In 1959, AT&T Discovered There Was a Market for a Lady’s Phone

The Princess phone was pitched as the perfect extension for the bedroom

6 min read
photo of pink princess phone
Pretty in Pink: The Princess was marketed to “the homemaker with an eye to the niceties of interior décor.”
Photo: AT&T Archives and History Center

When a company monopolizes an industry, as the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. did with telecommunications in the United States for much of the 20th century, there’s little incentive for flashy design. Engineers at Bell Telephone Laboratories designed phones that were functional and durable, and Western Electric Co. manufactured the phones and supplied them to the local operating companies of the Bell System.

What wouldn’t have been obvious to the average user was the innovation that went into even the blandest looking phone. In 1927, for example, Bell Labs researchers took thousands of head measurements of men and women of different races in order to optimize the design of the telephone handset. The new data were used to establish the ideal length of the handset, the angles of the handset’s earpiece and microphone, and the distance between the handset and the user’s face.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

Keep Reading ↓Show less