Office – Phoning Better

An old design for a new generation of phones. (Click to enlarge)

[XFR] [4] [3] [0] [LINE #]

I think that’s the key combination to join two calls.

I think.

Either way, it’s absurdly arcane.

I can kind of see the XFR part. Presumably, that stands for “transfer,” which in some twisted way makes sense, because you’re, um, transferring two calls together, or something. But seriously, what kind of significance could the number 430 possibly have? (Wikipedia: it was the year Feng Ba abdicated as the emperor of the Northern Yan, which was vying for control of China. Hmm…) What committee came up with this number? (“So we all agree, 430, we think this is an intuitive and logical number to have to dial to make a conference call happen.”) My guess is that there was a little bit too much 420 being passed around.

I’m not sure what phone system they were using on the other side Tuesday afternoon. Either way, they tried fruitlessly for at least 10 minutes to join all five parties together. After repeatedly dropping at least one party, we eventually settled on three, deeming the other two “not important enough” to keep trying. Now that’s business efficiency, folks.

The point is: It shouldn’t be this hard.

This is true for so many things we encounter on a daily basis that have obviously had no thought go into the user experience whatsoever. Swiping a MetroCard? Shouldn’t be this hard. Adding a contact to your cell phone? Shouldn’t be this hard. Getting a person on the phone with technical support instead of talking to a know-nothing computerized voice? Shouldn’t be this hard. Reading the labels on prescription bottles? Shouldn’t be this hard. Doing taxes? Shouldn’t be this hard. (But I digress…)

The truth is, there are some dial-in conference call systems that work fine. Someone sets it up, then you call in with a PIN code to a service that puts you in the conference. Great.

But really, it’s time for the office phone, as we know it, to go the way of the dinosaur. There’s no point, when virtually every desk has a computer and virtually every computer is hooked up to high-speed internet. Instead, let’s create a handset/wireless/video accessory and a software application to match.

Here’s my design for a new generation of office phones. They would be semi-independent of the computer—that is, if the computer was off (or crashed), the call would simply be forwarded to your cell. The idea, then, is that while in the office, the phone’s interface would be almost entirely through the computer, a là Skype. This would allow more flexibility, user-friendliness, and power than any office phone. So when joining five parties, you could click a button on the computer, rather than enter in some key combination and, perhaps, sacrificing a goat. 

A nicety of a software application would be the ability to set up the software to forward calls immediately to your cell phone, or to ask the calling party if they would like to either leave a voicemail or a be forwarded to your cell phone. This would eliminate the problem of trying multiple phone numbers. 

The software would allow you to see when your colleagues are available, busy, or on the phone:

A mock-up of the computer interface.

I wanted the design off the phone itself to “get back to basics.” No longer an independent device, the point of the next-generation office voice appliance is simplicity of functionality—it serves as an input and output of voice and video and nothing more. The design itself is an update of the design of some of the first phones ever made. 

Old vs. new

The phone has absolutely no buttons. Lift the wireless handset to answer, place it back on the stand to hang up. To activate the speakerphone, put the handset face down on the table. An accelerometer detects the placement and turns on the loudspeaker, turning it into an instant teleconferencing device. To turn speakerphone off, just pick the handset back up. The handset itself is held onto the base using magnets and is charged inductively, like a toothbrush. As for the camera, twist the lens to close the aperture for ensured privacy. 

Features. Click to enlarge.
Feature diagram. (Click to enlarge.)

A phone shouldn’t be a device to battle with. It should do what it’s supposed to do, no fuss, no muss. 


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