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The Effect of Culture on Usability: Comparing the Perceptions and Performance of Taiwanese and North American MP3 Player Users

Steve Wallace and Hsiao-Cheng Yu

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 4, Issue 3, May 2009, pp. 136-146

Article Contents


Hornbaek (2006) describes the main components of usability as being both subjective and objective. So to measure subjective impressions of product efficiency, effectiveness, and user satisfaction, this study surveys users to evaluate their perceptions of usability. To measure the actual efficiency and effectiveness of the product, users are observed as they use the product.

The Product

The product is an MP3 player from a Taiwanese electronic company called ErgoTech. The player includes a touch screen with a graphical interface. While the graphical interface reduces the use of text, text is still required for many functions. The interface can be configured in a variety of languages, including Traditional Chinese (for Taiwanese users) and English (for North American users).

An MP3 player was chosen for a number of reasons. This kind of product is popular among both young Taiwanese and North Americans, thus reducing the chance one group would be less familiar with the product than the other. There are also a small number of functions, reducing the chance that different cultures would use the product for different purposes-a cultural difference identified by Keefe et al. (2000). A touch screen interface that relied mainly on icons was chosen in order to reduce the influence of translated text on usability, as translated text may result in a reduced level of usability for users (Nantel & Glaser, 2008). Finally, it is hoped that results of such research will have implications for manufacturers and exporters of consumer electronic products in Taiwan and elsewhere.

Survey Sample Characteristics

Participants in the study were chosen for being representative of the target market. Analysis of marketing materials and the product's design and features indicated that the MP3 player was aimed at a young and international audience, interested in the latest hi-tech gadgets, many of whom would be students. In total 23 people were selected based on their match with the target market. Of those tested 13 had a Taiwanese cultural background and 10 had a North American (U.S.A. and Canada) cultural background. Subjects were compensated for their time in the form of food and refreshments. Apart from cultural backgrounds and other factors such as age, gender ratio, education levels, and experience with the product or other similar products were at similar levels between the cultural groups.

The following table indicates the characteristics of the sample.

Table 1. Sample Characteristics
Cultural Background Taiwan North America
Average age (rounded) 26 28
Gender ratio 4 females and 9 males 4 females and 6 males
Average education level Bachelors degree Bachelors degree
Average reported experience with similar products Somewhat-very experienced. Somewhat experienced
Average reported level of confidence with consumer electronics (on a scale 1-5, 1 is low, 5 is high) 3.38 3.35
Sample size 13 10

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