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Transcript of a 1998 interview with Gosta Thames.

Thanks to Kit Cheves at Ericsson for providing this.

The PDF file from the newspaper this is from is 1.5 megs in size so I am not making it available on the web site for space reasons. E-mail me if you want a copy.

A Design With Bite

By Lars-Magnus Kihlstrom

(Caption below picture of Gosta Thames holding Ericofon): "I have always liked beautiful things" says Gosta Thames, the designer of the Ericofon. The device, popularly known as the Cobra, is celebrating it's 45th anniversary and its soft lines are still classed as a milestone in the history of design. About 2.5 million Cobra phones were sold, the majority of which were exported.

(Body of article): The year was 1953 and the Swedish Telegraph Service was celebrating it's 100th anniversary. Outside the Swedish Board of Telecommunications in Stockholm, Sven Ture Aberg, LM Ericsson's new president, was waiting impatiently. The 100th anniversary gift he was to present was late.

At the same time, Gosta Thames was racing at full speed from the Telefonplan on his engine-equipped bicycle. He was carrying a valuable load - the first Ericofon. "It was a momentous day when it was handed over - one of the greatest in all my years at LM Ericsson", he recalls.

The Ericofon, or Cobra as it was popularly known, was launched on the market 45 years ago, and its success is well known today: about 2.5 million devices were sold and several awards were received, including one from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which ranked the device's form among the best achievements in  20th century industrial design. A prototype made by Hugo Blomberg and Ralph Lysell was patented as early as 1941, but it was Gosta Thames and his device group that created the final design of the Ericofon.

"Naturally, I am proud", says Gosta Thames, who started at the telephone section at the beginning of the 1940s. He now lives in Mjolby, in southern Sweden, and has been retired since 1981. He is an engineer and has no formal training in design, but says that this has been compensated by the fact that he has always had a feeling for color and shapes.

"It's easier to make a designer out of an engineer than the other way round", he believes. "I wanted the device to fit well into the hand, it was to be lightweight, and simple and reliable to use."

The biggest problem was the material. At that time, only brittle acrylate and cellulose plastics were available. Gosta Thames did not find either of these materials satisfactory, as they were easily scratched. "I used the nail test. If there were scratches in the material when I rubbed it with my thumbnail, then it wasn't good enough."

The solution arrived with the invention of ABS plastic in the mid-1950s. This passed the test. A number of employees then acted as advisors in selecting the colors. "Only the people who were well-dressed and had style were allowed to be involved in color selection", Gosta Thames recalls.

The Cobra is still in demand and is sold through such channels as internet auctions for about USD 100. Gosta Thames, however, does not want to give any advice on how Ericsson could become more successful in the design of today's mobile phones.

"I have an Ericsson phone, but it is still in its box. I only use it when I'm driving a long way and nowadays I only take short trips in my car."

Gosta Thames worked for LM Ericsson for 43 years from 1938, a period hallmarked by incredible advances in technology as well as for the company. "Consider that we had only one transistor at the development department in 1950- nowadays a million transistors could fit on a fingernail", says Gosta Thames.



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