Archive for the 'The Design History of Computers' Category

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.

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.

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.

Delete: A Design History of Computer Vapourware

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An advance copy of ‘Delete’ has just arrived in the post this morning from Bloomsbury. The printing quality is excellent, and I’m really happy with the way the book has turned out. Thanks to everyone concerned who helped with this project. Advance copies have been sent to various magazines, so hopefully reviews will start appearing soon. The bulk of the print run arrives with Bloomsbury in a few weeks time, and its official release date is 29th August in the UK and 24th October in the US.

Initial reviews of ‘Delete’

“Paul Atkinson’s DELETE is a veritable design museum of what might have been in computer products. The abandoned concepts and prototypes that serve as his well-chosen exhibits attest to the evolutionary nature of technological development, complete with failed experiments and extinct species from which much can still be learned. In all, Atkinson makes a compelling case that the word vaporware need not always be considered a pejorative.” –  Henry Petroski, author of The Evolution of Useful Things and To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure and Professor at Duke Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, USA,

DELETE is a stunning addition to the literature of the history of technology. This book is the first to engage with the important topics of industrial design and product failure in the computer industry, although its lessons have a much wider resonance. Deeply researched and lavishly illustrated in colour, it is a pleasure to read and to browse.” –  Martin Campbell-Kelly, emeritus professor of computer science, Warwick University, UK,

“For Delete: A Design History of Computer Vapourware, Professor Paul Atkinson brings together his extensive knowledge of design practice and design history.He has an eye for exploring new and important narratives and its one of my favourite books for 2013.” –  Catherine McDermott, Professor at Kingston University, London,

More details can be found on Bloomsbury’s website.

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