Leena Choi


How might we create a better work culture in Japan?



Chitchat is a feature that aims to encourage people to chat with co-workers casually. It intends to help teams increase communication between co-workers. This is my passion project where I addressed the issue I truly care about. In this project, I was involved as a designer and my role was to identify design opportunities, envision the preferred future, and translate it into a product.


2 weeks

My Role

UX Designer


UX/UI Design



Japan’s work culture has been an issue and we needed to find a way to make it better

Since the highly-publicized Dentsu employee suicide, Japan's work culture has become one of the important issues to be solved. While the government and some companies tried to solve the issue by creating new rules, number of death due to work related causes was increasing every year. Thus, we were motivated to find a solution for it.



Understanding the problem space

The direct cause of the issue was the stress from overworking, however, I needed to find out exactly what cause people to overwork. To do so, we conducted a primary research and discovered that the problem is heavily correlated to Japanese culture, history, tradition and mindset. Below are the main findings: 

Keeping its Harmony
Japan is a harmonious society with a low rate of litigation, crime, and divorce. People value group goals more than immediate personal gain. Because of this societal expectation, they tend to hide their true feelings, which can potentially keep them working even though they don’t want to.

Shared Responsibility
Shared Responsibility simply means that if something goes wrong, the responsibility is shared by all who were in the team. Due to this mindset in Japan, the idea of causing trouble for others make you feel that you aren’t working enough.

High Economic Growth Period in 1950s - 1970s
After the World War Two ended, Japan rapidly became the world's second largest economy. Now, those who experienced the era became seniors or managers at companies and they are inheriting the work ethic, "if you work harder and longer, you will succeed someday."

Respect-Older Culture
Not only in Japan but also in many Asian countries, It is very important to respect someone who is older. This makes junior level employees difficult to go home when other employees who are older are still working.


User research


Listening to the real voice and digging into the "why"

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.


Defining Goal

One key step in the design process for me is to clearly define a design goal before ideating because goals help me make sure that the focus of design is in the right place. As we discovered a core issue of the problem to be lack of communication, we defined our goal to be,

How might we design a feature that encourages open communication?



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. 



This is what the current user flow of making a group chat look like.





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.