Can integrated titles improve the viewing experience? Investigating the impact of subtitling on the reception and enjoyment of film using eye tracking and questionnaire data

Wendy Fox  


Historically a dubbing country, Germany is not well-known for subtitled productions. But while dubbing is predominant in Germany, more and more German viewers prefer original and subtitled versions of their favourite shows and films. Conventional subtitling, however, can be seen as a strong intrusion into the original image that can not only disrupt but also destroy the director’s intended shot composition and focus points. Long eye movements between focus points and subtitles decrease the viewer’s information intake, and especially German audiences, who are often not used to subtitles, seem to prefer to wait for the next subtitle instead of looking back up again. Furthermore, not only the placement, but also the overall design of conventional subtitles can disturb the image composition – for instance titles with a weak contrast, inappropriate typeface or irritating colour system.

So should it not, despite the translation process, be possible to preserve both image and sound as far as possible? Especially given today’s numerous artistic and technical possibilities and the huge amount of work that goes into the visual aspects of a film, taking into account not only special effects, but also typefaces, opening credits and text-image compositions. A further development of existing subtitling guidelines would not only express respect towards the original film version but also the translator’s work.


The presented study shows how integrated titles can increase information intake while maintaining the intended image composition and focus points as well as the aesthetics of the shot compositions. During a three-stage experiment, the specifically for this purpose created integrated titles in the documentary “Joining the Dots” by director Pablo Romero-Fresco were analysed with the help of eye movement data from more than 45 participants. Titles were placed based on the gaze behaviour of English native speakers and then rated by German viewers dependant on a German translation.

The results show that a reduction of the distance between intended focus points and titles allow the viewers more time to explore the image and connect the titles to the plot. The integrated titles were rated as more aesthetically pleasing and reading durations were shorter than with conventional subtitles. Based on the analysis of graphic design and filmmaking rules as well as conventional subtitling standards, a first workflow and set of placement strategies for integrated titles were created in order to allow a more respectful handling of film material as well as the preservation of the original image composition and typographic film identity.


Author Biography

Wendy Fox, pixelpublic

Wendy Fox works at digital design agency pixelpublic and until recently was a research assistant and lecturer at FTSK Germersheim, where she also completed her PhD in audiovisual translation. Fox studied language, culture, and translation at FTSK Germersheim, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. After her Master’s degree, she continued to Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG Karlsruhe) for a 5-year diploma in communication design which she finished in 2017. Wendy writes on subtitle processing and subtitle design and has recently published in Translation Spaces (2016) and in the forthcoming anthology New Directions in Cognitive and Empirical Translation Process Research (John Benjamins).
Her work connecting subtitling and graphic design gained her the Karl Steinbuch Scholarship of the MFG Innovation Agency for ICT and Media (2013) and two Future Awards from the German Association of Post, Information Technology and Telecommunications Enterprises (DVPT). She regularly shares her views on media accessibility and graphic design at conferences such as the Open! Conference for digital Innovation in Stuttgart (2015) and was invited to be a juror at the Future Convention in 2017.


February 28, 2018
LaTeX source on GitHub
Cite as
Fox, Wendy. 2018. Can integrated titles improve the viewing experience?: Investigating the impact of subtitling on the reception and enjoyment of film using eye tracking and questionnaire data. (Translation and Multilingual Natural Language Processing 9). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1180721


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