Whether it is the smell of that lovely dish you always ate at your grandparent’s home, the music that was playing when you met your first love or the view of old photos that were taken in the midst of summer, we experience certain feelings when reliving the past. These ‘times gone by’ flash through our heads and sometimes leaves us with a smile on our face and other times with a feeling of emptiness.
Illustrating an image of nostalgia
The world we live in is partly driven by this bittersweet feeling of nostalgia. Movie remakes of old favourites such as Indiana Jones or the long-awaited release of Barbie are springing up like mushrooms in cinemas and on streaming services. Not to speak of the music we listen to that is imbued with a sense of ‘nostalgia’ such as the Beatles ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Summer of ‘69’. While nostalgia is firmly interwoven with our way of living, it is our task as designers to understand the concept and try to make the most out of it. Before we start rattling about nostalgic examples in design, we must assess some common ground about our subject of the day. So, what encapsulates the true meaning of ‘nostalgia’? The old Greeks might have experienced nostalgia already, but they did not have the right word to describe it yet. They actually had two words, that were first coined by a Swiss physician as late as 1688, consisting of ‘nostos’ (return) and ‘algos’ (suffering). Combined, the words depicted a severe homesickness that arose with a strong yearning from the homeland. At that time, nostalgia was not seen as an experienced feeling but rather as a disease that was located in the brain. How interesting this may sound, we as designers are not going to perform any neurodiagnostic in the near future, so let’s take a leap forward to current times. What does nostalgia encompass in 2023? In our opinion the ‘nostalgia’ that we’re currently dealing with has become somewhat idealized or maybe even romanticized. We adore the image of our favourite actor wandering through the streets of the village he used to live as a child, maybe even shedding a tear of how innocent life was back then. This is the ‘nostalgia’ that highlights the impermanence of life and the fleeting nature of time. A reminder that the past is gone, and all we have left are the memories… How romantic this may sound, nostalgia in a designer perspective is more likely to be something humdrum. Nostalgia seen as part of our everyday lives, reminding us of earlier interactions with products and systems or linking experiences of our youths to the here and now. To dive directly into our designer lens, let us have a look at some nostalgic driven concepts of today.
Something old, something new
Take the instant camera for example. Over the last decade, cameras such as the Instax mini, have regained popularity. Photography itself has become more popular over the last few years. Cameras on smartphones can take photographs of extremely good quality and with social media apps like Instagram you can share these photos with a few taps on your screen. Even though there are enough retro filters to put over your digital photo, nothing really compares to the hazy, delicate look a real polaroid photo has. There is something special about instantly receiving a physical result when taking a photo. It is more precious, as it is unique and could have a few imperfections. We can keep the photos in a special box, hang them up on the wall or attach them to a gift for someone. With instant photography, there is only one copy of every photo which is why we value this print a lot. When taking photos on your smartphone, you could take tons of photos and store them on every cloud possible. Quality over quantity right? Or take the ‘Oer’ radio. It was the mission of Oer to make music more accessible to elderly, especially those with dementia. Listening to music can have a very special effect on people with dementia, it has a positive impact on the brain. It could cheer someone up who is feeling a bit blue and bring peace when someone is a bit irritated. The Oer music player looks like a radio from the 1950s, so it could feel familiar and comfortable. It has one button and one flap, so it is easy to handle. When Oer launched the product, they got incredible responses. Someone who found it hard to talk, suddenly sang along to his favorite songs coming from the radio.
Another great example of the positive impact of the use of nostalgia, is with the marketing and product development of Paper Boat. Paper Boat is a fruity beverage available in India. The four founders of Paper Boat Drinks wanted to launch a new soft drink. When one of them brought a drink from home, it clicked. They used to enjoy these homemade drinks daily, but they were not available on the market. When thinking about the development and marketing of the actual drink, they got their inspiration from those memories. It was their way of triggering emotions of consumers. The name ‘Paper Boat’ was derived from a game they used to play when they were little; folding a paper boat and putting it puddles during the rainy season. It brings back feelings of joy and playfulness. The flavour itself brings back memories and their advertisements remind you of childhood comics. The company has been growing steadily ever since and is now valued over $100 million.
A designers note
The success of Paper Boat aligns with a quote of sales expert Jason Warnock’s that “consumers crave nostalgia”. By tapping into these nostalgic sentiments, brands can establish a positive
relationship with their audience, creating a deeper connection that goes beyond the mere exchange of products or services. A study even showed that consumers are willing to spend more money on products or services that create nostalgic feelings. A connection to other people is created when using memories and, in this atmosphere, values and relationships with other people are
experienced as more important than money. A nostalgic design strategy could therefore lead to better commercial profits. In addition to this, nostalgia can be something very powerful that transcends individual experiences. It has the ability to resonate on both a collective and personal level. By connecting us to our history, roots and identity, nostalgia weaves a thread that binds us to our past. Moreover, nostalgia proves invaluable in addressing the challenges to one’s self-esteem. By seeking refuge in an idealized past, individuals find solace and a renewed sense of belonging. Nostalgia becomes a catalyst for strengthening social bonds, as shared memories and experiences create a deeper connection with others. At last, during periods of significant transitions, nostalgia tends to intensify in individuals. The yearning for the past becomes more pronounced as a coping mechanism to counteract the negative effects of rapid change and instability. It serves as a soothing balm, offering a sense of comfort and familiarity amidst uncertainty. So to conclude, in a world flavoured with nostalgia, our hearts long for the echoes of the past, (just like movie remakes and beloved melodies that sprout like wildflowers). Designers in this very instance hold the key to unlocking its magic, creating a symphony that resonates through time. Embrace nostalgia and watch as the ordinary becomes extraordinary, intertwining memories with modernity
Note: this is a preview