Cooper’s office phone concept Jason 28 Aug 2006

44 comments Latest by Kim Goodwin

Who likes their office phone? [no one raises their hands] Cooper believes they have the answer and have put their money where their concept is. Well, at least it appears they have a UI concept that’s built out.

The UI is scroll wheel, touch screen, and voice recognition based. The interface appears to be monochromatic. It’s hard to tell if it’s good without using it, but it looks like an interesting effort on the surface. I’m glad someone’s thinking about better ways to design a multi-line, multi-extension office phone system.

If you were tasked with redesigning the corporate office phone system from scratch what would you focus on? What’s key? What’s not? What’s overlooked? What’s missing? What stays and what goes? What annoys you most about the office phones you’ve used?

44 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Justin 28 Aug 06

What’s key? I think an easily-used keypad is key. Regardless of what you do with a phone, most of the time you’re dialing the darn thing. Caller ID (preferably with name). An easy way to transfer calls that’s at least somewhat intuitive. It should be very easy to put the phone into Do-Not-Disturb mode or forward calls.

What’s not? 8 million LCD display lines and such. I think that mockup above is too complex for most people to pick up quickly. Dialing “9” for an outside line. Is it really that complex to figure out that 667 is and extension and 303-123-1234 is an outside number? Actually, I know it isn’t because my Asterisk install can do it now.

What annoys me most? Phones that don’t work. I should be able to pick up the phone and make a call. The doodads are candy. A big keypad (maybe backlit) and intuitive menu system is probably the most important thing I can think of on an office phone.

Scott 28 Aug 06

Just make it a big Blackberry. Better yet, just do away with landlines.

Chris Johanesen 28 Aug 06

How about a bluetooth headset that links to the computer, and uses a very simple and intuitive interface (maybe web-based for large corps). It should seemlessly interface with your contact manager, and voicemail should just show up as email in your stanard inbox.

It looks like this phone replicates many of your computer’s functions including the email interface. Why add the complexity? Just use email. Phone systems were designed before PCs and they’ve pretty much stayed the same, but computers should have made them obsolete.

Jon Gales 28 Aug 06

That actually looks like a decent stab at the problem. It does look a little complicated at first, but still more simple than the typical office phone. Having a real directory on the screen is great (no more list by the phone!) and so is being able to see names of people who left you voice mails.

These days it almost makes sense to have a softphone application installed on everyone’s work station. It could integrate in with Outlook (for contacts) which is something the Cooper phone can’t do.

J Lane 28 Aug 06

Voice recognition? Argh. Although they seem to work okay now, they’re just annoying. My phone company, instead of having a “press 1” if you’re having trouble with… has a “tell me what your problem is”. I have trouble not sounding disgusted talking to their computer.

Andrew 28 Aug 06

In my last two jobs, spanning about three years, I’ve barely been able to learn even the simplist functions of my office phone. It’s quite literally the equivalent of the flashing “12:00” on VCRs. I think I managed to learn after about a year that to delete a message it’s “*76”, which is insane.

The Outlook integration above is great: my company’s phone book’s already there, and why not have my voice mail messages appear in my email inbox as mp3s?

Or skip the phone and just use Skype if you really want to talk to someone.

christopher baus 28 Aug 06

Integrate it with my PC. I want to manage my voice mails with a 37signals like interface.

Brian Sweeting 28 Aug 06

I like the touchscreen. The context-sensitive buttons on my Cisco phone, even though they are close to the label, would be easier to use if the label was on the button. My biggest problem with Cooper’s concept, and other office phones, is that they are just too big. I have limited desk space, and my phone takes up a lot of it.

Pacey 28 Aug 06

as long as it has a handset-to-phone cable that doesn’t twist on itself and requires untwisting every week, i’ll buy it.

Jason Liebe 29 Aug 06

The phone is so annoying to me. I agree with Andrew’s comment about Skype. I’ll go a step further and say eschew the phone all together. Maybe an earbud w/ VR for when you’re mobile, with a phone transcript sent to some modest management software or email.

Daniel 29 Aug 06

Never having used a multi-line, uranium-powered, moonlights-as-a-transformer office phone, I can’t really say that I have any really good ideas for the phone itself.
However, many of the large corporations I’ve dealt with as a design/engineering student, seem to suffer from a very common problem when it comes to phones: Employees, in many cases, simply don’t know who to call. They usually ask someone they know, who either knows who to call or asks someone else. Before you know it, many people are engaged in tracking down someone with the needed esoteric knowledge.
In other words, the phone itself may become easier to use, but that might not be the most important problem.

That being said, I’d have to say that one thing that’s annoying when using any phone-based audible menu is the waiting while presently useless menu-items are listed by a slooow voice. My telco’s voicemail system is like that (DHH probably knows it as it’s TDC’s system in Denmark), but I’ve learned how to do the the basic commands (i.e. delete [press 2]) without waiting. However, it still greets me with “Welcome to voicemail … You have … one … new message” and then a pause before the damn message starts. Ugh! So anyway, as many have said, put that on a computer, or something with a non-linear type menu.

Jonas 29 Aug 06

Scrap it and buy everyone a cell phone.

Matt Carey 29 Aug 06

i have been making regular posts to apple fan bulletin boards for years saying apple should do a landline phone. why? well…

imagine a phone handset with base docking station made by apple. the base station has a phone line in port and an airport card built in. the handset has a small colour lcd screen.

the phone rings and the base station looks up the callers number from my apple address book (either stored on the base station or via bonjour on any other mac on the network). it shows me their picture (if i have it) or their name and even plays a custom ringtone (itunes music store selling ringtones anyone?). as the base station has wi-fi i can even do voip calls. click a setting in the prefs and when the call comes in the local copy of itunes running in the background mutes to let me take the call.

it will never happen mind :)

Nicola Mattina 29 Aug 06

I agree with Jonas: buy everyone a cell phone with wi-fi capabilities… When you are in office you will use a voip, when you are out of office you will use a gsm or utms network. And, most important, you have a unique interface and do not have to lear one of that stupid phones, that are designed to refrain people from dialing :-)

ajr 29 Aug 06

A Bluetooth/WiFi sync to your PC, so all the address book information would port over. A sync into a centralized call list would be nice as well…

ajr 29 Aug 06

Couldn’t all of the buttons outside of the LCD actually be in the LCD? At which point you have a small computer with a handset connected to it. You don’t really need the two devices on your desk, so why not just scrap the whole “small computer” and connect a phone/headset to the PC using WiFi or Bluetooth? Which sorta leads me to… why not use a really well designed cellphone that talks well with your PC?

This is an 80s sheep in an 06 wolf’s clothing.

Gayle 29 Aug 06

Ugh, cellphones are so TINY, do you know how hard it is to talk on those things? I have an enormous attachment to my office phone so I can rest it on my neck at the very least, because I nearly always need both hands when I’m on the phone.

The worst thing about my office phone is that I have two lines, and if I’m on one line I can see the other line ring and even know who it is, but I have absolutely no way of answering it. It’s very annoying.

Luc 29 Aug 06

Interesting product.

Verizon also has a similar product called the Verizon One phone:

It is a cordless phone, wireless router, DSL modem all in one. it does look like a great product for a small office.

ajr 29 Aug 06

That was the only drawback I could think of, that the device would lack substance. I dislike wearing an earpiece or a headset, so maybe a handset is still required. Soo what about your monitor/PC acting as your phone, but you have a handset that talks to the PC via WiFi or bluetooth. If you ever changed offices, your handset would be aware of the move… and pull your contact info onto your new machine?

bjhess 29 Aug 06

Along with PC integration, what about a feature that allows one-click access to all e-mails from or to the caller. Often times a call is “Did you get that e-mail I sent?” or “about that e-mail discussion…” One click and all potential e-mails are available so I can quickly get up-to-speed with the conversation.

Michael S. 29 Aug 06

The biggest problem with office phones from my experience is visibility. First, on how to do things like transferring. And second, on what actually happened. If an LCD screen could simply step me through the process (after making it as simple as possible) I’d actually feel confident and not have to look up some manual every time.

* While on a call, press “Transfer”
* Prompt appears: “Enter the phone number of the party, then push Transfer again”
* Prompt: “???’s phone is ringing, you may hang up or make another call.”

Brian 29 Aug 06

I really miss the rotary dial phone.

ajr 29 Aug 06

Why do you miss the rotary phone?

Dan Boland 29 Aug 06

The phones in my office suck ass. There are some numbers that you have to dial with the phone still on the hook (?!) and the rest you don’t. Checking voicemail requires my numeric password, then #, 1, 1, 1. Then there’s the occasional “oops, I hit some button and now my phone is playing Muzak.”

daigidan 29 Aug 06

I think phones in this day in age, in order to remain relevant, should position themselves as communications multiplexers. Your phone, suitably equipped with voice recognition, should be able to:

- Handle your conversations on multiple IM networks.
- Allow you to quickly send emails of the “Works for me” variety.
- Allow you to forward to different channels when you get tired of talking (so you could answer your phone via IM if that suits you).
- Handle your presence globally for IM, email, and voicemail, allowing you to go ‘Away’ on all channels at once.

daigidan 29 Aug 06

I think phones in this day in age, in order to remain relevant, should position themselves as communications multiplexers. Your phone, suitably equipped with voice recognition, should be able to:

- Handle your conversations on multiple IM networks.
- Allow you to quickly send emails of the “Works for me” variety.
- Allow you to forward to different channels when you get tired of talking (so you could answer your phone via IM if that suits you).
- Handle your presence globally for IM, email, and voicemail, allowing you to go ‘Away’ on all channels at once.

daigidan 29 Aug 06

I think phones in this day in age, in order to remain relevant, should position themselves as communications multiplexers. Your phone, suitably equipped with voice recognition, should be able to:

- Handle your conversations on multiple IM networks.
- Allow you to quickly send emails of the “Works for me” variety.
- Allow you to forward to different channels when you get tired of talking (so you could answer your phone via IM if that suits you).
- Handle your presence globally for IM, email, and voicemail, allowing you to go ‘Away’ on all channels at once.

daigidan 29 Aug 06

Erg :/ Sorry for the multiple posts, browser hung.

Ryan 29 Aug 06

Voicemail integration, just like christopher baus and Daniel said!

It’s absurd that voicemail interface is decoupled from the phone interface, at least in the last few I’ve used. Why should I have to listen to my choices or number of messages when it could all show up on the phone menu? There should be button choices to listen to new messages, navigate thru old messages, fastforward, rewind, slow down, delete, forward, etc.

fewquid 29 Aug 06

My biggest gripe is that phone systems (i.e. multiple extensions and voicemail boxes) are unreleiable, difficult to install and setup and very counter intuitive.

A real win here would be a phone that makes it **EASY** to transfer a call to another extension (no magic key codes, no * and # combinations, no need to know every extension in the company off by heart. Another function that should be **easy** is conference calls. How about caller ID that actually works at the extension level.

Phone systems suck. And there’s no good reason for it.

CJF 29 Aug 06

Problem: Office Phones suck because they are an arcane interface to a complex voice communication system. Can you list all of the things you can do with your office phone? Kudos if you can, because I know I can’t. Yet the multitude of functions that the phone system provides are used be people in my company, everyone has a different subset that they do use.

One option be to make purpose build phones. I only need to dial people in the company. I also need access to voicemail. I rarely use Hold and Transfer, but I do need them often enough that I can’t have a phone without them. Make me a phone that does thiese things well, and nothing else, and I’m happy. My manager would have different needs, and I’d be willing to bet that those needs are matched closely to the Contributer-Manager-Executive taxonomy.

On the other hand,I see no compelling reason for the persistance of the seperate phone appliance in the typical workstation environment. A headset attached to a computer, and a central contact list that allows the initiation of communication in whatever medium happens to be possible for a given contact at a click would seem to be a good start.

Phone numbers make a convenient shortcut for many, so rather than take them away, have numpad dialing available with an easy shortcut, possibly with a hardware extention to the keyboard (since the numbpad has a different layout from a traditional telephone keypad).

urbandesignr 29 Aug 06

Skyple, cordless lightweight headset, speech commands, integration with email and data management clientson screen instructions easily accessable, there’s lots of good ideas.

Another good one would be the ability for the system to recognize from a user login on the computer who was sitting beside a phone. Then reception would be able to voice dial and it would ring to the right person!

Marc Bernard 30 Aug 06

What’s a “phone”?

Seriously, leap into the ’90s here - email, IM, etc… Office phones are nearly obsolete here.

MT Heart 30 Aug 06

1. Easy to transfer a call to someone else.
2. Easy to 3-way conference.

Bernardo Carvalho 30 Aug 06

You guys are funny.

The other day you were all “IF ANYONE IS LISTENING, 37 SIGNALS WANTS TO DESIGN A MOBILE PHONE UI”. That on the same post where you ditched the N70 for the PEBL, instantly exposing your current level of knowledge on phone UIs in general.

Now Cooper makes an “Office Phone”, and you post about it, and comment on it. When work is going mobile, when WI-FI equiped mobile phones are on the verge of becoming commonplace, you guys are praising the fact someone is looking at something so… so… 90’s!

“I�m glad someone�s thinking about better ways to design a multi-line, multi-extension office phone system.” Personally, I am not that glad, actually I find it kind of sad - a sign that the times of a giant like Cooper have passed.

It’s sad. Like seeing Steve Jobs designing a better CD player.

His office phone is not one of his “Dancing Bears”, but rather a “Crying Dinossaur”. A sign that the times are maybe changing too fast. Embrace mobility, people!

noname 31 Aug 06

I’d have:

1. the numbers,
2. a button to record your message,
3. a button to check your messages,
4. a button for speakerphone,
5. a transfer button and
5. a volume control and mute button.

That’s all I’ve ever used on an office phone, but phones keep getting more and more complicated - my office phone has 20 buttons on it that are nothing to do with numbers…

I reckon if you can keep the function buttons down so that there are less of them than there are number buttons, then you’re probably going the right way.

Grant Hutchins 04 Sep 06

I would put two keypads on it. One very clearly marked “internal calls” and another marked “external calls” I would do all sorts of things to make the keypads feel different. Maybe white/black, different materials, round/square, etc.

And then I don’t think anyone would have trouble reaching an outside line.

Edward 06 Sep 06

WRT the ‘use your PC not a phone’ comments, these would be fine for ‘normal’ situations.

How would you contact someone to fix your PC or ‘net connection if either went down though?

What about emergeny situations? If I discover a fire/need an ambulance/am being attacked I want to be able to fumble for my phone and hit 999 (or 911, 112 etc) — not wait for my PC to boot up!

Steve Parks 11 Sep 06

All I want is a standard single or multiline telephone that can integrate w/ my outlook contacts? Has anyone see this in a non-voip phone?

Phone technology has come to a standstill while cell phone technology is sky rocketing. I could care less and actually would prefer my office phone not to check e-mail, browse the web or otherwise do things that it isn’t supposed to do; all I want is Outlook integration and possibly memory expansion (such as inserting a memory stick to increase storage space).

Kim Goodwin 10 Oct 06

Hi, all.

Someone just forwarded this thread to me. Just for context, the illustration above was a roughly 2-week concept project we did at Cooper a while back. We hated our phone system at the time, so we were mostly trying to solve some of our pet peeves.

Lots of good critiques. Just for fun, we gave ourselves some constraints—-design a better desk phone/voicemail system with a monochrome screen. We chose to make it capable of voice recognition, but not primarily designed around that (for the reasons a couple of people cite above). Absolutely, we could have done more with PC integration, a color screen, and so on, but where’s the challenge in designing without constraints?

Mobility *is* key for certain kinds of knowledge workers, but many do a lot of impromptu calls with people gathered around someone’s desk. That’s a strong argument for a decent speakerphone. There are also plenty of people for whom mobility is not that useful at work (say, the average accounts payable clerk), and many companies aren’t interested in providing everyone with easily-lost-or-damaged mobile devices. The desk phone is far from dead. As for the not-so-prominent keypad, how often do you actually dial a brand new number on your cell phone, versus picking from a list of known people? Most people use their keypads a lot less often than you might think.

I’d say the challenge these days is not about adding capability to phones—rather, it’s about simplifying the key functions (such as calling someone, making a conference call, or transferring people without worrying about losing them) while avoiding the temptation to turn a simple appliance into a much-too-complicated PC.