Working in Japan is quite different from working in the US. In Japan, it’s common to work longer hours, embrace group mentality, and look up to their superiors. In this work culture, people often feel suppressed to speak up your opinion.
Chitchat is a product that encourages people to create personal connections with their co-workers and ultimately makes a difference in Japan’s work culture. This is a passion project where I addressed the issue I truly care about.
Understand the current state of the world
Before tackling the issue of work culture in Japan, I needed to clearly identify the core problem. From interviewing 6 people who currently work in Japan, I quickly discovered that the issue is heavily correlated with Japanese culture.
Communication is one of the core problems
After getting a broad understanding of this problem space, we interviewed few people to learn their work experience. Specifically, I asked questions around the findings from the primary research. This was for us to empathize with our potential users, make sure if these research insights are true, and dig into the why.
Here are some interview insights:
- It depends on the team you are a part of, but in my team, 30% of the people often stay until 8 or 9pm. I've seen someone staying almost till midnight.
- Majority of people at my company are very responsive even during weekend.
- There is a tacit understanding of working longer than co-workers who are older.
- Working in the team could be stressful because I'm worried about messing things up and bother others in my team.
- Sometimes when I have a meeting with my manager, it can be scary to speak up to him/her
During the interview, I tried to ask them "why" to their answer. For example, one of my interviewee mentioned the she usually work until 9pm. So, I asked "why do you have to work until 9pm?" She said, "because I feel like I should go home before my manager." So, I asked "why can't you go home before your manager?" She said, "he probably won't think I'm working hard enough if I go home before him." So, I asked "why does he think that way?" She said, "I don't know but he must be thinking that way!"
From asking these why questions, I noticed that there is a lack of open communication between co-workers.
How might we design a feature that encourages open communication?
As we discovered a core issue of the problem to be a lack of communication, we defined our goal to be designing a feature to encourage open communication. It was a key step in the design process because defining the design goal clearly before ideating help us make sure that the focus of design is in the right place.
As a team, we took some time to come up with ideas to tackle the problem we identified. We sketched out ideas on our individual notebook, gathered as a group, and shared each of our ideas. Through this process, one idea, anonymous chat feature, was determined.
We looked into communication tools and anonymous chat applications that are currently on the market, and we discovered that there aren't any anonymous communication tool at workplace currently.
USER FLOW & WIRE FLOW
We distributed our prototype to a team and asked them to use it for a day so we can see if anonymous environment is making a difference - solving the problem. At the end of the day, we compared the number of messages and immediately got confirmation that it is making a difference because there were 428 messages sent in our prototype while there were only 93 messages sent in the usual group chat. (I blurred out the messages for privacy purpose.)
What are some improvements we can make?
Although I could see that Chit Chat was doing a great job, I also saw some improvements that can be made. From looking at the conversation on our prototype, I found out that the number of message increased when someone in the chat group made a joke or asked questions. However, when there aren’t any conversation starters, the chat group was inactive. This led us add two more features, chatbot & avatar.
To avoid the inactivity, I incorporated chatbot that sends messages when there were no activities for a certain amount of time. When the chatbot recognizes negative words, it sends messages to change the atmosphere of the conversation.
In order to protect user identity, we decided to allow users to change their avatar anytime
This is a project that I felt very passionate about while working on it because it tackles the meaningful problem of work culture in Japan. Although it might be just a tiny step towards solving this huge problem, I was able to gain many lessons. Here are some:
Always justify every decision you make. During this project, we had two mentors who always asked us "why" to our decisions, and it helped us make our abstract idea more concrete and move to the right direction.
User experience of chat app highly depends on what users actually talk. As a designer, my goal was to make their experience as positive as possible. However, I noticed that compared to other types of app, chat app is difficult because their experience relies on what users talk about and how each messages interact with.