Duolingo is a digital language learning tool that allows users to practice dozens of languages, accessible both through mobile and the web. We conducted usability tests on the Japanese and Korean “learning a new writing system” tools and provided design recommendations to improve users’ experience with learning unfamiliar writing systems. This case study is a non-sponsored, team-based project I worked on in the Usability Study course at the University of Washington.
UX Designer, Design Researcher
Crafted research protocol
Facilitated usability testing sessions
Ran data analysis (affinity mapping)
Provided design recommendations and visual design
Jan 2022 - Mar 2022 (10 weeks)
3 UX Researchers
Non-Latin-based languages are generally quite difficult to learn for English speakers accustomed to the Latin alphabet due to its unfamiliar writing systems, grammar, etc. Duolingo also occasionally suffers from inconsistencies in volunteer resources wherein “popular” Latin-based languages have better or more thoroughly workshopped features.
Character learning is the essential first step for non-native speakers to familiarize themselves with new writing systems. We decided to explore how users interact with this character feature and discover which usability positivities and shortcomings currently exist on its platform.
Japanese & Korean
Moderated / Remote
After collecting the data from our screener questionnaire, based on people's interests, we decided to target people who meet the following requirements. We recruited 10 participants (5 for Japanese and 5 for Korean studies) from the screener respondents.
We asked the participants to complete 3 main tasks thinking aloud to understand their holistic experience with the character-learning tool.
We moved the findings to a Miro board and created Affinity Diagrams to consolidate and categorize large data. We discussed the scope and severity of each theme and determined what needs to be prioritized.
After discussing the design recommendations with the team, I designed the visual examples of our proposed solutions.
Those frictions interfere with users' knowledge acquisition. The learnability of the design could be improved by addressing the issues.
Participants couldn't quickly tell if they were supposed to match the items on the left column with those on the right column. Some also assumed they would drag the buttons instead of clicking.
This indicated that the design was not intuitive and lacked instructions.
"I don't know how we're supposed to match them because there are no arrows or anything so I'm not sure if we're supposed to drag or directly pair them up"
Participants had to figure out how to build a character by randomly clicking the buttons since they didn't understand how exactly Korean characters were built yet. While they were able to learn it quickly, it was not an intuitive and pleasant experience.
“There were no cues for this exercise and you just clicked on the buttons to put them in the right box, I thought you had to trace them”
In each lesson, several characters were randomly selected, and there were no clear explanations of the relationship among the chosen characters. Participants felt unsure how the lessons play a part in learning the language overall.
“I wish it would have been a little more upfront on what exactly and how exactly I'm learning, I wanted to see a clear lesson plan.”
Randomly selected characters (ko, shi, su, u)
Originally, we wanted to recruit people who were interested in learning any new language with an unfamiliar writing system, but narrowing the scope down to 2 specific languages made our project manageable and helped us identify what to focus on the most during the testing.
While the participants liked Duolingo's simple and clean interface, I found that making the design too simple could make it less intuitive. I believe designers should identify the sweet spot that enables both simplicity and intuitive design.