Paul Atkinson

Writing the Design History of Computers


Output: Chapter In Book

This research investigates what factors are particular to research in the area of the design history of recent technologies, and asks how those factors might be mitigated.

Few academics have researched and written about the design history of recent technology; even fewer about the design history of computing. This area of research has grown since Atkinson first started researching this topic and there is now a developing and growing academic interest in this particular domain of design history. This book chapter uses some new primary research using the Internet Archive to highlight the main issue, before reflecting on the advantages and shortfalls of different historical sources in constructing a design history of computing technology.

The primary research underpinning this reflection on a body of work includes interviews with entrepreneurs, businesspeople and inventors (including Douglas Engelbart (inventor of the computer mouse) and Jeff Hawkins (inventor of the Palm Pilot handheld computer)), computer scientists (Alan Kay and Stu Card, (Xerox PARC), Donna Dubinsky (Palm, Handspring), industrial designers (including Bill Moggridge (designer of the first laptop computer) and Tom Hardy (previously World Head of Design at IBM) and manufacturers (Sony, Fujitsu and others). It also includes visual analysis of published advertising material (including the contents of the archives of IBM, The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California and The National Archive for the History of Computing, University of Manchester) along with secondary research using published texts.

Research Output

This collection of images displays the outputs from this project. Find out more details in the full case study below.

Research Method

Atkinson was invited to write this chapter by the Editors, Penny Sparke and Fiona Fisher because of his extensive experience of researching and publishing in the area of the design history of computing.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

To learn more about the output, methods and dissemination of this work, explore the full project submission.

Other Projects By

Paul Atkinson