Hands On

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  • 2022

Designed By:

  • Emma Davies

Commissioned By:

Emma Davies

Designed In:

New Zealand

Hands On is a fun, playful, interactive table-top card game that aims to teach young adults common words and phrases of New Zealand Sign Language from the comfort of their own homes. It aims to be an accessible first step to learning NZSL and engaging with deaf communities in Aotearoa.


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  • CHALLENGE
  • SOLUTION
  • IMPACT
  • MORE
  • In Aotearoa, there are an estimated 400,000 people who identify as D/deaf or hard of hearing. In 2006, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) was recognised as an official language, yet only 24,000 people speak it. This project began with me wanting to know why this gap is so large and how my country, Aotearoa, and myself as a designer, could close this gap to create a multilingual and more culturally-inclusive society.

  • Hands On was created as a response to my research of the social and cultural communication barriers surrounding NZSL and the D/deaf community (e.g. fear of failing or offending), and ideas surrounding learning through play. It was important that this project is communicated as an accessible way for beginners to learn the basics of NZSL. This was key to the project's strategy as it shaped and informed the language, tone and visuals of the game in order to be playful, relaxed and welcoming.

  • The overall impact of Hands On would be to not only teach people a new language, but to break down social and cultural barriers, empower its players and create an accessible learning resource. As this game is still in its infancy, measuring its impact has largely been based on the user testing and feedback received by players/peers. In the future I would like to liaise further with members of Deaf communities around Aotearoa, in order to develop the game to create a practical resource.

  • How to play: Hands On works with (up to 4) pairs playing against each other. Each pair must correctly sign as many cards as possible, which are drawn from a deck of sign cards. In order to score, players must correctly sign the drawn cards to their partner. Players can set the winning score to reach based on their skill, age, etc. Using the reference sheet and tokens provided, their partner must sign back correctly in order to pick up new cards and "win" the game. While designing all of the game elements, it was important to keep the visuals fun yet informative, especially for the individual sign cards, as these needed specific movement lines and touch signifiers to communicate the word to the player effectively. The physical design of the games elements were created using illustrations from images (for both the signs and the finger spelling alphabet).