5 Tips for Media Compression

Media includes audio, video, and images. Each media type has their own set of formats. These formats are like containers. Then, within each of those formats, there are different codecs which stands for compression/decompression. Learning each of these formats and codecs for audio, video, and images is a daunting task, but it’s something that must be done if one wants to be the most successful product designer they can be.

I was able to learn some of the formats and codecs myself recently. I was able to do this by first studying popular formats for each format and getting the full name, extensions, history, and the pros/cons of each. Then I gathered some audio, video, and image assets. I selected certain formats for each and outputted the media files in different formats with different codecs. Then I evaluated them and came up with some conclusions. I then came up with. Along with learning how formats worked, I also learned how media technology and certains programs can cause additional compression to your media files.

It is very important for every product designer to go through this exploration themselves, but here are top 5 things I learned about media compression I’m here to share.

1.) When in a field where you’re using lots of media files, asset management will be very important in keeping everything organized.

Though this isn’t about compression specifically, asset management is still very important in the compression process. Since there are so many formats and codecs, it’s helpful to have a well set up asset management to keep everything organized for yourself and for team members. One doesn’t want to be wasting time trying to find a certain media file, especially when there’s deadlines.

Some good tips for creating a well set up asset managment is to have a good naming convention. When naming your files you should include an easy identifiable name, its format, and compression settings. Also, use folders to keep things grouped together. Then, using labels can also be extremely helpful.

Example of naming convention with added labels

2.) Don’t just use the default settings given on the program to save your images.

This is why it’s so important to learn formats and codecs. A program will always give you default settings, but it’s not always best. A lot of the time, there’s settings which can be changed to decrease the file size as well as give you better quality. Ignorance is not bliss here especially when a project may have limited file size capacity or you want to keep the loading on projects for your users limited.

3.) JPEG is king for image formats.

Through all my testing, it seems that JPEG is one of the best formats to use. It consistently had the lowest file size. Though some formats I tested had better quality, the difference wasn’t enough to sacrifice storage space. Some formats performed better for certain types of images, but all around, JPEG’s quality and file size performed best. If you were to just to study and test out one file format, I would choose JPEG.

4.) It’s important to understand what each codec means and does in a format.

Studying and testing out video compression was probably the hardest for me. What made it so hard was I didn’t know what the different settings meant, so I didn’t know what is was changing.

It’s also important to know what they do because you may not need to include a setting. Some settings can increase your file size but they’re not necessary to use. Also, some settings can create better quality without increasing file size.

5.) Certain technologies and programs can cause additional compressions.

Example of additional compression from a Mac to an iPad.

Along with learning all the formats and codecs, it’s also important to learn how certain programs and technologies can cause additional compressions. Some programs do their own compression. Then, technologies can increase or decrease the quality. It all just depends.

A good way to start looking at how technologies effect media files, is looking at everyday examples. Look at one of those video billboards or the ATM screen when you go to the bank, and examine what the technology is doing to the media. Ask yourself if it’s good or bad and ask why it may be the way it is. Also, explore on your own programs and technologies too. Compare how a video looks on your phone versus your computer.

Conclusion

Learning formats is a long process which takes dedication and attention to detail. It is way worth it though. As product designers, knowing this knowledge gives us an advantage. It makes our products better and allows for greater user experiences. Now, I’ve just touched the surface of media compression. There’s so much more to learn and there’s new formats that can come out sometimes. I’ve just provided snapshots into the things I’ve learned through my exploration, if you want to see my full documentation on media files, click here.

One last tip before I go, in order to keep up with the ever evolving technology world, you need to be continuously curious and as my professor Mike Harper says, “be ready to break things,” this is how we make improvements.

Ashley Stephenson is a student in the Digital Media program at Utah Valley University, Orem Utah, studying Interaction & Design. The following article relates to Image, Video, and Audio Output and Documenation in the DGM 2341 Digital Output for Mobile Media and is representative of the skills learned.