Nostalgic Design: Rhetoric, Memory, and Democratizing Technology


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 most recent 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 Presentations

“Teaching Memory During a Pandemic: Nostalgic Redesigns of Unjust Remembrance.” College Conference on Composition and Communication. (Chicago, IL)—March 2021.

“Nostalgia Keeps an (Un)Tidy Home.” Invited Chair and Respondent. Rhetoric Society of America. (Portland, OR)—May 2020. (Conference Cancelled, COVID-19)

"From Flesh-Eating Robots to Better Paid Teachers: Challenging Cultural Commonplaces through Speculative Design." College Conference on Composition and Communication. (Milwaukee, WI)—March 2020.

"Preparing Students in Composition''s Design Turn." Composing the Future of English Studies Round Table, Sponsored by the Forum on History and Theory of Composition. Modern Language Association. (Seattle, WA)—January 2020.

"Tradition is Not a Rhetorical Fallacy: Being Accountable to the Longings of Coal Miners and Anti-Vaccine Advocates." Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. (Pittsburgh, PA)—March 2019.

"Writing with Users in Mind." Computers and Writing. (George Mason University)—June 2018.

Invited Speaker. "Nostalgic Design in Appalachia." Universal Design Today: Live and Learn. (Charleston, WV.)—May 2017.

"OVAL: A Virtual Ecosystem for Immersive Scholarship and Teaching." Digital Humanities 2016 (Krakow, Poland)—July 2016.

"Nostalgia and New Media: Invention, Delivery, and a Digital Dissertation." Rhetoric Society of America. (Atlanta, Georgia)—June 2016.

"Building Bases for Action: Re/Mapping a Mandated Writing Program Redesign." College Conference on Composition and Communication. (San Antonio, TX)—April 2016.

"Memorial Interactivity: Planning for Nostalgic User Experiences." Computers and Writing (University of Wisconsin, Stout)—May 2015.

"Usability is Dead: Plying Mobile Tech to Micro-Contextualize Medicine, Campaigning, and Marketing." College Conference on Composition and Communication. (Tampa, FL)—March 2015.

"Epideictic Technologies and Democratic Designs." Rhetoric Society of America. (San Antonio, TX)—May 2014.

"Handcrafting Difference into Composition." College Conference on Composition and Communication. (Indianapolis, IN)—March 2014.

Invited Speaker. "Navigating the Commons: Remix, Creative Commons, and Fair Multimodal Data Presentation." The Digital Media and Composition Institute. (Columbus, OH)—May 2013.

"Institutionalizing Guilt: Plagiarism and Corporate Time Use Policies." College Conference on Composition and Communication. (Las Vegas, NV)—March 2013.

Invited Speaker. "Nostalgia and Digital Publication." Writing Matters in a Changing World. (Columbus, OH)—February 2013.

"Questioning Collection: The Ethics of Composition as Collection in the First Year Writing Classroom." Thomas R. Watson Conference. (University of Louisville)—October 2012.

"Re-thinking Technological Determinism: 'Place'-Making Rhetoric at Sites of Technological Transition." Computers and Writing. (North Carolina State University)—May 2012.

"Critical Emotion/Pathos/Affect and Digital Technology." ThatCampOSU: The Humanities and Technology Camp. (Columbus, OH)—April 2012.

Invited Speaker. "Interrogating the Ethics of Composition as Remix in the First-Year Writing Classroom" Literacy Studies Graduate Seminar. (Columbus, OH)—March 2012.

"Digital Loss, Techno Magic, and Nostalgic Re-embodiment: The Emotionally Grounding Role of Craft Aesthetics." Think Art: Memory: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Arts, Humanities, and Science (Boston University).—October 2011.

"Everybody has a (literacy) story!: Recording and Preserving Digital Literacy Narratives of Our Communities." TransOhio Transgender and Ally Symposium. Workshop. With Deb Kuzawa and Katie DeLuca (Columbus, OH)—August 2011.

"Everybody has a Literacy Story: Literacy Narrative Collection Digital Media, and the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives." Half-Day Workshop. With Deborah Kuzawa, Katherine DeLuca, Melanie Yergeau, Krista Bryson, Chase Bollig, Lauren Obermark, and Jennifer Michaels. Computers and Writing (University of Michigan)—May 2011.

"Nostalgia and New Media: The Rhetorical Affect of the Typewriter in the Twenty-First Century." Conference on College Composition and Communication (Atlanta, GA)—April 2011.

"Racking Cans and DIY Lasers: How Channel of Access Politicizes Graffiti Technology." Conference on College Composition and Communication (Louisville, KY)—March 2010.