Design & Emotion Blog

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Timeless design: nostalgia and simplicity

Lately I find myself browsing more and more websites with designs from earlier decades. These designs seem to have a timeless appeal, and not only to me. What makes a design timeless? And how does nostalgia relate to our emotional reaction on designs?

Timeless designs

One of the best examples is the Barcelona Chair. The Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe was designed for the 1929 World Exposition in Barcelona. Mies van der Rohe used leather straps to suspend leather-covered cushions from a chrome plated steel frame. It is still being produced and perhaps even on a larger scale than ever. Reproductions are being offered everywhere.

Barcelona Chair by Mies van der Rohe (1929)

Other examples of timeless designs that are still being produced and sold are the “Dutch Originalsâ€?. These replica’s represent more than a passing retro trend because they have a timeless design. Without exception these classics of modern furniture design will be the antiquities of the future. This also applies to the designs of W.H.Gispen (1890-1981), that are now being manufactured under the authentic label Dutch Originals.
Type 412 by W.H. Gispen (1934)

What exactly makes a design timeless is very hard to say. What we can see when we observe designs that have been popular throughout many years, is that they are simple. This sounds like a rather easy conclusion, but the fact is that simple designs leave space for imagination and are never completely influenced by the current trends at the time they were made. An example of effective simplicity is the golden arch logo of McDonald’s, as simple as can be, but never changed since it was designed in 1962.

Nostalgia and emotion

Nostalgia is a powerful way to feel emotions that you have experienced before. A product that makes you remember a time that you felt great or a certain emotion while using a particular product in the past, will most likely appeal to you. Nostalgia will make you link the product with that positive emotional experience in the past.

How does it work with timeless designs that appeal to people that can hardly link the product to a previous experience, just because they are too young? I haven’t been arround a Barcelona Chair or anything like it when I grew up. Still, the design has a tremendous appeal to me.

This means we could divide the appeal of timeless designs into two different groups:

1) Appeal related to nostalgia; a previous positive emotional experience is linked to the product.
2) Appeal related to the character of the design: a powerful timeless design that is able to appeal to new generations as well.

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