On design and nostalgia : from the perspectives of culture, experience and design strategy

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Doctoral thesis (monograph) | Defence date: 2017-03-31
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Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 20/2017
This dissertation takes a dynamic, forward-looking and experiential perspective to examine the multifaceted relationship between design and nostalgia for two purposes: 1) to serve as a ground-clearing work for analytical discussions about nostalgia in the design field, and 2) to study the viability of nostalgia-driven design as a strategy for brand revitalisation. The investigation is developed from three design- related angles: 1) nostalgia as a sociocultural phenomenon, 2) as a subjective experience, and 3) as the basis of a design strategy. As the existing definitions are unsatisfactory, the dissertation redefines nostalgia as the combination of emotional reactions engendered by the recall of nostalgic memory, based on the differentiation between remembered and immediate experience. To define the scope of nostalgia, it proposes a new typology in which different types of nostalgia and similar experiences are not seen as isolated entities, but form a spectrum with blurred boundaries. Moreover, it is argued that individuality and collectiveness are two essential attributes co-existing interdependently in nostalgic experience, rather than two opposing types of nostalgia as the previous literature suggests. The first research strand examines nostalgia (wave) as a design-related socio- cultural phenomenon. Drawn from multidisciplinary literature and cross-cultural observations, it establishes a dialectical relationship between (radical and rapid) changes, the increasing collective need for nostalgia, and creative nostalgia-driven design efforts. Through examining cross-cultural design cases, it critiques the out- dated view of considering nostalgia merely backward looking, which prevents active design explorations on this topic. It further suggests that the design field should re- understand nostalgia as a balancing or coping mechanism, and actively explore its positive potential in both social and market design contexts. The second research strand examines nostalgia as a subjective experience. It proposes a heuristic model explaining the underlying process of design-evoked nostalgic experience. This model emphasises the mediating role of nostalgic memory retrieval in nostalgic experience, and suggests that the design outcomes of nostalgia-driven design should be seen as mementos of nostalgic memory. Through deductive reasoning, cases, and a design experiment, it challenges the common equation of retro (appearance) design with nostalgic (experience) design, and elaborates the great potential of unexplored non-visual sensory modalities and both operational and social interactions in designing for nostalgic experience. Viewing nostalgia as the basis of a design strategy, the third research strand investigates how nostalgia-driven design has been deployed for ‘phoenix brand’ revitalisation, through a single case (i.e. Sarvis) and multiple-case studies (i.e. Forever, Jopo, TDK) within a constructivist paradigm. Multiple data sources are used, the most important of which are interviews with collectors, non-collectors and designers. Firstly, the single case study reveals the underlying process of nostalgic bond formation and change in perceived brand value, and also initially identifies four characteristics of a potential phoenix brand. Secondly, the multiple-case study not only facilitates the generalisation of the four characteristics, but more importantly it also identifies crafting an aura of authenticity to be the latent key to successful revitalisations. Accordingly, it develops a systematic analysis on how authenticity may be crafted synergistically in design, production and communication terms.
design, nostalgia
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