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


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.


Arnheim, R. (1996). Sketching and the Psychology of Design. In V. Margolin & R. Buchanan (Eds), The Idea of Design, (pp. 70-74) Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The MIT Press

Bamossy, G., Scammon, D. L., & Johnston, M. (1983). A Preliminary investigation of the Reliability and Validity of Aesthetic Judgement Tests. In Bagozzi, & Tybout, (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research: Vol. 10, (pp. 685-690) R. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research.

Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the Extended Self. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 15. September, 139-168.

Bloch, P. H. (1995). Seeking the Ideal Form: Product Design and Consumer Response. Journal of Marketing, 59 (July), 16-29.

Childers, T. L., Houston M. J., and Heckler, S. E. (1985).Measurement of Individual Differences in Visual Versus Verbal Information Processing. Journal of Consumer Research, 12 (September), 125-134.

Cova, B.& Swanfeldt, C. (1993). Societal innovations and the postmodern aesthetization of everyday life. International Journal of Research in Marketing, (10), 297-310.

Cova, B. (1996). Entrepreneurial vision: Making Enthusiasm and Opportunity Coincide into Design. Journal of Design Management, Vol. 7. (Fall), 32-39.

Csikszentmihßlyi, M.& Rochberg-Halton, E. (1981). The meaning of things. Domestic symbols and the self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihßlyi, M. (1996), Design and Order in Everyday Life. In V. Margolin & R. Buchanan (Eds), The Idea of Design, (pp. 118-126). Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The MIT Press.

Firat, A. F.& Venkatesh, A. (1995). Liberatory Postmodernism and the Reenhancement of Consumption.Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 22., December, 239-267.

Firat, A. F. and Venkatesh, A. (1993). Postmodernity: The age of marketing. International Journal of Consumer Research, (10), 227-249.

Gould, S. J (1990).Style of Information Processing Differences in Relation to Products, Shoping and Self-Consciousness. Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 17, 455-460.

Henderson, P. W. &Cote, J. A. (1996). Designing Positively Evaluated Logos. Marketing Science Institute, Report Summary, 96-23.

Hirschman, E. C.& Solomon, M. R. (1984). Utilitarian, Aesthetic, and Familiarity Responses to Verbal Versus Visual Advertisements. Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 11, 426-431.

Hirschman, E. C. (1986). The Effect of Verbal and Pictorial Advertising Stimuli on Aesthetic, Utilitarian and Familiarity Perceptions. Journal of Advertising, 15 (2), 27-34.

Holbrook, M. B. & Hirschman, E. C. (1982). The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun. Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 132-140.

Holbrook, M. B (1986). Aims, Concepts, and Methods for the Representation of Individual Differences in Esthetic Responses to Design Features. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 13 (December), 337-347.

Lissßk Gy÷rgy (1998). A formßr=l (About Form), Budapest: Lßng Kiad= Ts Holding.

Margolin, V. & Buchanan, R. (Ed.). (1996) The Idea of Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The MIT Press.

Papanek, Victor (1971). Design for the Real World. Human Ecology and Social Change. New York: Pantheon Books, A Division of Random House.

Price, L L. & Ridgway, N. M. (1983). Development of Scale to Measure Use Innovativeness. Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 10, 679-684.

Pye, David (1978). The Nature and Aesthetics of Design. New York: Van Nostrand.

Rassam, Clive (1995). Design and Corporate Success. Gower, The Design Council.

Richins, M. L.& Dawson, S. (1992). A Consumer Values Orientation for Materialism and Its Measurement: Scale Development and Validation. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 19 (December), 303-316.

Richins, M. L. (1994a). Special Possessions and the Expression of Material Values. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 21 (December), 522-533.

Richins, M. L. (1994b). Valuing Things: The Public and Private Meanings of Possessions. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 21. (December), 504-521.

Selle, Gert (1996): "Untimely Opinions (An Attempt to Reflect on Design) In V. Margolin & R. Buchanan (Eds), The Idea of Design, (pp. 238-247) Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The MIT Press

Solomon, M. R. (1983). The Role of Products as Social Stimuli: A Symbolic Interactionism Perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 10. December, 319-329.

Spangenberg, E. R., Voss, K. E. and Crowley, A. E. (1997). Measuring the Hedonic and Utilitarian Dimensions of Attitude: A Generally Applicable Scale. Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 24, 235-241.

Veryzer, R. W.& Hutchinson, W. (1998). The Influence of Unity and Prototypicality on Aesthetic Responses to New Product Designs. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 24. (March), 374-393.

Veryzer, R. W. (1993). Aesthetic Response and the Influence of Design Principles on Product Preferences. Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 20, 224-231.



Dora Horvath, Budapest University
Laszlo Sajtos, Budapest University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29 | 2002

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


D3. Social Exclusion and WOM about Past versus Future Experiences

Melis Ceylan, Koc University, Turkey
Ezgi Akpinar, Koc University, Turkey
Selin Atalay, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Germany

Read More


C8. Can Packaging Imagery Fill Your Stomach? Effects of Product Image Location on Flavor Richness, Consumption Quantity, and Subsequent Choice

Taku Togawa, Chiba University of Commerce
Jaewoo Park, Musashi University
Hiroaki Ishii, Seikei University
Xiaoyan Deng, Ohio State University, USA

Read More


When Buffers Backfire: Corporate Social Responsibility Reputation and Consumer Response to Corporate Ethical Transgressions

Marlene Vock, Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam
Adrian Ward, University of Texas at Austin, USA
Margaret C. Campbell, University of Colorado, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.