Culture & Interface Design: Senior Thesis — Part 2

Grace Noh
Grace Noh
Mar 17, 2017 · 5 min read

Nowadays, I think about my thesis 60% of the time.

30% is about my upcoming summer trip to Asia.

10% is always about cats or coffee.

Welcome to Part 2!

For those who haven’t read Part 1, these are short progress updates on my senior thesis, which is about I’m comparing mobile apps in the to mobile apps in

Since Part 1, I’ve accomplished the following things:

  • Finalized theI’m focusing on
  • Mapped out cultural dimensions and relevant
  • Completed the
  • Conducted with designers from both the US and Korea

Now I’ll share the highlights of what I’ve done so far!

New App Pairings

App Pairings (Revised)

I added two new categories to my app pairings: (6) music and (7) blogging. I also switched out Facebook Messenger for WhatsApp, because it’s a closer counterpart to KakaoTalk.

UI/UX Markers

Barber and Badre (1998) coined a term called “cultural markers.”Cultural markers are interface design elements and features that are prevalent, and possibly preferred, within a particular cultural group.

From interview data and secondary research, I mapped out relevant cultural markers to the cultural dimensions I’m focusing on. I’ll be calling them to be more specific.

For example, a UI/UX marker related to (risk-averse, regulation, security) is access to help/support within the app.

Mapping UI/UX Markers to Cultural Dimensions

This map helped me identify UI/UX markers during my pairwise app analysis. If you would like to read more about the research behind the cultural dimensions and their definitions, see these links:

Pairwise App Analysis: Highlights

As I mentioned in Part 1, one of my research methods is a pairwise mobile app analysis, where I place the app pairings side-by-side and break down the differences between the two interfaces. Here are a few highlights:

Music: Top Charts or My Stations?

Melon (Korea) dedicates its home page to showing real-time charts of what the most popular songs are (most played songs by app users). On the other hand, Pandora’s (US) home page displays My Stations, which are stations you’ve created that cater to your personal music preferences.

Melon (Korea) v. Pandora (US): Home Page

Referring back to the map of UI/UX markers, Melon is essentially displaying content approved by society/group (), while Pandora is displaying personalized content ().

Photography: 100 or 10 Filters?

Snow (Korea) has 100s of different filters to choose from, while Snapchat (US) swaps out aselect 10–15 filters every day.

Snow (Korea) v. Snapchat (US): Filters

According to the UI/UX markers, Snow’s greater selection of filters offers many choices (, ), while Snapchat’s limited selection offers select (minimal) options ().

Search/Information: How many articles can you take at once?

On the home page, Naver (Korea) features at least 6 different articles while Google Search (US) features at most 1 at a time (you have to scroll to see more).

Naver (Korea) v. Google Search (US): Home Page

Looking at the UI/UX markers, Naver feeds a lot of content and prompts many actions at once (). Conversely, Google Search tailors content and prompts only one action at a time ().


For the most part, I found that the mobile interfaces of both countries did indeed correlate to their respective cultural dimensions. Although the relationship is not yet causal, this proves that there is definitely a correlation between culture and interface design.

Interviews: Highlights

I interviewed three designers: two from the US and one from Korea. I won’t mention their names for privacy reasons, but I gained valuable insights from talking with these three individuals.

Here are some interesting quotes:

“Icons don’t need to come with text. Since many users have learned, there is no need for such an explanation.”

— UI Designer from South Korea

Icons are metaphorical and sometimes require implicit understanding. This makes icons UI/UX markers for cultures, like South Korea.

On the other hand, cultures like the US prefer explicit messages. This makes the combination of icons with text more common in US interfaces:

“You shouldn’t rely on icons themselves. The most clear way is to include text with icons. If users don’t know what icons mean, it’s useless.”

— Product Designer from the US

I’m still on the hunt for more interview data, so

What’s Next?

For the rest of March and April, I want to focus on interviews. My goal is to interview at least 1 designer of each mobile app.

In Part 3, I’ll be sharing more interesting quotes from my interviews. Stay tuned!

These Medium posts are primarily for me to keep track of my progress for the next 2–3 months (March - May 2017) while I write my thesis. However, you are welcome to follow along and share your thoughts about my project by commenting below!

Read Part 1

Grace Noh

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Grace Noh

Design @ VMware