The Princess and the iPod


Images via Creative Pro

In her wonderful presentation at Explore Design, Dimitra Doufekas noted that the Princess phone was the iPod of its day, the "must have" accessory. it is an interesting story about design; it was more than just a phone, but a complete change in the way we used phones.

Pre-princess, most homes had just one phone, in the hall or in the kitchen. Conversations were anything but private. AT&T; had finished wiring America and now wanted to sell more phones, but the current designs were heavy and too big for a little night table. Henry Dreyfuss came up with the Princess, so small and light that early customers complained that they needed a third hand to hold it down while they dialled, so they added a lead weight inside.

People not only didn't have second phones, but thought they might be dangerous and subversive. Beverley Lucey writes about her longing for a phone in her room, complaining about her mom:

She was saying, another phone? In your room? Who needs two phones in a five room apartment? Lazy bones who can't walk? People with secrets? An expense every month and nothing to show for it like the acrobat, toe-tap, and baton lessons we send you to. No! No phone. That's final. Pink, Shmink. Black is fine for a phone. The line should be open in case Nana or Grampa needed something anyway.

Homework wouldn't be done. They would never see me. No. No pink princess phone. Think of something else.

But Bell kept advertising away, convincing people that extension phones were pure luxury, even a bit sexy. In the process, they changed the phone from a utilitarian piece of hardware shared by the household to something cool and personal. Soon they were renting second lines to go along with the phones.


Angie Dickenson with a Princess

Like so many other things in our lives, including cellphones and iPods, the luxury became a necessity as we become addicted to more stuff.

It also wasn't particularly healthy; a study in the sixties showed significant weight gain among families with extension phones; evidently they weren't getting the exercise running to answer the phone that they used to. But hey, they were renting more phones.

Like the iPod, design was important. but the real change was in the way the system worked, the way we used it.



I wonder if they thought about this connection when they put a Princess into Pixar's Toy Story 2.

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