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
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.