Nihongo Master Classroom Experience Design Case Study

Danish Aslam
7 min readMay 30

Nihongo Master is a Japanese language learning platform that originated from the passion and dedication of Taylor Dondich, a senior developer and Japanese language learner. With a deep understanding of the challenges faced by learners, Taylor initially developed Nihongo Master as an open-source Japanese study tool. Through continuous updates and the addition of new features and tools, Taylor aimed to provide a comprehensive solution for a better understanding of the Japanese language.

In 2016, recognizing the potential impact of Nihongo Master, Taylor transformed it into a subscription-based language learning platform. With over 200+ lessons available, the platform offered a wealth of resources to help learners navigate the intricacies of Japanese. Taylor’s firsthand experience as a language learner allowed him to identify the pain points faced by students and develop targeted tools to address them effectively.


As a product designer at, my goal was to create an immersive and effective classroom experience for Japanese language learners. By leveraging user research, innovative design principles, and collaboration with the development team, I was able to design a classroom experience that fostered engagement, facilitated learning, and addressed the unique challenges faced by learners.


The objective of this case study is to outline the process and strategies employed in designing the classroom experience for By focusing on user needs, incorporating interactive features, and optimizing learning materials, we aimed to create a robust platform that catered to the diverse needs of Japanese language learners.

Research and Analysis

The Japanese language is renowned for its complexity, making it a fascinating and challenging language to learn. With its unique writing systems, including three different scripts (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) and over 200 kanji combinations, mastering Japanese requires dedication and perseverance. To gauge proficiency levels and provide standardized assessment, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) offers a range of levels from N5 (beginner) to N1 (advanced).

To ensure a deeper understanding of our target audience and current user base, we conducted both internal and external interviews. These interviews helped us gain valuable insights into the motivations, interests, and experiences of Japanese language learners. By analyzing this data, we aim to tailor our offerings and resources to best meet the needs of our diverse community of learners.

We conducted a survey among our 250+ student user base to understand their motivations and interests in learning Japanese. The feedback will help us customize our offerings to better meet their needs.

Responses on survicate from the survey

Based on the survey responses, we can draw some conclusions about our target audience of Japanese language learners:

Motivations: A significant portion of learners are motivated by a personal interest in Japanese culture, followed by the influence of anime and manga. This suggests that cultural fascination plays a crucial role in driving their language-learning journey.

Experience and Progress: The majority of participants have been learning Japanese for 1–3 years and are at a beginner or intermediate level. This indicates that there is a mix of learners at different stages of proficiency.
Interests: Pop culture, including anime and J-pop music, garners the highest interest among respondents. Traditional arts, history, language structure, and cuisine also attract attention, albeit to a lesser extent.

Comparison to Other Languages: Many learners have experience learning other foreign languages. While some perceive Japanese as more challenging, a significant portion considers it equally challenging or even less challenging than their previous language learning experiences.

Goals: Short-term goals predominantly focus on acquiring basic conversational skills and using Japanese for travel purposes. Long-term goals revolve around achieving fluency and using Japanese professionally.\

User Personas

Nihongo Master is a widely-used product with significant features, with 90% of its traffic being organic web-based. To ensure we were focusing on the most essential features, we held a Prioritization workshop. During this session, we carefully selected the most desirable and viable features, keeping in mind the impact on SEO and user experience. Our goal was to prioritize features that would enhance the product while maintaining its existing traffic and experience.

Prioritization workshop Moscow analysis


As we conducted our research, we aimed to organize the lessons into skills and provide a range of lessons, drills, and skill tests for each skill. Our goal was to track student progress through each skill and incentivize learning by offering achievement badges based on earned XP points. To measure success, we planned to monitor the number of lessons completed by students within a given time interval. Additionally, we aimed to gather feedback through surveys to assess customer satisfaction levels and adjust our approach as necessary.

How Might We Workshop
Skill Level visual

Crazy 8 sessions and sketches

Lesson Structure and Organization of Skills:

Based on user research and audits, we identified that our current lesson structure and roadmap primarily emphasize complete language control. However, we recognize the need to offer a more targeted approach that allows users to acquire specific language skills without necessarily following the entire roadmap. For instance, users interested in anime can access a skill called “Anime Vocabulary” and focus on developing their proficiency in that area. This approach enables us to engage users based on specific personas, thereby increasing engagement and retention rates, which align with our ultimate goal.

User Journey Map

High Fidelity Designs
Learners experience

Learner's View of classroom experience

Guest Users

Mobile Version

Learner Dashboard

Feedback and iteration

From beta users' feedback and internal testing, one potential problem that existed in design was, that our users were confused about skill progress, as elements of skill don’t have the progress of their own, we have to think of a new way to have the skill status

Revised Experience with new progress

Sneak Peak into the Design System

We used Flowbite, Tailwind design system.

Behind the Scenes

Results, Conclusion & Learning

Tools and tech used to facilitate the design process

working for a Japanese language platform taught me the importance of personalization, engagement, and meeting the unique needs of language learners. It emphasized the value of user research and the role it plays in shaping a successful language-learning platform.

Danish Aslam

Product Designer & UX Expert passionate about creating seamless experiences. Sharing insights and expertise on Medium to empower others in the world of design.✨