Nostalgic Design: Rhetoric, Memory, and Democratizing Technology
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018
We make technology good by digging into the humanity of its users—nostalgia is the perfect spade for this task.
As a professor of rhetoric, digital media, technical communication, and user-centered design, much of my research seeks to democratize and humanize technological design, improving the ways in which designers and their users communicate—from web UX, to hospital forms, to digital writing classrooms.
My current book project, Nostalgic Design: Rhetoric, Memory, and Democratizing Technology, addresses inequities in technology by examining the cherished technological memories, traditions, and values—technological nostalgias—of under-served populations. In doing so, I argue that innovation without tradition leads to alienation.
By exploring technological nostalgia—as personally-experienced and culturally-learned memory—across numerous communities (crafters, anti-vaccination proponents, ER Doctors, professional designers), I develop a method by which designers might identify, mediate, and design from the conflicting values of their users, welcoming communities into participatory design that have not been well served by innovations in the past.
I, therefore, argue for understanding the nostalgic heart of design. That is, despite misconceptions of technology as principally future-oriented, all citizens imagine good futures from what they esteem about good pasts. And different communities—because of nostalgic stories about those pasts—imagine different ideal futures. The origins of technological inequity, then, might be productively viewed as conflicts between technological tradition and innovation that make access, learning, and the use of designs more difficult for some users than others. This project uses nostalgia to create new ways of thinking about technology that might resolve such clashes.
Recent PublicationsNostalgic Design: Rhetoric, Memory, and Democratizing Technology. U of Pittsburgh Press, Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture, 2018.
"'Coal Keeps the Lights On': Rhetorics of Nostalgia for and in Appalachia." College English, vol. 81, no. 2, 2018, pp. 87-109. With Krista Kurlinkus "Memorial Interactivity: Planning for Nostalgic User Experience." Rhetoric and Experience Architecture. Ed. Liza Potts and Michael Salvo. Anderson: Parlor Press, 2017. "Crafting Designs: An Archaeology of 'Craft' as God Term." Computers and Composition 33 (2014): 50-67. "An Ethics of Attentions: Three Continuums of Classical and Contemporary Stylistic Manipulation for the 21st Century Composition Classroom." The Centrality of Style. Ed. Michael Duncan and Star Medzerian. Anderson: Parlor Press and WAC Clearinghouse, 2013. "The Watson Symposium: What Might Be Missing and Why?" Journal of Advanced Composition 32.3 (2012) Accompanying blog at: