Nostalgic design and our inability to let go of the past

Angela Riechers wrote a fantastic article for Imprint Magazine about the nostalgic elements that we increasingly see in all types of design — from Industrial Design, to Architecture, to Graphic and Web Design. In this excerpt from Has Nostalgia Become a Toxic Force in Design? she address the skeuomorphism in our digital interfaces:

Nearly every one of the iPhone/iPad’s built-in apps uses an icon that refers to an outdated, much earlier version of itself: the Frank Sinatra stand mike, the vintage tube television, the spiral-bound address book, the envelope. Yet many smartphone users are too young to have used most of these objects in real life (consider the inconvenience of carrying them around); the nostalgic design of the interface feeds upon a set of reconstructed memories divorced from the experiences that generated them, creating a culturally-shared yearning for lost golden moments. The latest iteration of Apple’s iCal looks like a desk blotter—an item that’s been obsolete since we stopped writing with fountain pens. Ask ten people under the age of 30 if they know what a desk blotter is or what it was used for, and see how many have a clue what you’re talking about. Nostalgic design serves as a kind of safekeeping, preserving images of beloved objects so they don’t completely disappear from the collective unconscious.

She goes on to point out the problem of this longing for the past:

Nearly all good design is aspirational, showing us that better possibilities exist, but using lost eras to project images of perfection seems unfair—we can never duplicate the past, no matter how hard we try.

Her conclusion is that we desperately need a renewed faith in the future, and it’s a message we all need to hear. It’s definitely worth reading the whole piece.