The Curious Case of the Kitchen Computer

P. Atkinson, ‘The Curious Case of the Kitchen Computer:
Products and Non-Products in Design History’
Journal of Design History 23(2): 2010: 163-179.

Abstract

The Honeywell Kitchen Computer is described in a number of places, particularly on the World Wide Web, as a curiosity — a futuristic computer product that never sold. In fact, the Kitchen Computer was merely a publicity stunt, a spoof, continuing a long line of fantasy gifts offered by the up-market American department store Neiman Marcus. But this fantasy status is by no means the whole story. In reality, what was advertised as the Kitchen Computer was actually designed as a serious mini computer, the H316, produced by Honeywell as a part of its Series 16 family of machines — although, even as a commercial product, it was never really intended to sell.

This case raises a number of questions for design historians. What is the definition of a product for design historical purposes? The status of products that actually existed as production items and of products that are ‘ vapourware ’ — product proposals that did not materialize — is sometimes difficult to ascertain. This study explores the notion of products and non-products as subjects of design analyses and argues that even non-products can have significant agency as well as provide valuable insights into a period’s zeitgeist.

The full article with images can be accessed from the Journal of Design History website:

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