Design: what it is, and how to teach and learn it

XV.2 March + April 2008
Page: 54
Digital Citation


Neema Moraveji, Zhengjie Liu

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How many mobile phones does the average South Korean have? What is the rage among Chinese websites designed for young people? Do we need to design different products for different cultures, or simply localize our existing line?

Everyone in the HCI community faces the barrage of information heralding the implications of globalization on designers and researchers. At the same time, Chinese designers attempt to assimilate Western thinking into the design of local products. uiGarden (, a Chinese-operated webzine, was developed to address these two needs, as proclaimed in their mission statement:

• Bring the newest Western research and development to China.

• Become a bridge [for] the Western [HCI] community [to understand] Eastern culture.

Founder Christina Li says that her goal, beyond the mission statement, "is very straightforward: When people think about usability and user-experience design in China, I want the first word that comes into their mind to be uiGarden." Li started the site in 2004. She says for the month of November 2007, "we had more than 31,000 page views in total, and on average more than 500 unique visitors every day. Visitors came from 105 countries around the world. About 56 percent of them came from China, 18 percent from the U.S. and the UK, and 26 percent from the rest of the world. Most of them are UX practitioners or students." uiGarden clearly has an audience in China.

Each month uiGarden publishes Chinese and English versions of a few well-chosen articles, usually written by Westerners or Chinese-Americans. These are either original articles for uiGarden or are reprinted from appropriate journals or conference proceedings such as CHI or DUX. These are not just cursory blog posts commenting on the latest trend or cultural difference in using technology; they are thoughtful pieces on myriad topics of interest to the audience. The topics and articles selected reflect the newest development in usability and UI design and provide new thoughts and concepts. The articles help Chinese readers to broaden their view and to be aware of trends in this field. The content is easy to read, with many examples from daily life, which help readers gain a better understanding of the concepts.

Examples of recent uiGarden articles include:

• "The Gap Between 25 Seconds and 5 Seconds"-a comparison of the design of a Chinese-brand air-conditioning unit to its Japanese cousin shows the evolving nature of usability in Chinese products.

• "Meaning of Chopsticks in Asia"-a discussion on the intricacies of chopsticks in Asia, and how these relate to cultural values and norms.

• "Design for Emotion: Ready for the Next Decade?"-an article on emotive product design showing how Chinese porcelain has evolved certain emotive characteristics.

• "Global Market, Global Emotion, Global Design?"-a discussion of attempts to identify a "global experience" and designing "global" products suggesting that, until context is sufficiently shared (through media, movies, virtual worlds, and so on), the "global experience" will remain elusive.

For Chinese readers, uiGarden provides an opportunity to read articles in their native language, gleaning greater and subtler meaning than if read in English. For Western readers, uiGarden is useful in that it acts as a highly targeted publication whose readers might be pleasantly surprised to find pieces typically unavailable in other publications—that is, by Chinese designers. But content primarily benefits Chinese readers. Virtual China ( is a related blog that attempts to dissect Chinese digital culture for Western readers in a non-journal format. By soliciting more Asian authors for articles UIGarden's value would enhance greatly. Because of the easy knowledge transfer and points raised for discussion in user comments, a good place to start would be case studies.

The editors of uiGarden acknowledge that as the field of user-experience design changes, so too will the site. As uiGarden grows, Li says, "we plan to have more original content, that is, articles not published elsewhere, and more articles from Chinese authors. We also plan to improve our categories and to have special columns on popular topics." uiGarden might be the only site where people can find a reasonably large collection of Chinese translations of relevant articles from English. This makes uiGarden popular among Chinese usability practitioners. The translation seems of good quality, and in most cases, even the subtle, deep meaning of the article seems to translate well. However, just as with any translations, whether this kind of meaning transfers well, the holistic knowledge transfer depends on the reader's knowledge and experience level on the topics. What the readers really get from the articles, especially those deeper meanings, varies from reader to reader.

Western readers hoping to gain some understanding of their counterparts across the globe might be disappointed with uiGarden, but not because of the content itself. Chinese and English versions of the articles are separated into two pages on the site. When conversations or comments do arise (not always), Chinese users discuss articles in Chinese, while Westerners debate in English. Reader comments on articles and posts in the forum are segregated and not translated. This means a key opportunity, to bridge conversations between Eastern and Western HCI practitioners, is missed.

Readers want to see more communication between Chinese and Western participants. If an article and its related comments in English could appear in parallel with its counterpart in Chinese, it might encourage more conversations and better achieve the objective of becoming "a bridge [for] the Western [HCI] community [to understand] Eastern culture."

The numbers in the forum should please uiGarden's intended readers: 4,906 posts in 814 Chinese threads, and 950 posts in 357 English threads. The English-language forum does not provide much value, so the Western reader is left salivating over the potentially juicy debates going on in the Chinese forum. Translating user comments and putting them on both versions of the article would be a welcomed feature for a cross-cultural publication, a goal that is tantalizingly close and would set uiGarden apart.

The Chinese are fiercely proud and highly informed of their culture and history. There is a simple reason why news topics and forums in China are so popular: The Chinese love to discuss China. Many of these comments and opinions on uiGarden, rich with cultural nuances, are commonly hidden from Western readers because they come in the form of casual comments in the thousands of Chinese forums and blogs. uiGarden is one resource that has the potential of appealing to Western readers, while providing Eastern readers with a reason to come back. If the site's editors can include more articles from Asian authors and make user commentary transparent across the site, uiGarden will be poised to enhance cross-cultural communication among HCI practitioners, ultimately leading to a harmonious partnership, not competition, between both groups.

back to top  Authors

Neema Moraveji
Stanford University
[email protected]

Zhengjie Liu
Dalian Maritime University
[email protected]

About the Authors

Neema Moraveji studies the design of education technology while pursuing his Ph.D. at Stanford University. Before that, he was an HCI researcher with Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing for two years. Before that, he studied at Carnegie Mellon University's HCI Institute. And before that, he studied at the University of Maryland's HCI Lab. Before that, things are fuzzy, but he remembers scores of trips to local fruit markets in countries around the world.

Zhengjie Liu is founder and director of the Sino-European Usability Center (SEUC) (, professor of HCI at Dalian Maritime University in China, and co-founder and co-chair of ACM SIGCHI China. He is one of the pioneers in HCI and usability in China since the early 1990s. He provides consultancy to industries and conducts research funded by the public funds from the European Union and China.

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UF1Figure. A recent issue of UIGarden in English and Chinese.

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