Deok_UP is an app to teach Korean through Korean Popular Culture Content. Deok_UP (덕업, dŏkŏp) comes from the word 덕후 (dŏkhu) in Korean, which means “fan” and the word “UP” pronounced as 업 (ŏp) in Korean. It is also a way to allude to the expression “덕업일치” (dŏkŏp ilch’i), which means “when something you enjoy becomes your work.” This saying reflects well my wish to enable people to reach their personal/professional goal of learning Korean enjoyably, and that’s why I decided on this name.

Watch Pitch Video

#1 | Design Statement

My research revolves around Korean popular culture (especially K-pop), its international reception, and its consequences of it. In Korean studies, the relevance of K-pop and other Korean pop culture elements is always undermined – and yet, one of the biggest reasons why students study Korean is K-pop or K-dramas! Because of this, students take language classes, and only a few get into more content-oriented classes – and do not get further. I want to shape a project that considers my teaching philosophy, which is that content and language should equally be incorporated into the curriculum, and to do so; we should incorporate more Korean pop culture into Korean learning tools. The UX design I aim for needs to be intuitive and make the user only focus on learning Korean without figuring out how the app works for a while before starting.

#2 | Competitor Analysis and Usability Evaluation

Competitor Analysis

Type of InfoApplication 1Application 2
NameTalk to me in Korean (TTMIK)Koreanclass101
URLClick hereClick here
PresentationSimilarly to Talk to Me in Korean, KoreanClass101 also offers Korean classes – they are subscription-based but seem to offer more features in their free trial than TTMIK.
Similarly to Talk to Me in Korean, KoreanClass101 also offers Korean classes – they are also subscription-based but seem to offer more features in their free trial than TTMIK.
Overall EvaluationOverall, TTMIK adopts a minimalist aesthetic, with pastel colors and little information on the screen. The choice of having a long-scrolling website is, in my opinion, the main reason that makes some of the heuristic principles hardly applicable.

On the other hand, KoreanClass101 adopts a less pleasing aesthetic yet more functional design – but maybe a little bit too much. Too much information is on the screen, and the user can easily feel lost and not really know what to do.

Heuristic EvaluationAccess

Usability Evaluation

After the heuristic evaluation, my main concerns regarding the user design of TalktomeinKorean were as follows:

  • The long-scrolling layout could hide much of what the website offers.
  • The navigation between the different lessons. (the connection between system/real world)
  • The navigation inside of a lesson is too linear. (user control and freedom)
  • There is difficulty accessing the help section. (help and documentation)

Based on those four different heuristic points, I designed three different tasks that would make the user go over the table of contents of the lesson, but also go over the different parts of one lesson, and finally, access the help platform.

See Usability Evaluation

#3 | User Research

Nowadays, there is a big gap in Korean Studies between language classes focusing only on language and content courses focusing more on cultural, historical, and societal contexts. That leads to a problem in which students are either very knowledgeable about Korea but not proficient in Korean or vice versa. Using Korean pop culture as a gateway to learning Korean would help make more developed classes. Even if this problem is mainly related to the major of Korean Studies at the University, of course, using an online platform (digital technology aspect) would make the teaching material broadly available and reach a wider target of people. Also, Korean pop culture relies heavily on social media platforms so it seems like it would be easy to integrate those elements all together.

Here are the main takes that I took from the contextual inquiry:

  • Using YouTube as an external resource
  • Importance of what happens “outside the classroom.”
  • The relevance of K-pop songs in Korean Learning
  • Using Korean pop culture as a gateway to Korean learning… but what about the reverse effect?
#4 | UX Storytelling

First Person: Tamera

Second Person: Shawn

Read more on UX Storytelling

#5 | Wireframes, Graphic Design & Low-fidelity Prototype
  • First Scenario

Tamera texts her friend to confess that she is into BTS now and that she wants to pick Korean again. Her friend, who is now taking Advanced Korean, tells her about Deok_UP, an app that uses Korean pop culture-related content as a pedagogical tool. She uses it to get grammar explanations and foster her vocabulary, but a section teaches you how to read in only a week or even less! Tamera downloads Deok_UP and opens the application. On the “introductions” screen, she clicks on “I can read Korean a bit.” She now has the choice to go through different programs adapted to how fast she wants to learn: 70 minutes / 7 hours / 7 days. Since she is so impatient, she chooses 1 hour. Using the names of BTS members, she gets to associate every letter with their reading. After an hour, she takes a test – she already remembers some vowels!

  • Tasks/Features from the first scenario
    • Set a new account on Deok_UP.
    • Take a quick-level assessment test, say that she knows a bit of the alphabet, and choose the 70-minute review mode of the Korean Alphabet.
    • Choose BTS as a review partner.
    • Review the Vowels
    • Do the first exercise (spot the vowels in BTS’ Jin real name)
  • Second Scenario

Shawn downloads the app and opens it. On the introduction page, he says that he can read. Who cannot read the Korean alphabet these days? He can read and knows basic grammar but doesn’t know how to use it. He reviews the different menus and finds the “Business Korean” section. That would be perfect for him! He taps it and gets access to a step-by-step college-like syllabus that goes over the different aspects of Korean company culture through a Korean drama called Misaeng. He starts the first lesson with listening, speaking, writing, and grammar/vocab sections. He watches the first clip and can already catch some words he knows! The whole lesson is about the culture of “company diners,” but also about levels of politeness and what to avoid using with co-workers.

  • Tasks/Features from the second scenario
    • Set a new account on Deok_UP.
    • Take the quick-level assessment test and say, “Yes, I can read.”
    • Access to “Survival Korean” and “Business Korean”
    • Watch the first clip to practice listening.
  • Low-fidelity prototype (click to enlarge)
#6 | High-fidelity/Interactive Prototype & Cognitive Walkthrough
  • Scenario 1 (Set an Account – Self-Assessment Test – Hangul Refresher w/ BTS – Vowels Exercise) (click to enlarge)
  • Scenario 2 (Set up an Account – Self-Assessment Test – Survival Korean – Business Korean – Watch a Clip) (click to enlarge)
  • Cognitive Walkthrough

I also completed a cognitive walkthrough with a friend who sat beside me and went through a different scenario. It felt that, for the moment, there was not any specific problem when it came to dead-ends. However, regarding the first scenario and the vowel exercise, there was no sign of progress nor a message telling the user if they were doing great. For that reason, I added a bubble on the picture of the BTS member that would help as a way to guide the user into the exercise. It was especially helpful because I was so immersed in the project that I needed to make screens for every possibility that I forgot to add “in-between” stages. Now that I am writing this, I realize that there is no “error message” that would indicate sometime if the user were to press on a 한글 letter that was not a vowel. This is something to take into consideration for further versions.