Designing a vocabulary learning app that maximizes memorization

Since I’ll be going on exchange to Yonsei University in Seoul, I decided to brush up on my product design and Korean language skills through this side project.

The inspiration for this project stemmed from a pain point in my own language-learning journey — vocabulary. I always found it to be the most difficult component of learning any language since it tends to require rote memory and a lot of effort.

I decided to try and address this pain point by designing a Korean vocabulary learning system that requires less effort to commit words to memory.

Spaced Repetition System (SRS) 📊

While researching on why memorization is so hard, I came across the “forgetting curve”. This is a concept that hypothesizes that memory tends to decline in a curve over a period of elapsed time.

Model depicting forgetting curve (Credit: wikipedia.org)

I then came to know of the Spaced Repetition System (SRS), which utilizes active recall, ordered in strategic manner, to ‘reset’ the forgetting curve every so often. This is an evidence-based flashcard technique that allows one to prioritize information in a way that maximizes memorization.

Visual diagram of the SRS method (Credit: wikipedia.org)

As seen in the example to the left, cards that are answered incorrectly are then placed in a pile that will be tested first in the next session. On the other hand, cards that are answered correctly become less and less prioritized over time, reflecting the fact that one has committed those cards to memory.

I found myself interested in this method as it allows memorizing large amounts of vocabulary to be done more efficiently and in a way that maximizes memory.

Design Process

As I began to start this project, I defined the process I would take. I made sure to constantly lean back on the user as well as the product story to ensure an iterative process as opposed to a linear one.

Design process outline for this project

Step 1: Research 🔬

I then conducted some user interviews and research with my fellow classmates at my university Korean language class. Here were some of the major insights

Hardest part about learning vocabulary?

  • Memorizing and recalling
  • Not knowing what words to to study

What methods are currently used?

  • Flashcards
  • Reading + Looking up words
  • Consuming K-dramas, Korean media

What would help this process?

  • Curriculum/prescribed words
  • Integrated flashcard system
  • Pronunciation guide
  • Real life example (video, excerpt)

Step 2. Empathy 🙋🏽

To compile and make sense of the findings during research, I created a persona analysis to have a better idea of what the main user would be feeling and needing, both before and after using DANO.

Persona Analysis

Product Story 📖

After compiling the research as well as having laid out the details of the main persona, I created an overarching product story so that I could steer my decision making process according to the scope and insights found. This would ensure that I always keep the user and their pain points in mind.

Once upon a time there was a Korean language learner. Every day, they would be overwhelmed with the amount of vocabulary they needed to learn to improve their skills. One day, they found a product called DANO which allowed them to consistently learn new vocabulary, while strategically testing previously learned words in order to maximize memorization. Because of that, they were able to learn Korean vocabulary in a much more efficient way. Because of that, they retained much more knowledge in less time compared to their previous methods. Until finally, they learned 3000 words and became fluent enough to make the most out of their stay in Korea.

Step 4: Ideation & Feature Prioritization 🗒

I used the MoSCoW framework of prioritizing features for the app before I got started on any prototypes.

The most important features include a way of learning/testing that uses the SRS memorization style, and include definitions, pronunciations and example sentences. I decided that a social feature wouldn’t be necessary for an app like this, as it would only clutter the app up and didn’t fit into the product story (something that I referenced throughout this process to ensure conciseness).

Since our persona uses their laptop and phone both quite a bit, I thought having desktop compatibility would be beneficial in allowing them to truly study anywhere and at any time.

Here is a simple sitemap I made to keep a clear goal in mind of how I wanted the user flow to look like and keep my prototypes organized. I would ideally like to use a navigation bar to house the dashboard, review and lessons pages.

Step 4: Designing 🧑‍💻

Sign-up

To create a bespoke experience for the user, the onboarding process includes questions that would help to tailor the daily use of the app to the user. This would allow for the self-paced nature of self-study, while also providing enough structure such that the process isn’t too overwhelming.

Onboarding

To ensure new users are familiar with the apps functions and flow, a minimal, non-intrusive onboarding tutorial begins on the first use.

Onboarding walkthrough

Lessons

The first step to memorizing vocabulary using DANO is to be introduced to the words. I used the Sogang University Modern Standard Korean textbook as a guide to outline the lesson curriculum, as it covers essential vocab in an organized way. This decision was influenced by the major user insight that self-studying was often overwhelming and made it hard to outline a clear path.

The lessons themselves include definitions, pictures, pronunciation sounds, and example sentences to allow for adequate initial understanding of the vocabulary word/phrase.

Example lesson screens

Reviews

The second (and most imperative) part of the vocabulary learning process is the Reviews. To address the pain point of the forgetting curve and lack of retention, these reviews will be ordered in a way that prioritizes previously incorrect vocabulary (according to the SRS method). This will allow the user to focus their time on the most important words that they tend to get wrong more often. Correctly answered words will be tested, however, at much less frequency. These decisions allow for the user’s efforts to be maximized in the right direction to improve overall efficiency when memorizing.

Both English-to-Korean and Korean-to-English recall is used

Step 5: Reflection 🤔

This project allowed me to practice my user experience design skills by creating a solution to a problem and keeping the user in mind throughout the entire process.

Next Steps

To further evaluate the user experience, I plan to hold user interviews to demo the app and provide feedback on areas of improvement — after all, this is an iterative process!

As well, I plan on using these insights to move forward with a first iteration for desktop compatibility, since this feature was identified as a priority during ideation.

I would also like to work with a developer and reach out to my university’s Korean language department to conduct some more user interviews, and also explore the possibility of having the app be integrated into course syllabi to help future students. Since this app follows the vocabulary order of the Sogang University Korean textbook, it would be in alignment with most course syllabi.

Introducing DANO! 🇰🇷

Why DANO?

DANO is named after the Korean word for vocabulary — 단어 (dan-eo), and it’s initials, ㄷㅇ, are incorporated into the logo iconography.

Walkthrough →

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Product Designer @ TOHacks, Marketing Student at Schulich School of Business