Gettin' nostalgic with it

Good brands make you see, great brands make you feel.
Jason Walkow
March 29, 2024

Is it me or are brands using nostalgic retro more and more? I get it, it’s a smart move and something that I try to incorporate in my own designs (whether it’s a little or a lot). Nostalgia plays a significant role in shaping our perceptions and emotions, and it's no surprise that it has found its way into branding, web design, and product development. In this post, we'll explore how nostalgia can contribute to a brand's identity, user experience, and audience engagement.

Emotional Connection

Nostalgia evokes feelings of comfort and familiarity, which can help establish an emotional connection between a brand and its audience. By incorporating nostalgic elements into branding, companies can create a sense of relatability and shared history. Bill Kenney of Focus Lab said it best when talking about his nostalgic love for Nintendo:

“I still vividly recall unwrapping the original Nintendo Entertainment System on Christmas morning at my grandmother's house (thanks Gram!). The smell of the console and games cartridges, the feel of the controller's rubber select and start buttons, and the signature metallic ping of the duck hunt gun trigger.

All of those memories become the brand—the sum of the experiences that I still recall distinctly and cherish decades later.”

It's funny the things that stick with us through the years.

Storytelling Through Web Design

Everyone loves a great story. Websites like Cargo, with its Clipart-like approach to building websites, and 84-24, which tells the nerdy tale of "restoring an '80s timeless classic [Macintosh computer] harking back to an era when 128KB were deemed more than sufficient,” both sites pair modern web interactions and technologies with retro graphics and styles. These brands use vintage design elements, retro typography, and classic color schemes to tell a story that resonates with their audience, and in doing so evokes powerful emotions and memories.

Differentiation and Uniqueness

In an era of modern and minimalist designs, going a little wild and incorporating nostalgia into branding and web experiences can help brands differentiate themselves from their competitors. For instance. embracing retro aesthetics might define a distinctive brand identity that stands out in the market. Good Weird, a new skincare brand built on pure early-00’s spacey vibes, uses nostalgic Y2K aesthetics to create engaging and memorable experiences for a brand that's unforgettable. It is so incredibly unique that no matter if you’re fully interested in the product or not, you are going to engage for the experience alone.

Enhancing User Experience

Nostalgia isn't just powerful in creating a striking brand, but can also improve user experience by making user flows more intuitive and familiar. When users encounter elements they’re already acquainted with, they can more easily understand and interact with websites and products, leading to a more enjoyable and memorable experience., an ever-evolving collection of found cassette tapes from different locations, leans into the familiar and nostalgic by bringing a tactile nature to the web that makes you feel like you can reach out and touch it, allowing you to easily navigate and comprehend the site as if you’re walking through a music store. It's the little things, y'know?

If you're in the midst of building or re-building your brand, don’t sleep on the power of nostalgia. Tapping into core memories can be a highly valuable tool in branding, web experience, and product development, whether it’s done in big sweeps or little touches. By leveraging the emotional appeal of our shared histories, brands can create meaningful connections with their audience, tell engaging stories through design, and ultimately turn their customers into die-hard fans.

Thanks for reading!

Jason Walkow

Jason Walkow is Head of Design at Plain Sight Ventures. In his free time, Jason enjoys running, eating at the newest spots, and anything coffee-related.

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