Diavox 1978

Sweden's first mass-produced touch-tone telephone was the Diavox. It was developed by Ericsson's and the Swedish Telecommunications Administration's joint development company ELLEMTEL in collaboration with design consultant Carl-Arne Breger and colleague Richard Lindahl. The phone was launched in 1978, at the same time as touch-tone service was introduced in Sweden. The development company had started in earnest three years earlier when four consulting firms were invited to take part in a design contest in the form of parallel assignments, something that was very unusual in contexts of this sort. The winner was Breger Design with an entry that did not actually fulfill the requirement specifications. The model was way too low to house the prescribed components under the shell. Moreover, the phone's receiver was inferior from the user standpoint. Despite this, the entry was judged as more developable and exciting than the others because it had a much larger area for the keys and additionally, featured a structural design that easily permitted the replacement of the shell for different keypads. The replaceable shell also made it easy to change the colors of the phones, which had been a wish for quite some time.

Daring to break with the given constraints and overshooting the mark, as was done with the winning entry, was not unusual in design contexts. For Breger and Lindahl, it turned out to be a successful move for the subsequent design process. After more than 3,300 hours of design work and many models in wood, a profile was attained during the summer of 1977 that was just as low as on the original contest entry. At the same time the phone's rectangular body had become much more sculptural, with the keypad recessed in a flanged shell that shielded the keys during use. The actual flanging was especially well-designed and originally enough, had different radii at all four corners. The keys had beveled edges to minimize the risk of pressing two keys at once. The receiver had a more ergonomic and resilient form but with its small components, was so light that it had to be equipped with metal weights so as to activate the mechanical hook-switch function. The Diavox was injection-molded in thermoplastic, and was so tough and durable that the phone could even withstand being thrown to the floor, something that Carl-Arne Breger liked to demonstrate when he proudly showed his personal favorite among the multitude of everyday products the firm had designed. 

In parallel with development of the Diavox, similar low-profile touch-tone phones were under development in other countries. Those most similar were the two Danish standard phones, the GNT-Automatic F78 and the Standard Electric Kirk 76E, with the latter being one of designer Jacob Jensen's most important works. While both were admittedly characterized by nearly unparalleled, timeless elegance with sweeping lines and tasteful colors, when it came to originality and practical use, they could not quite measure up to their Swedish counterpart. The Diavox was the final Swedish standard telephone before the Swedish Telecommunications Administration's monopoly came to an end during the 1980s. It was exported to several countries but under other names, such as the Astrophone in Great Britain and the Royal in the US. Production continued until 1989.

Author: Lasse Brunnström

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