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Design Case Studies

Professor Martin Woolley, Associate Dean, Applied Research & Jane Osmond, Senior Researcher.

Coventry School of Art and Design, Coventry University

Overview – the Design case studies

The two related case studies illustrate the value, richness and range of the BT Digital Archives and suggest different pathways in and around them. In focussing on an object (the Trimphone) originally designed in the 1960s but still well known and in production today, the first case study illustrates how the archives can be used to explore beneath the familiar surface to provide a much wider context. In concentrating on design in its broadest sense, this case study also illustrates how searching the archive can involve traditional text-based enquiry alongside image searches to tell a unique story about all aspects of the design origins, process and outcomes. The second, related case study, using the Trimphone as a starting point, examines how a transition occurred for women during the 1960s in terms of employment, through using selected documents from the archive including advertisements, news articles and original pieces of correspondence. Whilst the BT Archives is very large it can never be totally comprehensive, and so the case studies show how it can be used to frame detailed research studies, leading to and incorporating materials from other archives and sources of information, resulting in a more detailed story around objects and images.

The Trimphone Case Study

The Trimphone originated in 1961 when the Post Office decided it needed a luxury telephone to add to its range. Its unique and innovative configuration has led to it becoming something of a design icon and a symbol of 1960s and 1970s consumer lifestyles. The case study explores this novel status but also places the Trimphone firmly within a complex and multifaceted historical, technological, political and socio-economic context. It also illustrates how the archive was used to conduct research into the complex design process which led to the Trimphone and to its subsequent iterations. The designer Martyn Rowlands is shown to play a crucial role in the development and his own background is examined in detail, so that the Trimphone can be placed within a design history perspective. The design decision-making process is shown to be the result of a complex interweaving of four different bodies. The role of the Council of Industrial Design (now the Design Council) by making design recommendations, the GPO by providing technical guidance, the company STC in providing the necessary development and manufacturing resources and Rowland's own consultancy in bringing these different facets together. Historically, the study moves backward in time to demonstrate the influence of the American Princess phone on the Trimphone and also forward to show how the Trimphone was part of a general trend to make the phone more personal. This helped to pave the way for greater mobility in phone design and technology. The study ends by questioning the success or otherwise of the Trimphone's design, showing that it remains controversial.

Transitions: the Trimphone and women engineers

Using the Trimphone as a starting point to illustrate how Post Office Telecoms made a transition in terms of innovative product design in the 1960s, this case study looks at how the organisation also made a significant transition in terms of women employees. Based on selected pieces from over 100 documents - both internal and external - contained in the BT Archives, this case study constructs a contextual narrative showing how women successfully gained entrance to the previously hitherto male enclave of engineering. By examining the post-world war two rise of the consumer society and linking this to selected advertising images for the Trimphone, the case study firstly examines the position of women in society in the 1960s – namely as CEO of the home. There is then a consideration of the burgeoning women's movement and legislation which gave women more control over their reproductive choices. Despite this, women's position in the workforce was still based around a part-time, low paid model and a significant number of roles were not open to them because of their gender. Beginning with a March 1964 question in the House of Commons about the Post Office barring women from its student engineering apprenticeship scheme, the case study examines correspondence from 1961-1969. This correspondence - culled from both the Archives and news articles from the organisation's newsletter - illustrates the journey Post Office Telecoms undertook, which resulted in the first female engineer being appointed in 1966.



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