Mediated Nostalgia and the User Experience: Using Think-Aloud Protocols and Semi-Structured Interviews to Analyze Nostalgic Design Experiences

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2023-05

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Abstract

Best practices within the fields of technical communication, user-centered design (UCD), and user experience (UX) continually point to the need for designers to engage with and understand users, and as part of this understanding of users and their contexts of use, scholars acknowledge that past experiences and memory are important factors to consider, as the context of time influences how individuals interact with a design. While the field of design places great emphasis on understanding users, design methods tend to focus on the present and emphasize efficiency and effectiveness over satisfaction, and there is a gap in knowledge on how to meaningfully retrieve and act upon past experiences and memory to inform future designs. This project illuminates this gap by examining how memories, nostalgia, and past experiences shape our interactions, influence our acceptance or rejection of designs, and impact future designs, and it does so by leveraging the affordances of video game nostalgia. To investigate this interplay between nostalgia, memory, and design, I conducted think-aloud protocols while gamers played the 2019 Nintendo Switch game The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a remake of a 1993/1998 Game Boy game by the same name, followed by semi-structured interviews with elements of retrospective recall. There were two sets of participants in this study: both had played the original version of the game, but one set had nostalgic sentiments towards the game whereas the second set did not. All verbal utterances from the think-aloud protocols and semi-structured interviews were transcribed, encoded, and then analyzed to investigate users’ cognitive and emotional responses to the game, which led to the following core conclusions. Users who have nostalgic feelings for an original design will have a generally more positive and favorable view towards future iterations of that design, and will be more motivated to engage with it, but if the new iteration does not offer a sufficiently compelling experience that sets itself apart from the original version, users will be hesitant to move past the original version and buy into the new iteration, viewing the original as largely sufficient for their purposes. Also, users with nostalgic feelings will be more likely to engage in ways that align with nostalgia research, including a tendency to express strong positive emotions, and they are more likely to bring additional information into focal attention when engaging with the design. Lastly, findings also indicate that nostalgia, when leveraged at opportune moments and with balance and subtlety, can serve as a persuasive rhetorical tool that can promote design acceptance, smooth user experiences, and meaningful intertextual experiences.

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Keywords

UX, TAP, Think-Aloud Protocols, Nostalgia, Interviews, Video Games, User-Centered Design, User Experience, Retrospective Recall, Rhetoric, Design, Past Experience, Memory, Technical Communication

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