I Can't Hear You


I can’t tell if this post is a stunning expose on poor ergonomic design or the most boring post I’ve ever written. I’ll let you be the judge.

When I started working in my new office it became clear that Connie, when calling me, found it nigh on impossible to hear me talking to her over the phone. I tried everything to make it louder for her down the line but it wouldn’t work, and it took a little bit of investigating to find out why, including swapping phones out, reconnecting cables, updating the phone’s firmware and a few other things. It wasn’t until a few days after this and the problem wasn’t going away did I realise the problem.

It’s the phone.

I mean the physical phone design. It’s one of those things that you can’t quite believe made it from design on paper to completed and finished product. Maybe it’s because I am in the above the 95th percentile, but it’s just so badly designed it’s astonishing a decision was made to make it. The problem with the phone is like the iPhone 4 reception issue with the metal antennas. Or the famous Cisco Ethernet port with the rest button above it design flaw.

The phone’s receiver is only available from one side. It’s hard to describe, so here’s a photo of the phone handset.


See, the microphone is only on the right side of the mouth piece, or the left as you look at it hung-up. The other side is a blank solid plastic area that is not a microphone. What this means is that the receiver is only 50% effective at picking up the sound if you put your mouth directly into the middle of the handset. You’d think that is what you do, but you 100% don’t. I use my right hand and right ear to talk to people on the phone because I am deaf to low frequencies in my left ear and I cannot use it that way, so that means I have to use it this way, and I slightly drop the phone down my face. No one I know sits with the phone covering their mouth, taking a bit more of a relaxed stance when using the phone. In this case, it means that the person that is listening to me on the other end cannot hear me. I’m speaking into a phone that has no microphone in the way I am holding it.

See Figure 1 and Figure 2 below.

My face! Give me back my face! 

My face! Give me back my face! 

Figure 1 is my natural position on telephony. It is useless in that position. Figure 2 is how I have to fanny around with it to make it work. How was this decided upon?!  It goes against almost everything I know about phones and the design of them. It goes to a more core issue – ig you make a design decision, you have to consider all possibilities and design around them. Surely, to make a phone handset that ergonomics of holding it and getting good sound quality must be at the top of your list for design criteria, but apparently not for this design. It’s baffling, and it’s frustrating. Another good example of bad ergonomic design is in my car where the only clock in the car is put in amongst the speedometer and tachometer, meaning the driver is the only one who can see it. This was fixed shortly afterwards in newer models, but not in mine.

How are these able to pass muster? I can only speculate. Which I have done.