A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Cell Phone Interface Design Preferences from the Perspective of Nationality and Disability

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


A cell phone is an electronic communication device that helps break down the distance barriers between people, with added mobility advantages. For some users a cell phone is more than a communication device; it may be used as a fashion accessory, and for some the cell phone is needed to seek help in emergency situations. The cell phone market has been expanding globally over the past decade, with approximately 423 million sold globally in the year 2002 (Kiljander & Johanna, 2003). According to the CIA World Factbook (2006), the UK has more cell phones than people. The global expansion of cell phone companies may impose problems to cell phone users, since unlike the personal computer industry the cell phone industry has no standard interface, and manufacturers have the freedom to gradually improve the user interface (Kiljander & Johanna, 2003). For a user interface to be well accepted by a target population it is necessary to identify and explore the underlying design preferences. User interfaces of new technology may lead to anxiety and delayed technology acceptance, especially for users with disabilities. Even though the need for users participating in the design process has been realized, users with disabilities are not always included in the design process (Newell & Gregor, 2001). This study followed a participatory design process, to compare and contrast the cell phone interface design preferences of users from two different nations, including users with no apparent disability and users with visual disabilities.

A study was conducted to identify possible relationships between national culture, disability culture and design preferences of cell phone interfaces. The theoretical framework used to guide this study was Hofstede's (1991) five dimensional cultural model. Various studies have explored cross-cultural interface design and found some relationship of these cultural dimensions with interface design components (Choi et. al., 2005; Marcus, 1999; Marcus and Gould, 2001).

This study included 13 product interactive focus groups, with a total of 69 participants, 34 in India and 35 in the United States, of the age group 19-50 years. There were 4 units of analyses in this research study. This included a control group of users without any apparent disability and a disability group with a visual disability of legal blindness. The two countries, India and the United States, were selected for this comparative study because of their diverse cultural backgrounds and the rapid expansion of cell phone usage which they are witnessing. The four units of analyses differed in their cultural dimensions. There were no significant correlations found on Design preferences of cell phone features based on Choi et at. (2005)'s study on mobile services with Hofstede (1990)'s cultural dimensions. However the relationships of some these features with the underlying cultural dimensions were found when group level analysis instead of the individual level of analysis was undertaken. Differences were also found in the ratings of the hardware attributes between disability groups and differences in usability ratings were found based on nationality and disability groups. The content analysis of the focus group sessions provided an insight to the preferences on cell phone interface components and the gave a better understanding of the mobile/cell phone culture in the two countries. These results are summarized to provide guidelines for designing cross-cultural user interfaces that are nationality specific and disability specific. A pyramid model for a holistic process of designing cell phones for users with disabilities integrated the findings of this thesis and Jordon (2002)'s pleasurability framework is proposed in the conclusion section of this thesis.



Product Interactive Focus groups, Design preferences, Cell phone interfaces, Disability culture, Cross-cultural studies