01.111 Culture Formation and Innovative Product Design

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Course Instructor: Jiang Hao (ZJU visiting faculty)
Teaching assistant: Shelly SUN (ZJU graduate student)
External Collaborator: Alibaba International User Experience Design (UED) team

Course Description

This course introduces innovative product design methods and techniques in the crosscultural contexts. In this course, we focus on consumer products (used or consumed by ordinary end users rather than professionals), including physical products and computer software.

The first part of the course will introduce empathetic design approach, targeting at designing for niche market. Using this artistic approach, designers is mainly driven by their intrinsic motivations. Some techniques of design semiotics will be taught and students are expected to do some souvenir design on the basis of Singaporean cultural elements.

The second part targets at cross-cultural design for the mass market. In collaboration with Alibaba international UED team, we will explore an emerging virtual place for intercultural communication and interactions, mobile commerce applications (m-Commerce apps). In this case, designs are mainly driven by extrinsic requirements. How to understand and response to users from different cultural backgrounds will be a huge challenge for designers. Students will be guided to detach from their own cultural viewpoints, and be sensitive to intercultural differences. Equipped with basic marketing and user study techniques, students are required to do a cross-cultural analysis for products or mobile apps. The insights gained from the cross-cultural user studies will then guide students to finish their course project: designing a cross-cultural m-Commerce app.

Course Content

  • “Onion” model of culture
  • Introduction to (artistic) design thinking methodology
  • Design semiotics
  • Basics of marketing and user study methods
  • Cross-cultural user study (analyzing people)
  • Competitive analysis of products (analyzing products)
  • Design project: designing mobile app for cross-cultural users

Recommended readings

  • Yunhe Pan. Cultural Composition. Zhejiang University Press& Springer. 2011.(潘云鹤. 文 化构成
    [M]. 高等教育出版社, 2011)
  • Toshiyurik KITA. Jibasanyou plus Design (喜多俊之. 《给设计以灵魂:当现代设计遇见传统 工艺》,电子工业出版社,2012)
  • Petroski, Henry. The evolution of useful things. Vintage. 1994
  • Jan Brejcha. Cross-cultural HCI and UX design: A semiotic perspective. CRC Press, 2015.
  • Huatong SUN, Cross-Cultural Technology Design: Creating Culture-Sensitive Technology for Local Users. Oxford University Press, 2012

Assignments and Project

  • Souvenir design
  • Cross-cultural user study
  • Competitive analysis of m-Commerce apps
  • Designing a cross-cultural m-Commerce app

Grading policy

There is no written examination for this course. You score will be jointly rated by the instructor JIANG Hao, the Teaching assistant Shelly SUN, and designers from Alibaba International UED team.

  • Souvenir design = 20%
  • Cross-cultural user study = 25%
  • Competitive analysis of m-Commerce apps 10%
  • Designing a cross-cultural m-Commerce app 40%
  • Attendance & contribution to class discussion 5%


This schedule is tentative and subject to change. We may adjust it on the basis of the progress of student projects and students’ feedback.

Class Hours

  • Monday 13:00-15:00
  • Tuesday 13:00-14:30
  • Thursday 13:00-14:30

Week 1: Introduction

Lesson 1: Introduction to Culture
Lesson 2: Crash course for design thinking methodology
Lesson 3: Introduce to app design

Week 2-3: Design Semiotics and Souvenir Design

Week 4-6: Cross-Cultural User Study.

Week 7-12: m-Commerce Project

Week 7: Competitive analysis
Week 12: Final presentation