With the changes of the times, strategic product design overcoming cultural difference is taking greater significance. Consequently, design that adjusts properly according to the cultural characteristic is necessary. Until recently, to understand the cultural characteristic and preference of a certain product design, most of the studies have relyed on surveys such like preferred sensibility vocabularies. Cultural preference or characteristic in design was easily defined by statistical data of the surveys. However, if more fundamental studies of cultural background producing difference of design preference are not provided, systematic and sustainable design strategy would be difficult to be established.
In this study, cultural difference in preference of product design was analyzed by semiotic methodology. According to semiotic studies, a product can be perceived as a sign. As a sign, the product will stand for something and create some meaning to the users, the Concept of the product. The Concept is what users think of the product's purpose, function and utility. However, Signs are created upon cultural background and communicated with members sharing similar ways of thinking. Therefore, the cultural background could possibly associate the product with a specific concept, and finally the concept would make meaning or preference of the product.
For a case study of this process of product design preference, web-based survey was performed in two different cultural areas, Korea and France, to study the fundamental concept of mobile phone and cultural preference in mobile phone design. As a result, cultural preference was verified to affect constitution of the concept of mobile phone. In Korea, mobile phone was regarded as a necessity of life and the way to express oneself while in France, it was regarded as a selective product but as a useful personal tool. So, design was the major basis of the preference in Korea while the functional aspects were the major basis in France. Also, the hypothesis of that difference in product concept is likely to induce the difference in design preference, was confirmed. French respondants preferred soft and static design and Korean respondants preferred hard and active design. Moreover, by employing a systematic model using semiotic concept, the cause of varying design preferences in different culture was verified.