abc Joined Up

Lead product designer (UX/UI)
February 2011
abc Joined Up

What's it all about?

‘abc Joined Up’ is an interactive app for iPhone & iPad that helps children learn how to write cursive/joined-up handwriting. The app was created for Letter Layers, a Surrey-based educational software company, based on their patented method of teaching cursive handwriting.

Letter Layers wanted to re-imagine their PC-based software to work on touch devices. The new app needed to be fun and rewarding enough to engage a young audience with an appropriate level of challenge by which progress could be measured. It needed to appeal to both parents and teachers, who could potentially be using the app as a teaching aid in class. Finally, it needed to be flexible enough to accommodate different writing styles used outside the UK.

How we did it

Letter Layers had a very clear idea of what the user journey should look like and how the handwriting activities could be presented in stages to assist the learning process. Their innovative handwriting system, which breaks down letters into simple components, was well-suited to the drag-and-drop interaction afforded by touch devices. The challenge was to present this in a way that would be easy for children to understand with or without adult guidance.

ABC Joined Up - Step-by-step user interaction
Step-by-step user interaction

We designed the interface to be as big and bright as possible. The 3 main activity types (writing single letters, joins, and words) are colour-coded to imply the level of difficulty: yellow for single letters, orange for two-letter joins, and red for words. Each step of the interaction begins with an animation that explains what needs to be done, then the child repeats the action.

ABC Joined Up - ‘Up & Over Family’ screens
‘Up & Over Family’ screens
ABC Joined Up - ‘Write Words’ screens
‘Write Words’ screens

We worked with a voiceover recording studio to create a speaking guide that provides helpful tips and praise when activities are completed successfully, as well as bringing a human element to the app. Both British and American voices were included to improve the appeal of the app in the UK & USA.

Given that the app needed to work on both small screens (iPhone, iPod Touch) and larger screens (iPad), we had to carefully consider the touch area for each letter, join, and word. It was important to keep the layout uncluttered so the child has space to make mistakes and correct themselves, gradually improving their handwriting skills.

ABC Joined Up - App icon + ‘Write a Word’ illustrations
App icon + ‘Write a Word’ illustrations


Design Ben Stevens, Darren Walters

Engineering Lloyd Harrison