Designing Accessible Text Over Images: Best Practices, Techniques, And Resources (Part 2) — Smashing Magazine

Designing Accessible Text Over Images: Best Practices, Techniques, And Resources (Part 2)

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Hannah is a product designer passionate about accessibility and inclusive design. She’s also the creator of A11yResources (later acquired by getstark.co). …
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In Part 2 of the series, Hannah Milan reviews in detail various accessible text over images techniques for designing your web and mobile app content, including framing the image, soft-colored gradients technique, text styles and text position, solid color shapes, and use of colored backgrounds. And finally, the emphasis will once again be placed on the accessibility aspect, which needs to be “baked in” right from the start rather than being an afterthought in your design process.

What is the text over images design pattern? How do we apply this pattern to our designs without sacrificing legibility and readability?

The text over images design pattern is a design technique used to place text on top of images. It is often used to provide information about the image or to serve as the main website navigation. However, this technique can quickly sacrifice legibility and readability if there is not enough contrast between the text and the image. To prevent this, designers need to ensure that the text and the image have a high enough contrast ratio to be legible and readable. Additionally, designers should also make sure the text is positioned in the right place, away from any image elements that might cause confusion, distraction, or make it difficult to read.

In Part 1 of the series, we have reviewed in detail five techniques (using an overlay over the entire image, text with scrim overlay, strips/highlight, copy space, and text over blurred background effect) and now we’ll continue with reviewing in detail five more (frame the image, soft-colored gradients, text styles and text position, solid color shapes, use of colored backgrounds). In the end, I will also provide you with a long list of useful tools and resources related to this accessibility topic.

Frame That Image

Another simple design technique you can try is by framing the image in a flat-colored shape that includes your text. This kind of style is mostly used in thumbnails and cards.

Examples From The Wild

Additional Resources On This Topic

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Soft-colored Gradients Technique Over Images

When black or white gradients don’t work well, you can use the soft-colored gradients text over image technique. These soft-colored gradients are created when two or more different colors are blended to create a soft and gentle transition from one color to another. They are commonly used on websites and page designs to make them look modern and creative.

Examples From The Wild

Additional resources on this topic

Play Around With Text Styles And Text Position

Achieving the 1.4.3 success criterion might be difficult even if we have used some of the techniques outlined in the examples above, or when any combination of those techniques still fails. In such cases, one of the safest options is to play around with text styles and with the text position outside of the image.

Various text styles (bigger or smaller text; emphasize, low-key, bold, regular, or light text style; playing with margins and letter spacing, etc.) and combining these text styles in different ways may help you achieve a powerful impact with regards to your design while not sacrificing any accessibility. You can also position your text to the left or right, the top or bottom, and you’ll have an accessible and visually appealing website or app.

This technique is great if you combine your text styling techniques and play around with the images. With text positioned outside of the image, you have control over how to make it more accessible by using real text that can be zoomed in to maximum for those people who may have trouble reading small text on the screen or for those who wish to use their voice assistants.

Examples From The Wild

Additional Resources On This Topic

Play With Solid Shapes

Using only simple shapes can make a lot of difference. Play around with solid shapes by creating strong harmony between the color of your text and the background colored shape. Once you learn how to balance the text styles and the colors, the readability of the text will greatly improve.

Examples From The Wild

Additional Resources On This Topic

Ditch The Image And Just Use Colored Backgrounds

In case you cannot fulfill the 1.4.3 success criterion, you have the option of replacing images with colored (uniform color) or gradient (two or more colors) backgrounds. This technique facilitates screen readers to read actual text instead of images, hence enhancing accessibility for visually impaired users. Furthermore, using this technique, you can adapt the text to meet your user’s preferences, optimize it for various screen sizes, and even adjust the size or zoom level without compromising its quality.

Furthermore, with this technique, you can easily customize real text according to the user’s requirements, such as colors or styles, and much more. It might be difficult to achieve this criterion in certain circumstances, but giving users an option to customize those things instead of using images would be better for everyone involved, and that is why this technique does not require much effort on your part at all.

Examples From The Wild

Additional Resources On This Topic

Just Use The Actual Text!

Lastly, while all of these design techniques will help you make the text over images more accessible, I still think that using the actual text is the way to go.

Providing special care to ensure that text over an image remains perfectly readable and accessible is a must, and, as you have seen in sections 110 of the article, there are plenty of design techniques for that purpose. But again, if you want to make your website or mobile app accessible right from the start, why not simplify things a bit and do it properly? Use real text, make sure there is plenty of contrast between the text and the background, and make your website or app accessible to everyone.

Using text over images provides a combination of benefits, and yet it has some limitations. Text placed over images is harder to read for visually impaired users, especially at smaller text sizes, because the content gets more compressed. There are also some accessibility requirements for different colors under the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. If you have trouble implementing the success criterion mentioned in the design techniques we’ve presented, ditching everything and just using real text will do the trick.

As with any new design trends popping out in different places, we need to make sure that what we’re creating is not only pretty but is also helping our users. Always consider the accessibility aspect to be “baked in” right from the start rather than being an afterthought in your design process.

In any case, if someone asks you why the real text is better to use rather than text over images or images of text, here are a few key things to remember:

Thank you for joining me in this accessibility journey. We covered many design techniques that will hopefully help you work better with accessible text over images. And if you have some additional tips or advice to share — please do so in the comment section below, or ping me on Twitter (@humbleuidesigns)!

Further Reading: Tools & Resources

Accessible Text over Images through CSS and HTML

Accessible Text and Typography

Working with Color

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