User research in major cities to explore product directions in China

Client: A leading Japanese news publisher
Time: June – July 2012

* The project is subject to a NDA. Only limited information is presented here.


The dominate Japanese news publisher launched its Chinese version website in China a few years ago. However, they hadn’t had much understanding nor research about Chinese readers who read Japanese news. As Chinese market becomes more important to them, they needed to understand local readers and discover possible directions to go for their business in China.


I took charge of user research,  project planing, and report marketing. I worked with a manager who was in charged of  quality control and client communication.

Research method

As this was the first time client tried to understand the readers in China, and they have rather limited budget, I planned to conduct following research:

1. Informal research – to build hypothesis

  • Phone interview with four Japanese news readers in Beijing and four in Shanghai to build hypothesis and have a clearer image of the segmentatio of target users.
  • Pilot test with six readers in Taipei.

2. Qualitative – to understand user’s behavior

  • One-on-one observation and interview with six readers in Beijing and six in Shanghai.

3. Quantitative – to quickly learn users’ interest on the website with data and to confirm the findings in qualitative research 

  • A ten-question online survey with 197 samples who visited client’s news site. Tool: Survey Monkey.

Key Findings

To help client understand the situation in China comprehensively, I organized the findings into 5 topics: (1) Japanese news reading, (2) User behavior on client’s website, (3) Users’ needs and preference for content, (4) Preference for user interface, (5) Usage of mobile device.

Here is an excerpt of the key findings.

Questions Findings So what?
Do Chinese readers care about what’s going on in Japan? Who are the readers? As expected, most of the readers read Japanese news because their work required them to know the politic and economy situation in Japan. Target readers are mainly senior level business people.

However, I also found another persona – entry level employees in Japanese companies. They read Japanese news because they want to have topics to chat with Japanese colleagues.

Break users into meaningful group and prioritize them. Focus on business readers as client’s news site is more irreplaceable for them.
What kinds of contents are valuable for Chinese readers?
  1. Authentic and original Japanese news – This is also what makes my client stand out because no other competitors provide news that are written by Japanese reporters in Japan. Readers feel it is more trustworthy.
  2.  News about China – Surprisingly, the target readers want to read foreign media’s reports on China in Chinese. The reason is that they know the news is controlled and they want to see the same issue from different point of views.
  3. Soft news about Japan – Readers read hard news because they need to. They also want to read some lighter topics such as the culture and travel in Japan. However, as they read during office hours, they don’t want the news page to look like entertaining news.
  1. Focus on the strength client has and emphasize it to readers.
  2. Provide more news and opinions about hot topics in China. Increase the priority of ‘China’ category on the news site.
  3. Create categories for soft news. Place them in the lower part of the page, pay attention to the page design and avoid using images that are too strong.
In terms of page design, anything to pay attention to in China?
  1.  Chinese readers are used to have the new pages open in new tabs. After reading a news article, they close the tab without thinking . My client didn’t set “open in new tab” as default and thus the whole website was closed by readers accidentally many times.
  2. Chinese readers are used to see crowded and concentrated news sites. They feel my client’s website does not have enough information because it is not crowded.
 (The suggestions of interface were made into wireframes.)

  1. Adopt the new tab system
  2. Balance the readability and the sense of having rich information


1. Part of the onlne survey result

Besides the major content – Japanese economic and politic news, a lot of readers also read news about China. In Taiwan, the ratio is rather low. This data supported the research finding that Chinese readers find foreign media’s reports about China valuable.



2. Sina, the major Chinese news portal in 2012.

Back in 2012, most of Chinese news sites looked like this. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, Chinese readers are used to it and feel it is a good amount of information. Follow it or not, local people’s perspective should be taken into consideration.



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