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.

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