In the 1930s, Bell Labs asked Henry Dreyfuss to create a new telephone set, to be used across AT&T’s vast phone system. Dreyfuss was a young man and an emerging voice in the field of industrial design. Designers including Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy, and Walter Dorwin Teague were reinventing the point of contact between people and equipment, often by unifying mechanical parts inside smooth, sculptural shells.
Dreyfuss and Bell Labs unveiled their Model 302 telephone in 1937. The object’s curving sidewalls swoop upward from a square base to cradle the graceful arc of the handset. Indebted to Jean Heiberg’s 1931 phone for the Swedish company Ericsson, the Model 302 is a functional artifact of extraordinary beauty.
Dreyfuss conducted observational research to design the Model 302. He wanted to know how people used phones in their daily lives. Below, hear Dreyfuss’s story about masquerading as a phone repairman’s assistant.
Story adapted from Henry Dreyfuss, Designing for People (1955). Voice actor: Sean Carusi
This and other objects by Henry Dreyfuss appear in the exhibition Beautiful Users, 12 December 2014 – 26 April 2015.
Ellen Lupton is Senior Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art.