When we look today at the Dreyfuss Model 500, it doesn't really pop out as something amazing or revolutionary. Its not even a whole lot to look at – in fact, its designer Henry Dreyfuss had created a model typically considered a more aesthetically pleasing iteration on the device over 20 years earlier, the Model 302. But the Model 500 innovated in subtle ways, and it is a prime example of a genius design principle which resonates through to the modern day.
In 1955, Henry Dreyfuss published a book called Designing for People. It laid out a basic concept in a powerful way: the objects manufactured for everyday people should be designed to suit their real-world needs. This encompassed everything from making furniture and devices ergonomic, to making sure dimensions of objects were properly suited to the human anatomy, and a wide range of other concepts. This book, above many others, introduced the ideas of user-centred design and ergonomics into the mass public consciousness.
We see this in the Model 500 – which is why I feel it is fitting to christen this old school rotary with the distinction of being the one phone which proved user-centred design to be a commercially successful idea, and one which has since woven a rich tapestry of technological improvements and had a wide influence on the history of design.
In the boxy design of the Model 500 the concept of ergonomics comes to life. Designed to be easy to hold, reliable enough to lean on or lax in the attentiveness of holding the phone, the Model 500 is user-centred in every respect of its design, made to be comfortable and easy to use. As opposed to its ancestor the Model 302, the Model 500 sacrificed some aesthetic frills for a design which takes the users needs in mind, providing them with a highly functional device which above all serves its purpose as a telephone.
The Legacy of Dreyfuss
Henry Dreyfuss is still studied today as a great mind and as an important innovator in design. His work and his legacy live on, with beautiful replicas of his many telephone designs still in production and usage. Concepts like ergonomics and user-centred design are now cornerstones of modern devices and likely to stay with us.