User Experience Research & Design
Learning Chinese: Redefine the problems and design a better tool to scaffold the process


Now there are over 40 million Mandarin learners around the world, but there are not enough teachers and resources at the same time. Meanwhile, the learning behaviors of Mandarin learners are changing but the materials and teaching methods remain the same as of almost 20 years ago. And learners do not put enough time and effort to practice as suggested but expect good results.


We used design thinking to redefine problems, conducted user research, analyzed insights, and designed potential solutions. After fast prototyping and testing, we learned from feedback and kept enhancing our products for providing better experiences for teaching and learning Mandarin.

Usability test for the original website

When I joined the team, there is already an existing product on the market. The concept of this website tool is amazing but there is none UX concept involved when they built this tool. 


I started the UX design by having usability tests to get enough feedback for the next iteration. After running some usability tests, we realized this tool tries to solve the problem which might not be fully defined.

  • Original website

  • Usability testing for the reading tool

Redefine the problem

Who are the users and where are they?

- Market Research

Who are the real users and where are they? As a UX researcher/ designer, these two questions are the first thing I have to ask and figure out. Also, who is in the market now? What do they do and where are they? And who do they serve?


We did our market research to answer these questions and find the numbers of this market and to dive deeper into this market.

Background Review

Learning Chinese as a second language has become popular all around the world. Nowadays there are more and more Mandarin learners in this market but there are not enough teachers and resources at the same time.  


When mandarin teachers would like to make some changes in their teaching materials and look for new resources, they find it difficult to have up-to-date and ready-to-use resources both offline and online. Either they spend much time to create their own materials which fit their students, or they just give up and use old materials to teach.

Meanwhile, learners’ average age is decreasing, and more children get involved in Mandarin learning. Their learning behaviors are changing but the materials and teaching methods remain the same as of almost 20 years ago. Moreover, most Mandarin learners spent less time studying Mandarin than suggested (5 hours per day, 88 weeks, total 2,200 hours) but expect good results, like having some conversations after learning a year.

Therefore, there are many problems to be solved on both sides, teaching system and learners, in the Mandarin learning market. How might we use technology to scaffold the learning process?

 Qualitative & Quantitative Research

  • Field visits

    • We went to some high schools, both public and private, in New York City to see what they do in their Mandarin classes and the environments of their Mandarin classrooms.

    • We also went to the offices of Mandarin teachers to see their resources, like different textbooks, videos, Chinese traditional games, and some teaching tools.​

  • Observations

    • We observed how teachers prepped their teaching materials, for example, how they found useful resources online.​

    • We observed how student studied and practice Mandarin, and how they use online resources, like Google translate, to help them learning Mandarin easier and more efficient.

  • Interviews (phone and in-person)

    • We interviewed Mandarin teachers from middle/ high schools in the United States, ​tutors all around the world, teachers from the universities in China, and private institutes in China to understand their needs and their thoughts about this industry.

    • The learners we interviewed are from all around the world. Some of them study Mandarin in schools (middle/ high schools, and universities) and some of them learn Mandarin by having tutors who get hired by learners' employers. And some of them are self-learning. The range of learners' ages is from 18 to 40. 

  • Focus groups/ workshops

    • We invited teachers to talk about how they design their curriculums/ units/ projects/ topics.

    • We also had brainstorming sessions for teachers to help them think outside the box for their teaching materials and methods.

  • Surveys

    • Online surveys for Mandarin teachers all around the world to understand their needs and the situations they are facing now, like teaching methods, materials, budgets, and class management.​

    • Online and physical surveys for students who are learning Mandarin in China. The questions are focused on the challenges they are facing and how they deal with them.

  • Field visit

  • Interview highlights

  • Workshop

Personas & User Journey

After the research of our users, we analyzed their needs and pain points and then created 2 personas, one for Mandarin teachers, one for adult learners. We also analyzed every step of their work to visualize user journeys.

  • Persona

  • User Journey

Redefine the problems &

Opportunity Areas

What is the real problem for our users? This problem should not be vague and based on hypothesis. We used many design methods and tools to synthesize those insights from research and redefine the problem. Then, we reviewed them and explored the opportunities.

  • Synthesize the insights

  • Redefine the problems

  • Review insights and find the opportunity areas


Time for brainstorming and ideation! All ideas are worthy. We conducted this process by using different design tools. After ideation, we had to evaluate the feasibility of all ideas. We got two ideas which were assessed feasible that we decided ​to move forward, one for teachers and one for learners. Then we moved to the prototype phase. 

  • Ideation

  • Feasibility evaluation

Prototype & Test

  • User flow

    • Based on the ideation session, we visualized the user flows of the two ideas. One of them was an online reading tool that we were able to build the wireframe of it.

  • Wireframe​

  • Fast Prototype​

    • We used many handy tools, such as pen and paper, Keynotes, InVision, Wix, and WeChat, to build our prototypes in a very short time to validate our ideas.

    • ​Reading: a tool for teachers to create ​reading materials for their students. The primary users of this fast prototype are teachers.

    • Listening & Speaking: We used existing products, like our reading tool (EasyShu) and wechat to create a new way to practice conversations based on learners' real scenarios. The primary users of this fast prototype are learners.

  • Usability Testing

    • We did the usability testing of our reading tool for both teachers and students. Then we applied those feedback to launch our website V.2.

    • We found learners all around the world to have the usability test of our new method of practicing listening and speaking. And we got much valuable feedback to determine the next step of this product.

  • User flow

  • Wireframe

  • Fast prototype


The whole process iterates quickly and continues to refine the products based on human-centered design, to facilitate Mandarin learning in an easier way.

Here are the example showing the process iteration.

The example is our homepages from the original version to version 3, to see how we redesign it to meet our users' needs.

  • Original website

  • Version 2

  • Version 3

Next steps

We are planning to develop a reading mobile app, which is targeting students, in the future.

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© 2020 by ching-lun teng