Availability and location
Most usability studies are conducted in Seoul. If you want to conduct research in any other cities in Korea, you need to calculate in additional costs or poorly-equipped facilities.
As courtesy is important in Korean culture, Koreans have a tendency to not be overly critical. It is quite common for them to answer more positively or not mention usability issues right away because they want to meet the moderator’s expectations. Sometimes it is difficult to make participants think aloud since Koreans usually do not feel free to speak their minds in unfamiliar circumstances. It is a good idea to make them practice thinking aloud before the test session begins.
Korean participants also tend to feel that they should be able to use a test product very skillfully even if it is new to them. Therefore, it is helpful to use an introduction like, “We don’t take scores of how skillfully you use this product. That’s not what we’re interested in. Please explore it freely as if you were on your own. We just want to catch its problems to make it better for others.” This approach will encourage participants to relax and be candid in their feedback.
When conducting field research in participants’ homes, it is very important to establish trust, given that many Koreans are not familiar with meeting foreigners. Participants must give their approval for recording video, and foreign observers should be properly introduced before the visit. For example, a client from the US gave his business card and introduced his company to participants whenever he entered their houses. At first the participants felt uneasy with him, but after his introduction, they participated in interviews more enthusiastically.
Comfort using technology
South Korea is a global technology powerhouse. The home Internet prevalence rate is 94.7%, and 98% of the young generation (between the late teens and thirties) use the Internet. Mobile devices like cell phones, personal media players, navigation devices, and MP3 players are in widespread use. Korean users are inquisitive about new technologies and products, and their acceptance speed is remarkable. Each time a new product is released, it quickly comes into fashion, allowing a number of users to then share information about their experience with each other. Though the Korean market is not as big as China or India, it has great merits as a testing location to gather valuable insights from Korean users.
Holiday, seasonality, and timing considerations
When planning a usability study in Korea, public holidays should be taken into account so that the test period does not conflict with them. Around Seol-nal (New-Years’, 1st day of 1st Lunar month, plus the day before and after) and Chuseok (Harvest Moon Festival, 14-16th days of 8th Lunar month), people take a vacation and visit their hometown for a short stay. Most Korean students also take midterms, final exams and school vacations around these times. On the other hand, the year-end season, including Christmas, is not as important in Korea as in Western countries.
In Korea, the culture of work is conservative, so workers are not usually free to participate in usability studies during office hours. When recruiting employed participants for the study, sessions should be scheduled after 6 p.m.
It is necessary to allow sufficient time for deliveries of prototypes or video recordings as they can be delayed for customs clearance. When prototypes for the test are sent to Korea, they should not be assigned high value because they are considered a sample for research. If the value is priced higher than $100 USD, Korean customs apply a tax to it.
When in Korea, it is recommended that you take in everything you can around you. On the streets in Seoul, there are thousands of shops where you can experience every kind of technology product. Korean global companies like Samsung provide many places where people can enjoy their products without buying them, or you can observe how people use their mobile devices in the subway, bus, café, and even on the street. One client always brought his camera and went out to observe Koreans interacting with technology. He could record user behavior, usage problems and fresh ideas not only in the lab, but also on the natural streets of Seoul.