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.


How to enjoy coffee more and consume plastics less?

Taipei is hot in summer. After sweating an hour, I ordered an iced coffee at 羊毛與花 Youmoutoohana Coffee. To my surprise, it served me a glass of coffee with a metal straw. After sipping coffee through it, I became a huge fan of metal straw. This summer, I will buy and bring a few metal straws to office with me to enjoy coffee more and consume plastics less.



Someone in US also found metal straw stylish and eco-friendly. Bethany Blakeman wrote in her blog,


I keep these in my tote bag (if you are worried about them getting dirty, I suggest a pencil pouch), and whip them up out whenever I’m at a coffee shop. Once at Starbucks, a talkative barista commented on my straw. “Hey, I’m with you,” he told me. “You’d hate to work here. You see how wasteful people are from behind this counter.” I’ll be gifting them to all of my friends for World Oceans Day on June 8.



Mushroom shaped magnet

Thai designers make interesting experimentation. At a department store in Bangkok, I found several stationary items and kitchen utensils designed by Qualy, seems to be a local Thai design company. Although this company introduced a series of interesting products including owl-shaped salt and pepper shaker or bear-shaped one, the most interesting one is mushroom-shaped magnetic.



Shiitake is a mushroom native to East Asia and consumed in many Asian countries. It is considered a medicinal mushroom in some forms of traditional medicine. Qualy website says,

Shiitake magnet Make sure you don’t put these in your soup. They are actually mushroom shaped magnets. And not just any mushroom, they are shiitake mushrooms, to remind you to seize opportunity. Just place them on any metal surface to secure your notes. It’s like picking mushrooms from a field each time you remove a magnet.

Although I do not know why shiitake mushroom is related with seizing an opportunity, the form is certainly eye-catching and attractive enough to open wallet.





How can we avoid bike theft?

In Shenzhen, China, people ride bicycles almost for free because bicycle sharing companies such as Ofo (yellow) and Mobike (orange) compete each other aggressively. Numerous brand new bicycles are poured on a daily basis.



Using bicycle sharing system is very convenient. I subscribed Mobike. There is no parking station. Instead, I use app to search for available bicycles. I scan its QR code to unlock or lock it up. When I finish trip, I park it almost anywhere I want. A truck probably collects bicycles at night. New bicycles stand at bus stops or subway stations in the morning.



Certainly, aggressive competition raises problems – some bicycles are broken, others are dirty, and the others are even dumped out in the woods (I do not know why).

However, the same competition solves a challenging problem that other bicycle friendly cities have not figured out yet: bicycle theft. Bicycles are for free in this city. No one is interested in owning or stealing bicycles. A sharing economy, when it truly comes true, could change how we think and act.





People tip less when the tip jar looks like a human

Henckell is my favorite cafe in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. It is a local place with great coffee and sandwich. I feel cozy inside. It has only four small tables.



There is a tip jar next to the credit card machine on the counter table. Interestingly, it has a smiley face, two arms, and two legs. One day out of curiosity, I kept watching how many guests tipped in this human-looking tip jar. Afterwards, I also asked a server whether guests liked it. Surprisingly, I noticed that a few guests hesitated putting coins into this jar for an unknown reason. The server even told me that not few guests complained about the tip jar because its mouth is too small to insert coins.



When human flavor is added to an object, people like the object. It is supported by academic studies about anthropomorphism. For instance, when a car is anthropomorphized and its characteristics are congruent with the proposed human schema, people evaluate it positively (Aggarwal and McGill 2007). When a garbage bin is anthropomorphized (e.g., “feed me”), people follow the message and show prosocial behaviors (Ahn, Kim, Aggarwal 2013). When an innovative, uncertain product is anthropomorphized (e.g., “this little guy”), people tend to adopt this product (Jiang, Hoegg, and Dahl 2011).

However, anthropomorphism might backfire if the usefulness of the product is sacrificed. When I come back to this cafe, I want to draw a different character with a bigger mouth and see what happens.



Chinese love plastic

Chinese government tries hard to reduce plastic waste. Recently, it banned plastic waste import. According to financial times, half of the UK plastic waste need to find alternative places desperately.



In contrast, Chinese people seem to overuse plastics. In Shenzhen, for instance, plates are often wrapped with plastic packages. We should tear it down and throw it away. Sometimes, plastic gloves are provided at the restaurants. We wear the gloves when eating bread.

I suspect Chinese people are addicted to plastics probably because they consider plastics cleaner and safer than water or napkins. If we aim to reduce plastic consumption in China, we should consider the Chinese psychology about plastics seriously.




Do we need floor signage?

We now see a wide variety of floor signage. In Singapore, there is a yellow-painted footstep on the right side of the paved road at the Marina Bay. Since this road is crowded by runners, this signage probably helps them run on the right side of the road.



In Shenzhen, China, there are orange-colored lines at the subway stations. Since many people are in a hurry, these lines help them not to rush forward when the train is coming, and wait for the next train if they cannot get on.



Although floor signage is visually salient, I wonder whether this is needed to change our behavior, because we learn rules naturally. We learn how to avoid bumping into other runners when running on a narrow road and we also learn how to navigate a huge crowd to get on a train. Although I am a strong supporter of behavior economics and nudge, I believe some nudges interfere with learning. Not surprisingly, some people argue that behavioral economics are not always as effective as thought (Why nudges hardly help)(The dark side of nudging). We need to study more about which specific nudges are ineffective and how we can modify these nudges.


What happens when you reserve a taxi at 6am in Copenhagen?

In Copenhagen, people rarely take taxi. They ride bicycles or, if needed, take public transportation such as bus or subways. Therefore, I was not surprised when I heard that Uber’s operation was illegal. According to the news on March 28, 2017 by Alanna Petroff at CNN,

“The government is passing a new law that will essentially make our business untenable here,” said Harry Porter, a spokesperson for Uber. The updated taxi rules — which require cars to install taxi meters and video surveillance features — leaves 2,000 Uber drivers and 300,000 riders in the lurch in Copenhagen, the only Danish city where Uber operated.”

One day, I should have used taxi service because my flight was scheduled to leave early in the morning. I was recommended to book a taxi at Taxa 4×35. Although I saw many Taxa taxi on street, but did not trust its service at first. However, I changed my thoughts about Taxa after using a feature on the app which informed me in real time where the reserved taxi was. The taxi arrived at the right time at the right place and, more importantly, relieved my concern before I used it.



In fact, the real-time location informing feature may not be special in Asia where massive amount of people catch a taxi frequently and use heavily their messenger services such as Wechat or Kakaotalk. However, this feature is quite fresh where taxi is not constantly and/or urgently needed.



People do not prefer crowded restaurants over empty ones

About 36 million people live in Tokyo and its neighboring cities. Most restaurants well known to foreigners are heavily crowded. Therefore, when I dine out in Tokyo, I have to wait for a table for a decent amount of time. The fact that many local people are waiting for their tables relieves my concern that I might have chosen a wrong restaurant. Although crowdedness plays a role as social proof when I “choose” a restaurant, I think I may enjoy dish more if I have a breathing room or enough empty space inside when I “experience” a restaurant.



My thought was supported when I had a lunch at a restaurant run by D&Department in Tokyo. D&Department project is a store-style activist proposed by Nagaoka Kenmei, a Japanese designer, in 2000, with a theme of a “long-life design.” It introduces design products for our daily lives such as eating, drinking, publishing and traveling. It aims to spread all over the country the products excavated in local regions. Therefore, the design products introduced by D&Department are the durable items that should be used for a long time and regional items that each specific region of Japan uniquely identifies. Therefore, serving local, authentic dish at a restaurant made sense to me.

Going beyond design items and local dish, this restaurant provided sufficient empty space to each guest, which was rare in Tokyo. This restaurant limited the number of guests entering the space. Therefore, people focused on their own dish inside while a huge crowd of people waited for their tables outside. This space was quiet and well organized and guests were not visually distracted.



Do we like crowdedness or emptiness at restaurants? Marketing scientists have studied this issue. Some argue that crowdedness plays a role as a social proof while others argue that emptiness signals social class. We may like crowdedness when buying mass products or visiting casual restaurants, whereas we pursue emptiness when searching for luxury goods or dining out at Michelin starred restaurants.


Thomas Clayton O’Guinn, Robin J. Tanner, Ahreum Maeng; Turning to Space: Social Density, Social Class, and the Value of Things in Stores, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 42, Issue 2, 1 August 2015, Pages 196–213,

Abstract: This article is about social space and material objects for sale within that space. We draw primarily on Goffman’s (1971) concepts of use space and possession territories to predict that as the social density of a given space increases, inferences of the subjective social class and income of people in that space fall. Eight studies confirm that this is indeed the case, with the result holding even for stick figures, thus controlling for typical visual indicators of social class such as clothing or jewelry. Furthermore, these social class inferences mediate a relationship between social density and product valuation, with individuals assessing both higher prices and a greater willingness to pay for products presented in less crowded contexts. This effect of inferred class on product valuation is explained by status-motivated individuals’ desire to associate with higher-status people. To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first to reveal the link between social density, status inferences, and object valuations. As such, it makes a novel contribution to what has come to be known in sociology as the topological turn: a renewed focus on social space.



McDonald’s satisfy our mixed desires

When we go to a new place, we often have a mixed desire, that is, the desire for exploring something new as well as the desire for doing exactly what we have done before. When some of my friends go to another countries, for example, they almost always try exotic dish at local restaurants but they end up searching for Starbucks for coffee with free wifi. Since the mixed desire is relatively opposite, it is usually satisfied by two very different products or places. However, a mixed desire can be well satisfied when we buy or meet appropriately localized, global products or places.



Although McDonald’s is known for serving highly standardized food items and thus does not seem to be a hot place for eating something new, it actually has interesting local items in different countries. In Bangkok, for instance, a McDonald’s with a clown who puts his hands together serves a few rice sets with pork, chicken, and beef. In Delhi, a McDonald’s divides its space into two different stations -one for vegetarians and the other for meat lovers- and then people and kitchen utensils are not allowed to come across these two stations including knife, cutting board, or water. In Copenhagen, a McDonald’s opens 24 hours 7 days. Although this sounds rather common in most Asian cities, running a business for whole night is very uncommon in Scandinavian countries.




Jaewoo Joo | design thinking, behavioral economics, new product development, new product adoption