Tag Archives: Korea

Mask pocket – customer insights during COVID-19

Wearing a face mask is mandatory in many restaurants. However, we take our mask off when the food comes. Experts often suggest diners to bring a clean, breathable container like a small mesh laundry bag or a brown bag to put the mask in. However, I have not formed this healthy habit yet. Therefore, I often place my mask on the table and then blame myself.

Recently, I found a clever solution for this issue at Joo Ok, a Korean contemporary dining restaurant in Seoul. This restaurant does not blame me but helps me follow rule.

Joo Ok is the creation of Chef Shin Chang Ho, winner of a Michelin star in the 2018 – 2021 editions of The Michelin Guide to Seoul. Its cuisine captures the essence of Korea’s four seasons, based on fermented jang sauces and vinegar, the pillars of Korean cuisine. Perilla oil pressed from seeds harvested in Chef Shin’s mother-in-law’s vegetable garden in Jinju, and some 30 varieties of homemade vinegar, brewed using proprietary recipes, are the stars of Joo Ok’s cuisine.

In this restaurant, diners are provided with mask pockets made by recycled paper. Certainly, they are not permanent and feasible solutions for every single restaurant. However, after having experienced a carefully designed mask bag, I start considering whether a mask bag is on the table when evaluating my restaurant experience.

During COVID-19, customer insights have been consistently discovered and converted into interesting new products, like a mask spray with essential oils.

How thick is 2cm-thick steak?

Thickness matters when cooking steak. A rule of thumb is to cook a 2cm-thick piece of steak for 2 minutes for rare, 4 minutes for medium, and 6 minutes for well-done. However, we struggle with guessing how thick a piece of steak is. Seven years ago, I met a clever solution for this problem at a grocery store where there was a manually carved wood plank. Since it shows how professional providers empathize with novice customers, I have shared it with many planers and designers. Recently, I met a similar but more carefully designed wood plank at a different grocery store in Seoul, Korea. According to the website, Gourmet 494 is

a space for food, entertainment and communication, built on the concept of “grocerant” (grocery + restaurant) for the first time in Korea where groceries (food ingredients) and restaurants (food and beverages) come together in one place

Wood plank tells that thickness is difficult for people to evaluate. A specific value (e.g., 2 cm) is hard to tell another value (e.g., 3 cm) because we are not sensitive about it. About this issue, a group of psychologists introduced a concept of General Evaluability Theory about 10 years ago.

Hsee, C. K., & Zhang, J. (2010). General evaluability theory. Perspectives on Psychological Science5(4), 343-355.

A central question in psychology and economics is the determination of whether individuals react differently to different values of a cared-about attribute (e.g., different income levels, different gas prices, and different ambient temperatures). Building on and significantly extending our earlier work on preference reversals between joint and separate evaluations, we propose a general evaluability theory (GET) that specifies when people are value sensitive and when people mispredict their own or others’ value sensitivity. The GET can explain and unify many seemingly unrelated findings, ranging from duration neglect to affective forecasting errors and can generate many new research directions on topics ranging from temporal discounting to subjective well-being.

In the section of Nature, the authors wrote the following. According to them, human beings do not seem to have an innate or stable scale to evaluate values on thickness.

Nature refers to whether human beings have an innate and stable physiological or psychological “scale” (reference system) to evaluate values on an attribute. The attribute is inherently evaluable if they do or inherently inevaluable if they do not. Ambient temperature is an example of an inherently evaluable attribute; even without learning or social comparison, we can tell what temperature makes us comfortable and happy and what does not. Other examples include amount of sleep, social isolation, or connectedness. The size of a diamond and the power of a car are examples of inherently inevaluable attributes; without learning or comparison, we would not know how to assess such variables. Of course, some people know how to evaluate diamond size and car power, but such knowledge is learned, not innate. Because people possess innate reference systems for inherently evaluable attributes but not for inherently inevaluable attributes, value sensitivity (without learning or comparison) is higher for inherently evaluable attributes (H1.3). More precisely, people in SE are more sensitive to differences on an inherently evaluable attribute than to differences on an inherently inevaluable attribute, holding their sensitivity to the two types of differences in JE constant; see our discussion of the Mode × Value × Nature interaction later in this article.

It should be noted that classifying a variable as inherently evaluable does not mean that it is immune to the influence of external reference information (such as social comparison); instead, it means that people can evaluate the variable even without such information. Also, inherently evaluable variables are not always associated with basic biological needs—they also include socio-psychological variables, such as loneliness, depression, and sense of achievement. (For details, see Hsee, Yang, Li, & Shen, 2009.)

Chinese people need more than a drinking fountain

We know that westerners and easterners think differently. Markus and Kitayama (1991) argue that different cultural thoughts come from different self concepts. Roughly speaking, a US citizen has an independent concept whereas a Japanese citizen has a dependent one.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological review, 98(2), 224.

People in different cultures have strikingly different construals of the self, of others, and of the interdependence of the 2. These construals can influence, and in many cases determine, the very nature of individual experience, including cognition, emotion, and motivation. Many Asian cultures have distinct conceptions of individuality that insist on the fundamental relatedness of individuals to each other. The emphasis is on attending to others, fitting in, and harmonious interdependence with them. American culture neither assumes nor values such an overt connectedness among individuals. In contrast, individuals seek to maintain their independence from others by attending to the self and by discovering and expressing their unique inner attributes. As proposed herein, these construals are even more powerful than previously imagined. Theories of the self from both psychology and anthropology are integrated to define in detail the difference between a construal of the self as independent and a construal of the self as interdependent. Each of these divergent construals should have a set of specific consequences for cognition, emotion, and motivation; these consequences are proposed and relevant empirical literature is reviewed. Focusing on differences in self-construals enables apparently inconsistent empirical findings to be reconciled, and raises questions about what have been thought to be culture-free aspects of cognition, emotion, and motivation.

Although this research taught us Asians may think similarly to some extent, they do not necessarily behave in the same way. For instance, Asians seem to communicate in different modes depending on where they live. Recently, I have noticed that their preferences for water temperature differ greatly as well. At the Hong Kong international airport, for instance, no Chinese airline passengers used a drinking fountain. Instead they brought their own containers and stood in line for a hot water dispenser. I cannot imagine Koreans wait in line for hot water when cold water is available nearby. The world is full of different people!

Is picture worth a thousand words?

Japanese draw, Chinese speak, and Koreans write. This is my temporary conclusion about how people communicate in three countries. I *suspect* Japanese draw because they intend to help readers understand messages correctly (receiver-oriented), Chinese speak because they find typing Chinese characters difficult (sender-oriented), and Koreans write because these two reasons do not apply (message-oriented, maybe).



Since Japanese like drawing, cartoon is frequently spotted in Japan. At one train station in Fukuoka, for instance, cartoon boards say that people should not throw away cigarette butts, riders should not sit down with their legs spread, women should not put up cosmetics in the train, and riders should not open up their newspaper wide.



Although cartoon is easy to understand, I wonder whether cartoon works for Chinese listeners or Korean readers.


Yido, a modern Korean pottery

Yido is one of the most widely-known premium pottery brands in Korea. It was found by Yi, Yoonshin, a ceramic artist. As introduced in her website, her work “reinterprets traditional Korean ceramics in refined contemporary design.” However, visiting Yido’s flagship store taught me a few “marketing” lessons how she has successfully established herself in the market.

First, she listens to market. Recently, Yido launches a new collection called Cera/Mano. Differently from other collections which has four pieces of each bowl/dish for a family of four, this newly launched collection has only one piece of each item for a single house owner.



Second, she looks more than product. In the four-story flagship store, only one store is used to sell ceramic-wares. In the other stores, a Italian restaurant, a brunch cafe, a ceramic academy, and a art and living store run.

I wish other ceramic designers also learn these marketing lessons so that they become market-savvy designers.

How could we design a better fire extinguisher?


Since we spend most of our time in buildings, we are literally surrounded by fire extinguishers. It consists of a hand-held cylindrical pressure vessel containing an agent which can be discharged to extinguish a fire (Wikipedia). In general, we do not pay attention to them until needed. For me, I have never used any fire extinguisher in my life and have no interest in it. Interestingly, designers have noticed their problems and came up with two fairly different but equally interesting solutions.

Typical fire extinguishers have two critical problems. First, they are often ignored and difficult to be located. Even though they are red colored, fire extinguishers merely stand still and fail to grab our attention. Further, they do not go well with walls or interiors.

Recently, I found a series of eye-catching fire extinguishers at a store. In order to solve the first problem, some designers changed the appearance of the fire extinguishers. They painted skins to make them visually appealing and to make them go well with the walls. Some of the newly painted fire extinguishers look so nice that I even wanted to buy them for home decor.

DML_Fire distinguisher

The second problem is that typical fire extinguishers are difficult to use in emergency situations. Therefore, instruction manuals are prepared. A practice session runs for those who want to try to use them in advance.

Recently, I found another, newly designed fire extinguishers in a building. Designers changed the size and the container material so that the shape “says” how to use. Now, we do not have to spend time on learning how to use them; instead, we can simply  pick up one or a few water-bottle shaped fire extinguishers and throw them on a fire.

These two fire extinguishers teach me what designers do for us. Designers change the appearance of a product; alternatively, they change the way we use it.

Standing desk: New way to work

I suffered from minor shoulder – and wrist pain for a long time. In order to lessen the pain, I decided to train my left hand for using the computer mouse a few years back.

Certainly, using mouse with my left hand was very challenging in the first couple of years. However, 3-year of intensive practice paid me off. I could click, drag, and drop icons using my left hand without noticing that I did so with my left hand.

After having succeeded this “experiment,” I made another decision recently to relieve back pain; standing up while working. I first searched for standing desks or stand-up desks, then read online posts (e.g., reviews by Mark Luckch and Alan Henry), and then created my own standing desk by putting together empty paper boxes.

My DIY practice showed the effect Instantly. I became free from back pain, paid more attention to my tasks, and most importantly, became exhausted at evening as I “exercised” all day long. In short, I was tired at day and slept well at night. Finally, I bought a height-adjustable table from Varidesk. 🙂

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Electronic Vehicle Charging Station in Seoul

An EV charging station stands in the parking lot at my university. DML_EcarProbably, the department of automotive engineering installed it and owns the electronic vehicle. My first impression about them is that they do not interfere the traffic flow inside the busy parking lot because the charging station occupies a tiny space and it charges a small BMWi. However, I was concerned what happened when strangers mistakenly/intentionally unplug it although the screen said, “please do not unplug while charging.”

Electronic vehicles are popular in California. Interestingly, many EV drivers found it difficult to locate the charging station. A recent news said that some building owners promote their buildings having the charging stations at their parking lots. I hope to see more electronic cars on the road and more EV charging stations in Seoul.



Sterilizer in beauty stores

Must buy items in Korea are skin care products. As the Korean entertainment programs including TV programs, movies, and music videos became highly popular in Asia, the beauty products made in Korean enjoy its strong brand power. Many cosmetic stores in Seoul are crowded by foreign visitors.

I have noticed in the stores that many foreign visitors avoid trying on samples because of their hygiene concerns. Interestingly, many cosmetic stores have their own sterilizers, like labs or hospitals. Visitors can use them by simply putting the skin care or body care products or beauty tools inside for 5 minutes.

DML_Cosmetic sterilizer

Traditional building with a modern twist in Korea

20100730_Designworks 002

Toronto has many traditional buildings with a modern twist. The house previously used for Rotman Designworks studio was a good example. From the outside, it was a plain three-story house. However, it had interesting modern flavors inside: boards were installed on the white walls, desks and chairs ran on wheels, and newly installed toilette were clean.

I searched for compatible Korean examples for the past couple of years and finally found a right one. It is a small resort called Gurume (“into the clouds” in Korean). It opened July in 2014 at Andong, about 4 hours drive from Seoul. Kimchimari, a blogger, said

it consists of 7 different historical Korean homes with their ages ranging from 200-400 years old. Each home has been relocated from their original location to the resort as vacation villas for people to experience first hand how Korean scholars lived centuries ago.

I stayed a night at one of the historical Korean homes and enjoyed its traditional – and modern aspects. As for the traditional aspects, I enjoyed the rich scent surrounded by the wood materials, cool breeze naturally created through the middle space of the house, and the soothing sounds from the nature with the super-bright moon shine at night. As for the modern aspects, I loved everything about bathroom; a newly installed basin, a shower with high water pressure, and the Aesop shampoo. I found that although I want to travel in the past and enjoy tradition, I do not want to sacrifice the convenience the modern society provides. When marketers and designers aim to create a unique experience either by putting nostalgic flavor to the common products or by adding modern twist on the historically preserved concepts, they should focus on how modernity can eliminate inconvenience.

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