity and context. Consistent speaker identification helps viewers understand who is speaking, even when multiple speakers are involved.

Line Breaks

Avoid breaking a line after conjunction to maintain a smooth flow and readability. Place line breaks at appropriate points to ensure logical breaks in the text.


Align multi-lined captions to the left for better readability. Left alignment creates a consistent visual pattern that viewers can follow effortlessly.

Native Integration of Captions

Imagine a video player where closed captions and subtitles are not separate entities but integral parts of the content. Ethics for Design, for example, has reimagined the video player experience by prominently featuring subtitles while keeping supplementary information about the speaker visible. This approach allows users to access the text separately, making it fully accessible. Additionally, integrating visual text within the video itself, as seen in shows like the Sherlock TV series, provides a unique and engaging storytelling experience.

Visual Enhancements for Subtitles

To transform subtitles into an integral part of the video experience, designers can explore visual enhancements. Living Comic, a concept developed by Agung Tarumampen, introduces striking typography, animation, and a comic book style to make subtitles visually appealing and captivating. Such enhancements can also extend beyond text, with changes in the video player frame color or glow to represent specific actions or events.

Searchable Subtitles and Transcripts

Transcripts accompanying videos, such as those found in TED talks, allow viewers to navigate to specific sections by clicking on linked sentences. Implementing a searchable transcript feature, similar to Zoom’s search within an auto-generated transcript, enables users to search for specific terms within the subtitles or captions. This feature enhances navigation and facilitates quick access to relevant information.

Decoupling Audio Track and Subtitles

Viewers may prefer subtitles in a language different from the original audio track. By decoupling audio tracks and subtitles, video platforms can cater to individual preferences. Netflix, for example, allows users to select audio and subtitle options independently, enabling a personalised viewing experience.

Multiple Languages Support

Rather than limiting users to a single subtitle language selection, video players should consider supporting multiple languages simultaneously. This is particularly useful when multiple people are watching a movie together, allowing each viewer to choose subtitles in their preferred language. Designing the interface to accommodate multiple languages ensures a more inclusive and convenient experience.

Customization Settings for Subtitles

Offering customization options for subtitles and captions allows users to tailor their viewing experience. Font selection, including dyslexic-friendly and hyper-legible fonts, and font size adjustments can improve readability for users with specific needs. Providing presets for high contrast options and advanced colour settings allows users to optimise subtitles for their visual comfort.

Adjustable Subtitle Position

Adjusting the position of subtitles on the screen can enhance legibility and prevent overlapping with other content. As demonstrated by BBC’s research, giving users control over subtitle placement significantly improves the viewing experience. Video players should incorporate options to customise subtitle positions, considering viewers’ diverse needs and preferences.

Default Captioning Settings

Considering the growing preference for subtitles and captions, video platforms can consider making them the default setting. However, it is essential to provide users with the flexibility to customise these settings to their liking. Preserving user preferences and allowing them to save customised presets ensures a seamless and personalised experience.


By redefining closed captioning and subtitles through innovative UX practices, video platforms can create a more inclusive and immersive Designing for Accessibility. Native integration, visual enhancements, searchable transcripts, customizable settings, and support for multiple languages empower users to engage with video content in a way that suits their needs and preferences. Embracing these practices ensures that closed captioning and subtitles become integral components of a seamless and accessible user experience.

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