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Cultural influences on the comprehensibility of icons in mobile-computer interaction

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Icons are often considered as language free and therefore assumed to be especially suited for inter-cultural usage. This article examines if icons within the mobile context are inter-culturally comprehensible. The study was carried out in Kerala, South India. Fifty-eight participants of a wide age range (17-75 years) volunteered to take part. The icons under study were representatives for common mobile phone functions and were partly taken from real interfaces and were partly self-created. Icons varied in their concreteness/abstractness and their visual complexity. A naming method was adopted: Participants had first to evaluate what a specific icon pictured (pictorial transparency) and, directly after, they had to indicate the icon's meaning in the context of mobile communication (semantic transparency and comprehensibility). Results showed that the comprehensibility of icons mainly depend on two major characteristics, which can be regarded as culture-unspecific. No matter which cultural background users have, the more details an icon contains and the more concrete an icon is, the more it is correctly interpreted. However, we identified also cultural influences on the comprehensibility of specific icons, showing that icon design also should consider cultural specificities.
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Keywords: abstractness; culture; familiarity; icon characteristics; mobile devices; pictorial transparency; semantic comprehensibility; visual complexity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

Publication date: 2008-07-01

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