Case study: Identity and visual design for Japanese Language Stack Exchange

A question and answer site for students and enthusiasts of the Japanese language.

Donna Choi
Sep 16 · 3 min read

During my tenure at Stack Overflow, I was tasked with designing an identity and visual design for Japanese Language Stack Exchange, a question and answer site for students and enthusiasts of the Japanese language.

Research and concept development

When developing early concepts, I drew inspiration from user feedback, Japanese art and writing, and Japanese aesthetic philosophy.

First, I scoured existing ideas from the community for the site’s design aesthetic. I was interested in learning about their design ideas as well as the metaphors and experiences that inspired their ideas.

One thing that resonated with me was the nuanced, challenging experience of learning a new language. As a semi-fluent Korean speaker, I’ve often found myself communicating in basic vocabulary, removed of the embellishments and nuances that intuitively came to me in English. While frustrating at times, I experienced depth and beauty in this simplicity. I could say to my relatives, “thank you for your kindness.” I could not easily embellish that with jokes or comments that I might otherwise deploy to fill space or deflect from the weight of that sentiment.

I became interested in visualizing this simplicity — what does it look like when you pare communication down to its most fundamental components, and how does that translate to a site design?

I started exploring ways to translate these ideas into a visual experience. I learned about wabi-sabi, a Japanese design philosophy that values simplicity and intimacy in art.

Mood board of Japanese art, characters, and patterns.

I drew inspiration from the minimalist forms, geometric line work, and cool, desaturated colors of Japanese patterns, writing systems, and architecture. I used these to iterate on first concepts for Japanese Language Stack Exchange.

Initial identity and site design

For the logo, I wanted to convey the linear elegance of Japanese writing systems. As the site’s main signature, the red logo is designed to resemble a Japanese chop. For the typeface, I took inspiration from Japanese characters as well as the stereotypical “Chopsticks” font, paring the letters down to the their most minimal form.

Initial concept for Japanese Language logo

I also applied traditional Japanese patterns and a cool, desaturated color palette to the site design.

Initial concept for Japanese Language site design

I designed swag for the site as well, which Stack Overflow would provide to community members for excellent community stewardship or during contests and giveaways.

Swag for the Japanese Language site

User feedback and more iterations

The initial concepts were proposed to the Japanese Language community and iterated upon by my colleague, Paweł Ludwiczak. Users had difficulty interpreting the initial logo concept and some of the iconography, so these were updated based on their feedback and ideas. Some custom elements of the site design were also pared back as part of a broader effort at Stack Overflow to standardize site designs across the Stack Exchange network.

Shipped iteration for the Japanese Language site

The Japanese site design is live. I’m excited to have had the opportunity to contribute to this community and look forward to seeing it grow.

Bootcamp

From idea to product, one pixel at a time.

Donna Choi

Written by

I write about user experience, leadership, and research. Product design @ RStudio. http://donnachoi.com

Bootcamp

Bootcamp

The best resources for designers starting in Design, UX, and UI. Bootcamp is a new product publication from the team behind the UX Collective (http://uxdesign.cc). To submit your story: hello@uxdesign.cc

Donna Choi

Written by

I write about user experience, leadership, and research. Product design @ RStudio. http://donnachoi.com

Bootcamp

Bootcamp

The best resources for designers starting in Design, UX, and UI. Bootcamp is a new product publication from the team behind the UX Collective (http://uxdesign.cc). To submit your story: hello@uxdesign.cc

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