Nostalgia: Remembering the Past

Nostalgia does not have a good reputation.  Many people see it as sentimental, harking back to a golden era that never existed.  So, how can it be an element of  value?

What is It?

Usually people think of nostalgia as longing for things past.  It is a pursuit for older people who remember happier times.  Some industries trade on such longings.

There is a sense that nostalgia is somehow misleading, viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles.  We like to think things were better once and the modern world is going to the dogs.  I don’t encourage this.  It may be legitimate to run 60s discos or tea dances but it seems to me a dead-end.

But perhaps there is a place for nostalgia in the world of design.  Many tools and other artefacts evolved because they were effective.  It’s a fine line between evolving effectiveness and locking in poor design principles because people like them.

Value for the Client

Perhaps the best present I ever bought was for a friend interested in the Bloomsbury Group, a group of artists post-WW1.  I found a single volume in a second-hand bookshop of photos of members of the group.  My friend was delighted, he had no idea such a book existed.

Perhaps there are principles that look to the past and learn from what worked.  There is a something pleasurable in handling something well-made to a traditional design.

Such designs are collectible and many have an interesting story.  Such objects sit somewhere between a work of art and practical application.

Look at it this way.  If you go back far enough, nostalgia no longer applies.  Appreciation of an object for what it is, even if it is a copy, can enrich life.  Comparisons with modern design can bring new insights.

How to Get There

This is a specialist area.  If you market the past, you must understand it.  Know the stories, be clear about what an artefact is and what a copy is.

Be clear about why you market something that looks backwards.  Why should anyone care?  What exactly do you sell?

Your Offer

If you take inspiration from the past, be up-front about its relevance to the present.  Show how the past enriches the present.

This is the tenth of 31 posts about elements of value.  Make sure you don’t miss any by signing up for the offer below.  The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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