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John Karlin Dead At 94, Invented The Way We Use Touch Telephones, Door Locks, ATM’s, Gas Pumps

John Karlin knew how long a telephone cord should be and in what order the buttons should go on push button phones.

[when]the dial gave way to push buttons, new questions arose: round buttons, or square? How big should they be? Most crucially, how should they be arrayed? In a circle? A rectangle? An arc?

For decades after World War II, these questions were studied by a group of social scientists and engineers in New Jersey led by one man, a Bell Labs industrial psychologist named John E. Karlin…

In 2013, the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the touch-tone phone, the answers to those questions remain palpable at the press of a button. The rectangular design of the keypad, the shape of its buttons and the position of the numbers — with “1-2-3” on the top row instead of the bottom, as on a calculator — all sprang from empirical research conducted or overseen by Mr. Karlin.

The legacy of that research now extends far beyond the telephone: the keypad design Mr. Karlin shepherded into being has become the international standard on objects as diverse as A.T.M.’s, gas pumps, door locks, vending machines and medical equipment.

About Alan

Alan Colmes is the publisher of Liberaland.

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