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as featured in Parsons, BFACD, and Student Spotlight.

Adobe Illustrator, Xcode

Senior Thesis

How might we increase the representation of ASL in messaging platforms?


In Senior Thesis, students had to explore the fields and topics that they’re interested in and come up with a design or a product. To quote the course, the work of thesis begins with inquiry/investigation/research/archiving/curiosity, that leads to speculation about the world, which results in a public declaration.


My thesis idea came up as I was chatting (more like researching) with a few deaf friends, and realized that the world isn’t really catered for the deaf. So how could design improve that situation? how could design add value to life of the deaf? Yes, it was a very naïve and broad inquiry.

Before we start, here’s a little background about deaf culture.

Deaf americans communicate primarily in American Sign Language.

It is not the equivalent of English nor a replacement. To further illustrate this, here’s a clip by Christine Sun Kim that elaborates that difference.

Ideation brainstorm and sketch

A few sketches here and there... ranging from deaf awareness, deaf representation, to bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing.

Then, it occured to me that there wasn’t really a way to express ASL in a mobile keyboard.

Thesis Question

So it all comes down to this central question:

How might we increase representation of ASL in messaging platforms?

So what is existing out there that’s in ASL?

Out of the entire Apple App Store, there are only 2 viable products that communicate ASL. The feedback are as follows: limited options, laddy, too yellow, really questioning about the celebrity prescence there.

So for my proposed solution, I designed Sign’o and had it launch on the App Store It’s targeted towards deaf young adults whose native language is ASL and its dialects and whom primarily uses iMessage as main tool for communication.

Some reddit research

This idea was validated via interviews as well as deaf subreddit groups (why Reddit? cuz people are more honest and direct when they’re anonymous)

Design & Iteration

It started off with a video of a sign (in this case, its “No”). Then, after identifying important frames, I traced them out on Illustrator.

The tracings are then imported into After Effects for animation and video export. Once exported, the video is then broken up into frames in Photoshop to create GIFs.

Series of initial design drafts Sign exploration ranging from “No,” “Wow,” and “Whatsup”

Here’s the overall set for the initial design.

A Xcode prototype running with initial stickers

A screenshot of Xcode with initial stickers loaded


After receiving feedback from peers, faculty, and the Deaf, I started reviewing all of them and taking account the fact that this is designed and catered for the deaf. The one key feedback I got was that the stickers looked too realistic to be friendly, cartoonish, and usable as stickers.

Final Design

So... a few sketches and tweaks later, I landed on this final design.

Final design

It’s also important to highlight that color, texts and complicated designs were considered and forfeited for the sake of higher frames per second (fps) that gives the sticker its fluid motion. Restrictions were set by Apple.

The final design, as a master, was used to design other signs and letters.

And repeated the whole cycle again...

A preview of the entire final design set

The definitions

And after a successful upload onto Xcode and a whole lot of blind debugging...
It’s live on the App Store!

Users can send these stickers as a message

Users can peel and paste these stickers as a reply to a specific message


iTunes Connect dashboard

So far a 184 units downloaded since its launch in March 7th!

Get yours for free here!

© 2018 Jonathan Haojaq Kho
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