How Do Mobiles Communicate? the Role of Product Design in Product Related Consumer Responses: the Case of Mobile Telephones

Dora Horvath, Budapest University
Laszlo Sajtos, Budapest University
[ to cite ]:
Dora Horvath and Laszlo Sajtos (2002) ,"How Do Mobiles Communicate? the Role of Product Design in Product Related Consumer Responses: the Case of Mobile Telephones", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 237-238.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 237-238


Dora Horvath, Budapest University

Laszlo Sajtos, Budapest University


Objective of our study was to explore the impact of product design (mobile deisgn) on the buyer decision making process, and consumption related responses and attitudes. Reconciling artistic approaches to industrial design and relating consumption studies present paper gives a theoretical framework for the study of the role of product design in the case of ordinary objects in both contexts suggested by the two streams of literature: in the context of making choices and in the context of the usage experience.


The quality and nature of the consumption experience is not only determined by the type and application of its object itself and its context, but also by the quality of the execution of this object: its design. This form communicates to and persuades potential and actual consumers to make choices, but the quality and nature of the usage experience is also determined by this form. Furthermore, ordinary objects also serve as tools for communicating about and to users.

Until now product form / design has mainly been investigated as a decisive element of consumer choice and its role of attraction at the potential consumer and product encounter. Studies on consumption and usage experience have been more focusing on particular contexts, situations, occasions and on objects that were more special in their nature like the aesthetic products, the arts or extraordinary activities.

A conceptual model was set up that incorporates the following components: product design, usage and choice contexts, individual characteristics (such as materialism (Richins & Dawson 1992), visual vs. verbal information processing references (Childers, Houston & Heckler, 1982)) and product related consumer responses: judgment of utility, usefulness (Margolin-Buchanan, 1996); experience, enjoyment of use (HolbrookBHirschman 1982); communicative power, expression (Richins 1994; Csikszentmihßlyi, 1981).

Design as a problem-solving activity can never, by definition, yield the one right answer: it will always produce infinite number of answers, some "righter" and some "wronger." Purely functional designs are hardly possible to make (Pye, 1978). It is these characteristics of design that are substantial to identify. Product form cannot be evaluated on single, separate compositional elements, it is a combination of compositional elements that are chosen and blended into a whole to achieve a particular sensory effect (Bloch, 1995).

Despite the best efforts of designers to determine the precise nature of products, the career of products in human experience depends as much on the ability of human beings to make sense of the artificial world as it does on the intentions of the designer (Margolin, Buchanan, 1996). Consumers’ relation to product form is dependent on their personal characteristics, their personal relations to surrounding products (Richins & Dawson 1992), but also their preference, proneness to considering visual qualities (Childers, Houston & Heckler, 1982).

Utility, usefulness. A given form contributes to the fulfillment of the object’s purpose. It determines whether this purpose is fulfilled in a comfortable and efficient way, whether it advances the quality of the users’ life.

Experience, enjoyment of use. Product form in fulfilling a given purpose is capable of creating enjoyable activities, sensual pleasure, aesthetic experience.

Communicative power, expression. Objects fulfil an important role in the expression and symbolization of personal roles, influencing personal relations. Most products hold messages that are meaningful to a particular group, and that its owner wants to communicate about him- or herself. Furthermore, objects are assimilated into personal, private lives and are given symbolic meaning as expressions of the order of private experiences.


Based on extensive exploratory qualitative research (sentence completion) underlying research has been conducted in an attentive and responsive environment, Hungary in the case of a product category that has become widely available recently and holds strong practical, but also symbolic and communicative implications: mobile phones. We tested our model in a quasi experimental design where we controlled for the impact of brands and ownership of mobile telephones as well.

Our preliminary qualitative findings suggest that in the case of mobile telephones’ form / design plays a crucial role for owners and non-owners in the formation of choices, but also product related responses such as the quality of the experience of use, expression, communication about oneself to others, but also to the user himself or herself as well. From several perspectives in their answers both owners and non-owners have indicated their preferences of a modest and delicate, but at the same time state-of-the-art form, which was not a representation of a status symbol. Respondents admitting that the telephone is a very close, might even be built in the users, implies very strong user concern and high consumer expectations of mobile telephones’ form.

Users and especially non-users draw coclusions upon form about functionality and even aesthetics of use. Respondents also admit that mobile telephones on the other hand can serve as a handy gadget that can be a sign of personal excellence, achievement or sophisticated taste, but also a tool for someone himself or herself having his/her own choice of being or not being alone, being reachable.

We will present our empirical result of the consecutive survey study concerning the usage and choice context of mobile phones, concerning product related consumer responses and individual differences. Furthermore, we try to give a forecast of probable buying behavior in the case of mobile phones. Results will be presented.


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