Design

An Iconic Phone Before the iPhone

September 30, 2014


 

Before apps, text messages, and cameras, there was a phone that changed the way we conversed over telecommunications. Designed by Henry Dreyfuss Associates, the Trimline telephone for Western Electric (which supplied AT&T) was produced from 1965 until the late 90’s. This phone was a benchmark in the development of modern telephone design and production.

  The 302 series and 500 series of rotary phones designed by Henry Dreyfuss paved the way for this modern innovation that was the Trimline. The simplification of necessary components also used in the series meant the phone could be lighter, smaller, and easier to assemble. With only 4 major factors (the handset, desk base, wall base, and cords), the phone was bundled into a neat, compact, easy-to-use package.

The introduction of the “Touch-Tone” technology meant that the rotary method would go the way of the dodo. No longer would users rotate their dial and wait as each number made its way around. The addition of incandescent dial lights and minimal earpiece and mouthpiece brought this device into the next era. The lighter plastics and varying colors updated the prior years heavy metal bases and options.

One of the highlights and greatest features of any of the 302, 500, or Trimline series designs are the simple ergonomics. Often thought as one of the founders of ergonomic design, Dreyfuss studied the human figure and its interaction with the products he developed. The curvature of the Trimlines clean plastic shape placed the ear and mouthpiece in an ideal positioning without effecting the newly added “Touch-Tone” Dials. This also allowed the handset to nest nicely in the base with minimal exposure.

With the rapid advancement of wireless phones today, we tend to forget the simple features of permutations past; these advancements opened the door for our modern technologies. The Trimline telephone was such a success that more than 100 million of them were produced and can occasionally still be found in use today.

—Greg Cordeiro is the founder of New England Outerwear, and a new contributor to Juxtapoz Magazine.