The Mouse at 50

I went down to London to BBC Broadcasting House on December 4th to take part in the recording of an episode of the technology program ‘Click’ The episode celebrates Doug Engelbart’s first public demonstration of the computer mouse in 1968.

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The episode will be broadcast on Christmas Day at 20.32, and repeated on Boxing Day at 05.32. It will then be available at:


Talks at Oxford University

At the invitation of Claire O’Mahony, Fellow in History of Art and Design, I gave the second of two lectures at Oxford University last week. The first was last November at Rewley House where I spoke to Claire’s History of Design Masters students about the process of researching the book ‘Delete: A Design History of Computer Vapourware’.

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The second was a public lecture as part of a week of events celebrating a new collaboration between Kellogg College and Bletchley Park. My talk, titled ‘The Spectacle of Computing’ explored the representation of computing technology to the public and how this has affected the path of technological development. I was followed by two of the Masters students, Tony Presland and Robinson Jardin, presenting their research on curating  software and World War II designs for an Ice Ship. Next was Lucy Ribchester, speaking about researching her new novel ‘The Amber Shadows’, a thriller set in Bletchley Park, and then Claire O’Mahoney gave a lecture titled ‘Computers as cinema heroes, villains and lovers’. The  afternoon was rounded off with an interactive talk by Tom Briggs of Bletchley Park in which he demonstrated a real Enigma machine. I was invited to the guest dinner in the evening, at which Alan Turing’s nephew Dermot Turing, author of the biography ‘Prof: Alan Turing Decoded’, spoke about his personal memories of his uncle.

Bletchley Park Week-2

Delete Review in the Journal of Design History


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A review of ‘Delete’ has been published online (ahead of print), written by Shreeharsh Kelkar. The reviewer commented:

“Paul Atkinson’s book Delete: A Design History of Computer Vapourware, a glossy, illustrated compendium of computing projects (all hardware) that never came to fruition, is best read during times of leisure, one case study at a time, rather than straight through from start to finish. Readers will find it exciting to linger for a while in a different time and place, when computing meant something very different from what it does today.”

Access to the review (subscription required) can be found here.

Delete Review in Times Higher

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A review of ‘Delete’ appeared in the Times Higher Education on 17 October 2013, written by John Gilbey.

The reviewer stated:

“Opening this sumptuously photographed, elegantly laid-out volume threatened to bring back a touch of my old madness. I flipped in drooling, nerdy absorption through the pages of Paul Atkinson’s book, which relates in engaging detail the design history of some of the “also ran” products of the computing industry. It represents a carefully chosen slice through the landscape of next-big-things that never quite succeeded in fighting their way to the centre of the marketplace.”

The full review can be found here.

‘Computer’ research used as British Academy Case Study

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The British Academy, who funded much of the research that resulted in the book ‘Computer’ have showcased the project on their website.

I was awarded a British Academy Small Research Grant in 2006/7 to cover the costs of travelling to the US and Japan to visit computer museums, computer manufacturers and design consultancies to interview a variety of people. Much of this information provided the content for the Reaktion publication (below) which was published in 2010.


You can view the case study here.

3D Printing – the Craft of the Future?

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I gave a keynote lecture at an International Symposium in October 2014 at UNAM, Mexico City. The subject was 3D printing and the likely impact that the new technology might have on the role of the industrial designer and design education.

The two-day event was titled NUEVOS HORIZONTES DEL DISEÑO (New Horizons in Design) and was held in the Unidad de Posgrados (Postgraduate University). It was very well attended, with all three invited speakers getting great responses and a lot of questions. .

You can access the webpage of the event here

Review of ‘Delete’ on

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The following review of Delete was posted on on 20 March 2014:


Zombie Tech
A gloriously geeky roll in the hay of unfulfilled techno dreams, courtesy of Delete: A Design History of Vapourware by Paul AtkinsonWords by Peter Maxwell

The term vapourware describes “computer dreams, feasible concepts, prototypes, or failed products”; in short, items of technology that didn’t make it to market. They may have proved too costly, taken too long, or merely been marketing ploys, but you would be misguided to assume that these phantom computers were without consequence. What they represent, according to design historian Paul Atkinson, is the “agency of ideas” that have driven wider trends in an industry that often struggles to keep up with itself.

Delete: A Design History of Vapourware is a publication charged with scrutinizing such inscrutables. If you hadn’t already noticed, design criticism has a few major blind spots. The more ubiquitous an object, the less likely it seems to be examined, let alone subjected to the sort of prolonged formal scrutiny afforded to the expensive, famous and scarce trappings that few share. Consumer electronics are a case in point: apart from, say, Richard Sapper’s televisions for Brionvega or Mario Bellini’s sound equipment for Yamaha, it is rare that these predominately black or brown boxes fall within the remit of design history. (Accepting the resurgent interest, thanks to Sir Jonathan Ives patronage, in Dieter Rams oeuvre, especially his work for German manufacturer Braun; however, this manifests as a general appreciation of a Ramsian style rather than an acknowledgment of specific objects).

Atkinson is one of the few who are working to cover these gaps. In 2010 he released a much-needed volume on the Computer, part of Reaktion Books’ Objekt series. In opposition to the multiple volumes on the technological advance of these machines, Atkinson offered a comprehensive history of the design and “social construction” of an object in whose physical presence we spend an increasing amount of time. This volume also proved an useful photographic compendium of a newly domesticated appliance that we are more aware of looking through than at.

Now Atkinson has written a second volume, this time produced by Bloomsbury, but which is a direct extension of that first project. Delete introduces devices that you will never have seen first-hand, but whose indirect presence have played an important role in the way we all live with technology, both at work and at home.

The book begins with an entertaining section on imagined machines and then moves through four chapters that group objects by typology – mainframes, personal computers, pen computers and mobile computers. The book is full of vital images and marketing material for products that we would otherwise be unlikely to view; Atkinson’s accompanying text doesn’t make light reading, but it is full of hard-won research and fascinating detail. Admittedly, the fact that an early iteration of Apple’s Newton was nicknamed “Batman” and had a cover inspired by the hood of a Corvette may not be of interest to everyone, but in the context of the larger narrative relayed here these points take on significance.

There are some definite revelations, too: Tom Hardy’s IBM Yellow Bird and Aquarius computers are each as beguiling an arrangement of keys, buttons and bright plastic as anything Ettore Sottsass ever produced for Olivetti; Bill Moggridge and John Eliot’s CTL Modular Three Minicomputer achieved a soft-edged Modernism to rival the best of what Jacob Jensen was producing for Bang & Olufsen during the same period.

It is interesting to read this book against a current climate in which the form factor of certain popular devices is obsessively preempted by the media in the run-up to launch day. Dedicated enthusiasts even make complex maquettes based on spurious gossip. Vapourware now haunts thousands of online forums as amateur futurologists argue about beveled edges. There is an enthusiastic discussion taking place here, one that academics should not ignore. Delete may seem to be the preserve of the anoraks, but it is also an important precursor to that discussion; as an act of recuperative design history it has a great deal of value.

Delete: A Design History of Computer Vapourware, Paul Atkinson
Published by Bloomsbury, £24.99


The full review, along with images, can be read on here:


ICON Magazine article on vapourware

Icon-April-00-14-pOFC-REV1[1]April’s issue of ICON magazine has a six-page article featuring examples of vapourware from my book ‘Delete: A Design History of Computer Vapourware’

If you can, get hold of a copy of the original magazine, but if not, you can downlaod an individual copy of the article here: Icon-April-00-14-p070-REV1.

3D Printing – the Craft of the Future?

I gave the keynote lecture at a public presentation last week (5 March) in Vienna, Austria to the city’s Chamber of Commerce. The subject was 3D printing and the likely impact that the new technology might have in economic, social and ethical terms.


The evening event was held in the impressive conference room at the offices of Vienna’s largest bank, Erste Bank, and was organised by Creative Industries Austria. It was very well attended, with all three invited speakers getting a ggod response and a lot of questions. The networking event that followed the talks was very useful too..

You can access the webpage hosting a slideshow of the lecture here

And the video of the talk itself is on youtube

Eye Magazine listing of ‘Delete’

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Eye Magazine has listed ‘Delete’ on its website:

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Delete: A Design History of Computer Vapourware (Bloomsbury, £24.99) recalls the many failed prototypes of early computing. Author Paul Atkinson clarifies the problematic term ‘vapourware’ and the marketing conventions that surround it, before taking a thematic look at  unrealised examples of design. Ad campaigns, in their fully realised nonexistence, add further spin to this alternate reality.

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