YaYa Shang

UX Designer ♡ San Francisco

Hyphenated: a conversation platform for asian americans

Masters Thesis

My thesis was a very personal project, it allowed me to look deep into -and- help my community through design innovations.

My research was 2 pronged (1) delved deep into social and cultural issues (2) developed design concept for a conversation platform using the interface as a metaphor.

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Video Demo

Zoomable User Interface

Video Demo


My name is Zhong-Zi. I like to think that I have a unique name, special to my identity. But growing up in the United States, I learned that my name, my unique identity, became an exercise in patience or a point of frustration. I have been called: "John-Z", "Zone-Zee", "Jone-C", and many more.

Since my family moved quite often when I was young, meeting someone new was often and became ritualistic. There will always be 5 minutes of surprise in his or her face. Then they ask if they said my name correctly, followed by another request to pronounce it again, only to get it either wrong again or just close enough to not sound offensive. The high point is when they ask me where I am from.
I simply start talking about living in New York, Colorado, and California, and secretly smirk at the emerging impatience from my "new friend." In my experience, I know these are not the answers they are seeking, but I continue to play this game —dodging their true questions until they give up, exasperated, and ask what they really want to know: what are you and where are you from? What ought to feel like a triumphant moment for me, instead, is a constant reminder that my name and the color of my skin stirs up questions of my identity —not just American, but being Asian American.


Cultural stereotypes have been ingrained in American perceptions for generations. For example, many Asian American youth who are reared in culturally rich communities, like the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York, have the opportunity see a broad spectrum of personalities and identities. But what about those who live in areas where there are few Asian Americans and a small community, if at all? What if their only cultural connection is through the local Chinese restaurant? What kind of relationship is this with their own cultural identity?


Sometimes, media representations that caricature and stereotype Asians are the only source of reference for young people. Without a supportive community, these perceptions can negatively influence Asian American youth and their identity. As a designer, I want to provide a platform for these youth to create, participate, and share in a community that is not constrained by limitations of geography and location. My design will facilitate interactive, non-linear discussions with multimedia that emulate real-life group conversations.
I believe in the power of storytelling as an important social tool to develop a healthy sense of identity and a platform where these stories can be shared as an Asian American community.

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Hyphenated | Research |MFA Thesis

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