Our team was lucky enough to have JJ Hunt to teach us a bit more about image description. JJ is a professional describer of all sorts of media, including movies, TV, live events, websites, museums and more! He is also a storyteller and podcaster, and so he creates lots of content and is an expert in describing content too.
We’ll be going over some of the things we learnt from JJ that we will try to implement, not just in our content (this website, blog posts), but also within our scope of work throughout the project.
Description is the use of words to convey the visuals of any content. So why use image description? One of the main reasons is accessibility. By describing our images in a detailed way, we can provide an avenue for individuals with disabilities to be able to understand content. This is crucial to building a more inclusive world where everyone can interpret the content and data being presented to them. There are many types of descriptions:
Image description is another word for visual description, which is the term used more in the museum world.
Image description is used more for static media, which includes photos, drawings, digital images, etc.
Audio description is another name for described video.
Live description is description delivered live in person or virtual. Also called verbal description
Long or short description: self-explanatory
Alt text or alternative text is a brief visual description (normally 15 words). Usually used for digital images
Caption is a short block of text that provides crediting information or context for an image and is always displayed vs. an alt text which is on the back end and not immediately displayed.
JJ then took us through multiple images and graphics where he described each one individually, with a level of detail that was quite eye opening to me personally. For example, he showed an image of a Campbell soup can, where he described what seemed like every small detail of the image in front of us. Some of these details included the color of the image, the different words printed on the soup can, the font style of the words and a detailed description of the gold medal that can be seen on the soup can. When asked how long it takes to write good, detailed descriptions, JJ mentioned that it can take him about 15-20 minutes to put on paper, even with the wealth of experience he has. Some key elements one can use for visual description include:
Descriptions of the background, middle ground, foreground
Number of people
Specific items that are shown in the image
Orientation relative to the speaker (e.g., “on our left”)
Scenery or landscape (e.g., weather, mountains)
Description of people within your images is also something that is done in detail. For example, physical features that are prominent and notable such as clothing and accessibility devices should be described. Age is another element that should be included if known. Gender should be described if clearly emphasized, but without making assumptions – avoid using terms such as masculine or feminine. Ethnicity and skin tone should also be described, using words such as light skin tone, medium skin ton or dark skin tone.
In many professions, especially ours, charts, graphs and diagrams also need to be described. The goal is to describe everything, summarize only when appropriate, and describe patterns and extremes for elements such as lines on a graph.
Our goal is to use some of our learnings and apply them to our research. To start, we will be going back to many of the images used within our website and start to proactively describe them using the techniques that JJ introduced us to. Here is a small start to an image found on our scoping review page:
“This black and white image of an Apple iPhone Smartphone has the YouTube application open. The iPhone is held by an individual's left hand, and is positioned slightly off center towards the left. The color of the background is grey.”
What are your thoughts on image description? Have you ever run into an issue where lack of image description was a barrier to your understanding of content? Tell us in the comments below!