Handy, a better sign language app


Master's Final Project



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The goal

Design a dictionary app that solves actual problems of people who use sign language every day. Understand their need and goal, propose solutions and validate assumption with testing.


The problem

Most of the dictionary apps currently available on the stores are not maintained, don't work, don't offers big number of signs, and overall they provide a poor experience.


The first step was to understand with interviews and a survey why people start learning BSL, what are the resources they use and what are the issue they encounter.


Interviews and survey

From 5 remote interviews and 120 answers from the survey, I identified three main reasons that drive the learning of BSL.



People's only way to communicate with relatives or friends that are deaf or hard of hearing is sign language.



People who see in learning sign language an enticing opportunity to upgrade their careers, like interpreters or public health workers.



People interested in getting to know sign language, because they have seen in movies or have seen someone signing.



From the analysis of the interviews and survey, I created three personas based on their motivations and level in sign language.




Goal and needs

He is a full-time employee with little time for hobbies. He needs something that can help him remember and learn new signs everywhere.

Pain points

Cannot afford a complete course, and looking for some basic resource online that make him better understand how the language work.




Goal and needs

She is looking for professionals and reliable course to improve her BSL and become proficient as an interpreter without having to move to a big city.

Pain points

Living in a small town she can only rely on the expensive online course but no one to practice to.




Goal and needs

He already knew the existence of sign language but wanted to deepen the knowledge of this new different and fascinating way to communicate.

Pain points

Cannot afford a complete course, and looking for some basic resource online that make him better understand how to sign.


Competitor analysis

I conducted competitor analysis on other 4 sign language dictionary apps gathered from the survey that helped discover patterns and main pain points.


User feedback on competitors

User is not guided to understand what is the relevant sign.
There is no information regarding the use of that sign in a particular area of the UK.
There is no specific description of how to gesture the sign correctly.
There are multiple signs for the same word
Lack of customization: user cannot save signs, or organize them.
User cannot upload his own signs.


After gathering all the data and information, and got a better understanding of my target user, I then proceed to summarize my finding and start translating them in actual solutions.


Interpret the findings

Users from beginner to advanced, use mobile apps to support their continuous learning in sign language (SignBSL.com being one of the most popular). Mobiles apps are not an alternative to in-person courses but rather an additional tool for everyday needs. There a dozen of apps available but they offer poor experience and lack of basic customization functionalities.



From the pain point analysis from the competitor analysis and the interviews I listed a series of possible tasks to consider for the first version of the app to achieve the user’s goals.


Task analysis

I gathered information on goals and tasks by observing and speaking with users and produced a Hierarchical task analysis diagram. This ensured the app was designed to efficiently and appropriately support the user’s goal.


During this phase, all my proposals took shapes in sketches on paper at first and then in a clickable prototype used later to test and validate the assumptions.



Sketching out ideas of how the functionalities might work in the app, how the user would interact with them and build the first draft of information architecture so that the all the functions would be easier to find and made sense for the end-user.


Wireframing and prototype

The sketched main functionalities were then connected with a wireframe to get a better overview of the app’s mains domains and navigation, and later on, turned into a working prototype to be tested with real users.


Defining visuals

What most of the competitors were missing was a strong and distinctive brand at the support of the product. The app I was designing had to stand out from the crowd of average sign language app. It had to be friendly, reliable and welcoming.


Testing out the information architecture with card sorting, tree testing and validate my assumption by letting real users try the prototype and getting feedback from them.


Card sorting and tree testing

I tested the information architecture with an unmoderated closed card sorting test and a tree test to validate my assumptions on the navigation and discoverability of the functionalities.

Contrary to the assumptions, the card sorting showed that users would position their saved, grouped and uploaded sign under the profile tab. The dictionary tab has been renamed search and in it has been displayed suggested signs and collections based on the user actions and preference, along with curated content from the app.


What wasn’t working, and how has been improved

The prototype was then tested with real users to collect feedback on the different functionalities and the overall experience of the app.

The first version of the sign screen had all the actions hidden under the ellipsis icons on the top navigation bar, therefore not easily discoverable by the user. In the improved version, all the actions have been rearranged in the layout to be more relevant and actionable in an easy and fast way.

The search functionality was too basic. Users wanted to filter out the correct word by definition during the search and be able to also find public collections and other members. "Dictionary" changed to "Search" and the user was reminded that signs results were based also on location preference.

List view gives fast access to the signs list but it can get repetitive to see multiple signs, especially if inside the same collection. The new full mode can be activated with a toggle and allow to preview any video by long pressing on the thumbnail.

Final outcome

Handy combines a smart dictionary sign with the support of an active community


Save, organize and share

When asked during the interview what was missing from other sign apps, the answer was lack of customization. People wanted to save favourite sign, organize them in collections or upload their own video.


Create Collections

Collections are a group of signs, as well as sentences are a group of words. Users can collect all their signs to create thematic groups or arrange them to compose sentences.


Give feedback

The binary system feedback, using thumb down and up, let users endorse quality videos and report the incorrect one.

Guide the user to create better content

Handy relies on the quality of its video uploaded by the community members.

Other screens

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