When Coherent Communications System Corporation decided to create this conference phone their goal was to accommodate the needs of conference calls by incorporating all the necessary telephone elements and electronics into a single, sophisticated speaker/microphone housing. For ease of use and efficiency, the engineers wanted to position the speaker in such a way that the output could be heard clearly within a listening area of about fifteen feet around the phone, along with microphones that would pick up normal speech from within the same range.

After experimenting with a variety of forms, they found the best configuration was an inverted curved cone, an inherently elegant circular shape that also conserved desktop space. To refine the phone, Coherent turned to the design firm Walter Dorwin Teague Associates, established in 1926 by pioneer industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague. The Teague designers improved the form and devised a speaker grille, microphone and keypad arrangement that takes advantage of a simple grid pattern of squares and rectangles to create an understandable and decorative functional object for the workplace.  The rows of square number and function keys at the bottom transition into the speaker grille with its ever-shrinking squares and rectangles that draw the eye up and visually lighten the surface. Pattern keeps the user’s focus on the utilitarian elements in the center of the form.

The Teague firm also developed the graphics and color coding for the keys, that subtly divide the controls into two visually separate components, using white for the numbers and gray for the function icons. The overall keypad was designed so the first-time user would glance at the number keys first, and understanding their purpose immediately, could then concentrate on the function keys.


The ConferenceMaster conference phone will be on view in the Making Design exhibition opening December 12, 2014.


Cynthia Trope is the Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

2 thoughts on “Squaring The Circle

It is disappointing that Teague receives so much credit for this design. Artistically, Teageu’s input was minimal at most. The true elegance was in the true full-duplex audio (far ahead of its time) achieved by the Coherent Design Team. – Vonzant H. Stoughton, Senior Systems Integration Engineer, Coherent Communications

I loved seeing this! I’m the designer that created this speaker grill pattern back in 94… Squaring the Circle is such a great heading! I still have a copy of the letter from the Cooper Hewitt asking to have it be part of their collection…it was an honor for sure…

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