To address language deprivation and help bridge the communication barrier between deaf or hard-of-hearing children and their (hearing) parents and peers, creative studio Hello Monday partnered with the American Society for Deaf Children to create Fingerspelling.xyz – a hand tracking experience using machine learning to help learn the sign language alphabet.
The importance of the sign language alphabet
Every year, 2 – 3 out of every 1,000 children born in the US are deaf or hard-of-hearing. 90% of these children are born to hearing parents and, in many cases, their child is the first deaf person these parents have ever encountered.
Without being introduced to sign language at an early stage, a deaf child may miss out on learning language. This can lead to language delay or deprivation, which has long-term negative impacts on a child’s life. That is why it is so important that parents of deaf children have the opportunity to learn American Sign Language (ASL) as soon as possible. This is where Fingerspelling.xyz comes into play.
A playful learning experience
Fingerspelling.xyz is a browser-based app that uses a webcam and machine learning to analyse your hand shapes so you can learn to sign the ASL alphabet correctly. Fingerspelling is an essential part of ASL, the primary language of the American Deaf community. It is often used for proper nouns or to spell a word you don’t know the sign for.
The app shows the user a series of words and uses a 3D model to demonstrate how your hand should be positioned for each letter. When you sign the word, the camera tracks your hand movements and provides feedback so you can make corrections as needed. This helps you to quickly develop your fingerspelling skills and move to the next level of the program.
The fingerspelling game is a great way to introduce the basics of ASL in a fun and playful way. Instead of having to read or watch videos about fingerspelling, we offer an online teaching tool that guides you step by step in how to master fingerspelling – hands on!
Anders Jessen, Founding Partner, Hello Monday
The design and tech behind it
From a design perspective, the goal was to communicate fingerspelling in the cleanest and most simple way possible. Therefore, the 3D-hand is placed prominently in the centre of the site and paired with a playful typeface. Its angled glyphs have a dynamic movement that mirrors subtle visual nuances in the hand gestures, and the slightly off-kilter appearance feels joyful and engaging.
In regards to colour, the aim was to use a palette that was bold enough to draw people in and, at the same time, energise them to start learning to fingerspell. Capturing attention was key.
The 3D hand was designed to feel friendly, with enough detail for users to be able to easily see how the fingers are positioned and bent. A blend of cartoon style and realism was the perfect solution.
When it comes to the technology used, the main feature of the site is the hand tracking, for which MediaPipe Hands is used. It is extremely performant, and is able to do detection, even when parts of the fingers are hidden behind other fingers.
The most time-consuming task was to define when a Fingerspelling letter should be accepted or not. The team developed a rule-based system for each of the letters which looks at the rotation of the hand; whether it faces up, down, left or right. If the hand orientation is correct, it then looks at how each finger is positioned and how much the finger is bent. Setting up the rules was a manual process for each letter which involved a lot of trial and error. To make sure the signs are all taught the right way, an ASL professor helped test all of the different letters.
A useful learning tool, recognised in the Awards industry
The result, Fingerspelling.xyz, is designed for desktop, primarily to be used by parents of deaf children, but it can help anybody become more familiar with the ASL alphabet by providing an easy and simple way to get started.
Within 10 days of launching the site, 150,000 correct hand signs were made. 10 months later, more than 2.5 million correct hand signs had been registered. The American Society for Deaf Children now also uses Fingerspelling.xyz as part of their own training materials, which shows just how useful the tool is.
We created this fingerspelling tool with Hello Monday to help parents support their child’s mastery of sign language and so parents can share the joy of communicating and connecting with their deaf child.
Cheri Dowling, Director of Outreach and Programs, American Society for Deaf Children
Fingerspelling.xyz has certainly made a positive impact for the Deaf community and its innovation has been recognised with prestigious international awards, including:
- Webby Awards 2022: two Webby Award wins in the Diversity & Inclusion and Best User Interface categories, and People’s Voice awards for Technical Achievement, Diversity & Inclusion, and Best User Interface.
- Eurobest Awards: Innovation Eurobest Award, Gold award for Design, Silver award for Digital Craft
- Awwwards: Site of the Day
- FWA: Site of the Day & Site of the Month
- Cannes Lions: Gold in Design & Silver in Design, Silver in Digital Craft
- New York Design Awards 2021: Silver
- Anthem Awards: Gold – Education, Art & Culture, Gold – Responsible Technology in the Product, Innovation, or Service Categories (For Profit) category.
Founding Partner, HELLO MONDAY/DEPT®