Design expert looks at history of computers

7th October 2013

An expert in computer design will explore how computers have evolved through history, and will look at weird and wonderful computer designs, including some that never made it to production.

Professor Paul Atkinson, a product design and design history expert from Sheffield Hallam University's Art and Design Research Centre, will present a potted history of computers at a free, public event at the University next month. His professorial lecture, The Spectacle of Computing, takes place in the University's Cantor Building on 10 October. He will show how the design of computers changed during the late 1970s towards a more lifestyle-focused approached, leading to the modern trend for computer as fashion accessory. Paul said: "We tend to think that computers look like they do because of the technology inside them, but there are a number of other elements that affect design decisions. "People have perceptions of what a laptop should look like, for instance, but does it really need to have a flip-open design and a keyboard? These things have very little to do with the technology inside the machine, and much more about what we believe computers should look like." The lecture will also cover the history of computer 'vapourware' - designs that were approved, and even advertised, but never made it to market - such as 19th century inventor Charles Babbage's designs for a mechanical computer. Paul said: "The classic sci-fi representation of computers in film, television and comics, with flashing lights and loud beeping, has shaped our idea of what a computer should look like. Of course, you could argue that it's the other way round, and that cutting-edge computer designs have influence cultural representations." Professor Paul Atkinson's professorial lecture, The Spectacle of Computing, takes place at 6.30pm on Thursday 10 October in the University's Cantor Building, City Campus. Places are free, but must be booked in advance. Visit to find out more.

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