In 1969, I had my first touch-tone phone. I lived in a small-enough town that only the last five numbers had to be dialed to make a local call. After a while, I realized that each time I made a call, I was tracing out a little shape. 6 years later, in electronics school, I was introduced to the resistor color code, in which each digit from 0 through 9 is represented by a specific color, approximating the rainbow, with black, brown, grey and white added to achieve the 10 necessary. At some point, I began combining the two ideas of shape and color and started encoding telephone numbers into abstract designs.

In order to make a telephone number decipherable, a two-element design is needed: one element shows the order in which the numbers are pressed and the second shows which number is pressed. For example, I could make a stylized bird which had a body of one color and a wing of another color. The body would represent the order in which the numbers were to be pressed: brown, red, orange, for the first, second, and third numbers. If the first three digits of the phone number were 465, then the brown bird would get a yellow wing, the red bird would get a blue wing, and the orange bird would get a green wing. And so on.

For a discussion on how Bell Labs came up with the layout of the touch-tone keypad click here.

In experimenting with shapes and colors, I did a series called "My Friends Have Telephone Numbers" (MFHTN). These four images are from that series, and the number can be deciphered from the color of the diamond and its placement on an imagined keypad.