Disclaimer: I don’t work at Duolingo. I did not get paid to write this article. I welcome any discussions.

Three months ago, my mom, currently living in China, gently asked me on a phone call, regarding whether I’d be ok with spending some time with my niece and cousin and tutor them English.

“Of course, of course!” I told my mom, “you don’t have to convince me any further.”

I always enjoy the task of teaching English, and having studied applied linguistics at grad school gives me even more confidence to say: I not only am interested in it but…


Is there a way to represent user selection and answer feedback at the same time? How might we prototype and find out about it?

THE TASK

Imagine you are doing a quiz on your phone. After you selected each question, you’d see whether you got it right or not. With a multiple-choice question with only one correct option, it might appear quite straightforward: the option you selected was either correct or incorrect — and you’ll also find out the correct option if you selected the incorrect one. For questions where you are asked to “select all that apply,” the feedback mechanism becomes much more complicated.

For a language learning app that our team has been developing, we wanted users to be able to receive instant feedback…


I have been on Flickr for a while, especially as a big fan of its “Organizr” function that allows a single photo to be included in multiple galleries. With Flickr acquired by SmugMug, I decided to explore what SmugMug had to offer.

I transferred some old photos to the platform and uploaded a few more. Then I received the following message on the screen:

“Hooray! That’s 1 happier photo.:)”

I was confused. My photo wasn’t even close to a happy photo. It was neutral, it was mellow, it was just…not happy. …


After two days of preparing materials, practicing the protocol, and setting up technologies, I finally am able to lead a one-hour pilot session. My mentor and peer teammate are observing behind my participant and me, offering support when I need it.

After the pilot session, my mentor thanks the participant and closes the door.

I see. I am about to receive the first official “performance feedback” from the team. It’s big for me. It’s exciting. Until then, I have never received a sit-down feedback thing for moderating a user research test session. All I know about myself is that I…


In Honor of World Emoji Day 2018

The first emoji was created in 1999 on Japanese mobile phones. As of the time I (just) Googled, there were 2,666 existing emojis. For the sake of the flow of this article, please expect no funny pics of emoji in between sentences 😂.

Emoji: A step forward or back for our language?

During an event at which Apple announced new, upgraded emoji features (added icons, color effects, etc.), one of the company’s developers claimed that using emoji is in conflict with the development of understanding the English language: “The children tomorrow will have no understanding of the English language.”

Supporting this idea…


Personal grudge toward the status quo

The main motivation for starting this Medium article series is for me to become less angry: less angry about not being able to take control of the tool at work or not being able to articulate “what is it about it” that makes me annoyed. And most important of all, about constantly thinking that “there is easily a better solution out there” but we are choosing to ignore or get over it. Well, I might not have been clear enough, but I am talking about me “being angry” about using Microsoft Teams at work as a collaboration tool. …


If you ask me to describe something to the opposite of this pandemic lifestyle, I would like to tell you about my experience at a 3-day conference. It was called “Leadership, Authority, and Vulnerability in Groups and Organizational Systems,” where everyone becomes members of small and large groups to “live the group experience, guided by facilitators somewhat.” The conference lasted for three consecutive days, from 9 am to 9 pm each day.

This conference was part of the course requirements for an organizational psychology course, “Group Dynamics,” I took at Teachers College of Columbia University. It is a core course…


Two weeks ago, as part of the discovery phase research activities, my teammates and I were building personas based on our understanding of the users. After we put together the characteristics of each persona and their respective pain points, it was time to turn them into profiles with profile pictures. As the “UX person” on the team, I easily claimed the task. For my teammates, they thought I had more experience in “making the avatar graphics.” For me, truth to be told, it is just always fun to find those avatars, often from some open-source platforms like sketchappsources.com.

The personas…


I wanted to give my boyfriend a Kanken backpack as a gift. I know he always wanted one, so it should be a very safe gift. But what color? When asked, he said he wasn’t sure.

Could I help? I asked myself.

What can I do to help him make a decision of the color of this Kanken backpack without rushing him, and more importantly, while making him that he knew it was his own decision?

I thought of what I learned in a psychology class, a psyc of crime course actually. In one part of the course, we learned…


A few years ago, I went to a UX training day-long conference on usability testing led by Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), the leading research & consulting group in the UX industry. This month, I was luckily invited to do an intro-level training at my company on usability testing for some research assistants who are interested in the UX world. I decided to review my notes from the NN/g training.

The training would be an overview of UX interviews and usability testing. There is one part that covers interview techniques. From my NN/g conference notes, I found a few questions that…

Yulin Liu

A linguistics nerd, UX advocate, and non-fiction reader. Currently in NJ.

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