Posts Categorized: Creative Thinking

From Mental Illness to Marketing: the Psychology of Nostalgia


What is Nostalgia?

Nostalgia was first defined by Johannes Hoffer, a Swiss doctor who described the condition as “a neurological disease of essentially demonic cause.” He noticed symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and even fever in Swiss mercenaries who were longing for their native land. He coined the term using the roots nostos, a Greek word for returning home, and algos, pain or longing. Literally, nostalgia was a condition of homesickness.

The negative implications of nostalgia continued into modern psychology. It was a condition likened to depression and melancholy. Only recently have psychologists acknowledged the benefits of nostalgia and demerited its understanding as an illness.

Nostalgia in the Now

Modern psychologists have determined that nostalgia is not a mental illness. In fact, it’s universal part of the human experience, regardless of age or culture. Continually, frequent dips into these recesses of our minds are associated with higher self-esteem and a greater sense of belonging. According to The New York Times, “most people report experiencing nostalgia at least once a week, and nearly half experience it three or four times a week.”

In many recent studies, “participants who were induced to feel nostalgic expressed more optimism of the future. This optimism is related to two other factors. First, nostalgia makes people feel more socially connected to others. This social connection boosts people’s positive feelings about themselves. That increase in self-esteem then increases feelings of optimism.”

Imagine remembering a song you listened to as a kid. You look it up on YouTube, find the music video, and share it with a friend. They remember the video and the lyrics, and they’re as excited about it as you are. Now you both identify with each other in a way you didn’t before. Nostalgia is about community and belonging: it confirms that we were, and are, a part of something. We are inherently connected.

According to John Tierney of The New York Times:

“A quick way to induce nostalgia is through music, which has become a favorite tool of researchers. In an experiment in the Netherlands, Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets of Tilburg University and colleagues found that listening to songs made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically.

That warm glow was investigated in southern China by Xinyue Zhou of Sun Yat-Sen University. By tracking students over the course of a month, she and colleagues found that feelings of nostalgia were more common on cold days. The researchers also found that people in a cool room (68 degrees Fahrenheit) were more likely to nostalgize than people in warmer rooms.”

Nostalgia is a bittersweet emotion. Our memories are not always positive, but the act of nostalgia makes life feel more meaningful and gives us a sense of purpose. People who feel nostalgia more often tend to have a more optimistic outlook on life, higher self-esteem, and are literally less cold.

Nostalgia Marketing

We’re all familiar with nostalgia marketing, even if we don’t use that terminology ourselves. Essentially, advertisers and marketers now realize the power of nostalgia. They take advantage of all the feel-goods we get from remembering childhood. Now, many ad campaigns from major brands feature music, television, and other pop culture media from our childhoods. This marketing tactic fosters that sense of inclusion between us and the product they are selling.


Spotify released an ad campaign featuring Never Ending Story, ending with a link to listen to their “Never Ending ’80s” playlist.


After Netflix released “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross to their streaming service, Adobe released an ad campaign titled “The Joy of Sketching.” The ad features the Adobe Photoshop Sketch application on the iPad Pro, but with the same aesthetic, music, and vocabulary of the original Bob Ross show.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is the most recent, notable success in nostalgia marketing. The reboot of Pokemon blew up in the summer of 2016 and has generated approximately $35 million in revenue since. Though it may seem like a game for kids, it is targeting a particular audience: people who were young in the 90’s. The app is not designed for kids because you need a mobile phone with a data plan and the ability to travel around your city. It is an app designed for people nostalgic for the 1998 Gameboy hit and subsequent card games, tv shows, etc.

In fact, Niantic developed a similar game, Ingress, before Pokemon Go. By similar, we mean it’s the exact same game minus the Pokemon. It didn’t do very well. Nostalgia for the old Pokemon games was the most significant feature in the Niantic’s success.

nostalgia birthday playlist

The Birthday Playlist

A few weeks ago, one of our developers showed us his idea for a simple site. Type in your birthday and it generates a playlist of the Number 1 songs from the Billboard Top 100 list for every year since you were born. He worked out some of the code, and before too long, we were all standing around Vince’s desk looking up our birthday playlists.

Here are some notable highlights:

Ultimately, it’s a simple idea, nothing complicated, but it got all of us out of our chairs. It got us talking about what the first CD we bought at Sam Goody was. This birthday playlist pulled us all into the nostalgia.

While we’re riding this wave of optimism, we wanted to present the idea that music is community and a catalyst of nostalgia. That by sharing it, we create a sense of belonging. So, here’s our Birthday Playlist project. We hope it does your self-esteem as much good as it did ours.   

The Advice Question

Advice Interview

Since the rise in popularity of long-form interview publications like The Great Discontent and Design Matters Podcast with Debbie Millman, the interview has been widely regarded as a worthy-of-our-time content format. It’s no surprise, really. Compared to articles, listicles, blog posts, etc., the interview is more genuine. It’s personal, not argumentative. We can glean insights from interviews that are resourceful, whether they be personal or professional.

Interviews are not a new form of content, by any means. However, in the era of the internet, they are more accessible now than ever, especially if you can simply pop in your earbuds and listen while driving home from work.

Since we started our own interview series, we’ve been doing a lot of research. What makes an interview good? What is it about this content form that is so engaging? What questions elicit the best responses? What makes an interview worth reading?

The majority of the interviews we enjoy are ones that focus on craft, process, and career development. The interviews that tend to focus on highfalutin theory and critique can seem disingenuous, and are not practically helpful. The interviews that we find ourselves engaged with are the ones that share practical wisdoms, humor, and genuine life stories. That’s the key feature of the interview, compared to the article: the intimate human element.

There are many traditional questions asked in design interviews over the eras. One that often yields an interesting response is the advice question: “What advice would you give someone new in the field?” The answers are often strikingly diverse, some brief, some long, some sarcastic, some inspiring. Though we have avoided asking cliché questions in the past, this one is reoccurring for a reason: it is often both personal and practical. The answer to this question reveals something about the interviewee on an internal level, while also sharing a hard-earned piece of wisdom for the readers.

So, we decided to share with you some of the responses to this question that we’ve found interesting. We wouldn’t necessarily give this advice ourselves, but these are the responses that made us stop and think.

Lou Danziger

When I was asked by a Japanese publication what advice I would give to design students, I said I would write only 3 words.

Those are: Work – Think – Feel.

Since the editor was not content with an article of only 3 words I was asked to flesh it out a bit by indicating why I have chosen those 3 words. Here it is.

1. Work

No matter how brilliant, talented, exceptional and wonderful the student may be, without work there is nothing but potential and talk. Although observing and listening may be helpful, one learns by doing. Learning is an active process! I have never known a successful designer who was not a worker and the best students always seem to be those that work a great deal. It seems clear therefore, that work is an essential ingredient of accomplishment.

2. Think

Design is a problem solving activity. I take this to mean the use of intelligence and knowledge to achieve a desired end. Thinking is the application of that intelligence to arrive at the appropriate solution to the problem or to evaluate it if arrived at intuitively. I cannot conceive of the design process without thought.

3. Feel.

Work without feeling, intuition, spontaneity, is devoid of humanity. Feelings are the bridges we use to connect to each other, one to the other. So there is my advice – work – think – feel !

I am a great believer in authenticity. Each designer must find their own voice and path. It is the only way to have any sense of fulfillment and gratification in one’s work. 

Anthony Burrill

I always tell students to make work they believe in, they shouldn’t feel like they have to produce a certain kind of work or try to fit in with whatever is fashionable at that moment. It’s important to develop your own individuality both as a designer and a person. Your own experiences inform your personality, we all have different slants on things. It’s boring when things begin to look the same. Do your own thing and find your own voice.

Paula Scher

I think it’s very important for young designers to do two things. One: spend the first one to five years learning how to design and present design from somebody who is terrific at it. Having that basic understanding will carry you through the rest of their career. The second is this: develop the ability to explain, defend, and promote your work. Those are the two most important things.

If a young designer’s software skills are spectacular, but they’re assisting all the time, then they won’t get anything out of it. They have to be able to take that next step, which might mean going out on their own. The danger is getting trapped as a technologist. You need to be able to ride past the technology by understanding what it can do, who you are, and where you want to take it. You don’t want technology to lead you; you want to lead it, but it’s very hard to do that when you’re in the middle of it.

Ruth Ansel

My best advice is to find out who you are. Hold on to your passions and dig deep while trusting your instincts. Step outside of what is expected. Embrace accidents and know that eventually you will discover the perfect solution to a creative dilemma and be very joyous while doing it. Understanding the changing dynamics of what’s happening in the world today allows you to dare; and as my idol Zaha Hadid said, “Who dares, wins!”

Michael Beirut

I try to remind people that being a graphic designer is fun. Sometimes people complain about clients, but my advice is to use design as a secret disguise to infiltrate whatever world you want to go into. If you do that over and over again, and then translate that interest and curiosity into the work that you’re doing, you’ll do great. If you do it right, you can use the excuse of graphic design as a way to go places you’d never go otherwise, learn things you never would have learned, and find yourself in situations where you wouldn’t normally be.

Michael C Place

Work hard.

Don’t look to the design press or books for inspiration.

Have a point of view.

Don’t be arrogant.

Be prepared to fail, but learn from it.

On Avoiding Creative Pitfalls

Creative Problem Solving

We were brought up with a romanticized notion of creativity as the personality trait of painters, musicians, and writers. However, Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.” It is merely a state of critical thinking. These ideas come as a result of a problem that needs to be solved, whether it’s tangible, like Uber’s solution to expensive, stinky cabs, or if it’s a little less tangible, like re-approaching a client interaction that didn’t go as well as it could have.

Solving a problem in a creative way (i.e. originally and with a valuable result) requires conscious effort. It requires thought and intention. And like any creative craft (we’re referring to those painters, musicians, and writers again), it is not completely based in talent. A masterpiece doesn’t just fall out of someone’s brain. It is nurtured over a lifetime. It is practiced.

A valuable idea is not just an idea that makes a lot of money (though if it can, that’s cool). It is an idea that solves a problem in the most beneficial and complete way.

Here are some ways to keep yourself thinking about problems in a creative way:

Question Everything

We started asking “why?” when we were toddlers, when the part of our brain that makes logical connections started to develop. Over time, we either had this curiosity beaten out of us, or we simply lost interest. However, we need this curiosity to be truly creative—we need it to look at problems in a three dimensional way.

Noreena Hertz, in her TED talk about our addictive reliance on experts, talks about a study in which volunteers’ brains were monitored in an MRI scan while they were listening to experts speak about different subjects. While they listened, the researchers noticed the independent decision making part of all the volunteers’ brains literally turn off.

(We understand the irony of citing a source that is an expert telling us not to trust experts. We’re running with it, regardless.)

If we are not continually questioning the way we do things, why we do those things in the first place, and what we want out of those things, we will never have solutions that are valuable. We need to be able to understand why things are the way they are before we can change them.

Creativity is a direct result of idea exploration. Do not take what you’ve been taught as gospel. Be the toddler. Exercise your curiosity.

Look Behind the Problem

It is important to consider what the problem really is, where it came from, how it got here.

For example, we’re reassessing our creative brief right now, and while we were discussing user experience, development of the form, and creative ways to engage our incoming clients, it occurred to us to ask, “Wait. Why do we even have a creative brief?” Do we have one because everyone has one, and that’s just how it’s done? What is important about having a creative brief? What questions must be answered? What answers are usually irrelevant?

So, we’re taking a step back. It’s not just about a better user experience, it’s about focusing on what information is pertinent and necessary to the project, and how we can best harness trust for our team.

Often, behind the problem you are trying to solve, there is a larger, more difficult problem looming. Taking on that more complicated one not only allows you to solve the problem you had, but prevent more in the future.


Constructive conflict is a key to true problem solving. You need people that poke holes in your ideas, and you can provide other people a service by poking holes in theirs. Margaret Heffernan describes this “a fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners that aren’t echo chambers.” She describes this conflict as a form of critical thinking, a cooperative method of problem solving.

Part of killing complacency is not just asking questions, but being a whistleblower when questions need to be asked. It’s about playing devil’s advocate to fully understand a problem. 

Often, people are afraid to take this constructive conflict model seriously because there is a chance they might be wrong. According to Robinson, however, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” This is difficult because only very rarely do companies have a culture of constructive conflict. We live in a society where mistakes are penalized. Where being wrong is embarrassing. This is a completely hindering mindset to have. We need to accept that we are often more wrong than not, and that failures are “early brushes with success.”

It is important to realize that, wrong or not, the thoughts that lead people to these places are what makes constructive conflict effective. These thoughts are the meat of creative problem solving.

Be Aware of Your Blind Spots

Willful blindness is a legal concept that, Heffernan explains, declares you responsible “if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.” This concept exists outside of a legal context, and is an unfortunate psychological condition of humanity.

“Whether individual or collective, willful blindness doesn’t have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous, or absurd and there’s much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves.”

Be aware of the fact that you have blind spots, that you will never truly be able to look at things in an unbiased way. Simply the act of knowing your blind spots creates the humility you need to look at problems in a holistic way. Not only should you question the people around you, but you should question yourself. Why do you do things the way you do them? We can no longer do things a certain way simply because it’s how it’s always been done.


Creative problem solving isn’t a method to be followed or a technique for better business. It’s a more complete approach to looking at the world around you. If you can solve problems for people in a way that is valuable to their lives, and you’ve done it in a way that is well-rounded, you are a creative problem solver. It doesn’t have to be Starry Night to be creative, it just has to be a valuable solution to a problem. It isn’t a step by step process, but merely a way of thinking.

Brand Update: Mulletmyth Studio

With all the growth we’ve experienced in the last year, we felt it was time to update our studio brand to reflect that shift. We took a long, honest look at ourselves, and came away with what we believe is a strong new direction for our young agency. 

And so, we’re immensely proud to introduce to you the newest incarnation of Monomyth:


But why mullets, you ask? The answer is quite simple. 

Branding is about impressions, about real and memorable experiences, and few things in this wide world make such an impression as a perfectly sculpted mullet. 

In the age of the Millennial takeover, we need to keep in mind that businesses succeed when they are true to themselves, when their values are in line with the beliefs of their consumers. We believe our current and future clients value the personality we put into the work we do, the fun-loving relationships we’ve built, and the fact that, when it’s necessary, we can let our hair loose and still get down to business. Thats why we’re convinced the mullet is the hairstyle of true creative professional.


Mullets are all about excess – louder, bigger, braver. We wanted our new logo to be all of that. And more. So we made it with more. It has more letters. More rule breaks. More guides. More angles. More inconsistencies.


The mullet has always been the haircut of rebels. Bowie. Swayze. MacGyver. Norris. These names evoke the true nature of power and original thinking. They represent revolutionary shifts in culture. 

Mullets fight convention, drive individuality, give people the opportunity to find their true self. This is what we do for our clients—we create the opportunity for them to express themselves. To discover their inner mullet. 

At Mulletmyth, you’re the business. We’re the party.

Check out our kickin’ new website here.

5 Reasons to Start Writing by Hand

How often are you writing by hand? Do you find yourself typing everything, from text messages and to-do lists, to blog posts?

writing by hand

If so, you should probably go out and buy a notebook today. And here are some reasons why:

1. Writing by hand gives us the feeling that we are still drafting.

Taking a pen to paper feels more like a sketch than typing does. By being hand-written, whatever you’re working on is inherently unfinished. It may seem counter-intuitive, since writing by hand is physically more permanent than digital words on a screen, but most of us have been trained for the last two decades that handwriting is rough. Since our computers are used primarily for sharing finished products, once our work is digital, it feels more completed. A computer is the venue for a final product, where polished ideas live. If your idea is put into the digital realm prematurely, you may not be inclined to edit it like you would in a notebook. Because it looks finished on the screen, it might not be given the time to be shaped, sculpted into something more advanced.

“Even a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil are more preferable for philosophizing than typing the same words down, since writing a word out, letter by letter, is a more self-conscious process and one more likely to inspire further revisions and elaborations of that thought.”

2. Writing by hand evokes a rawness, a humanness, that is hard to achieve with typing.

“It’s not just a question of writing a letter: it also involves drawing, acquiring a sense of harmony and balance, with rounded forms. There is an element of dancing when we write, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text. After all, that’s why emoticons were invented, to restore a little emotion to text messages.”

Writing by hand is a very personal thing. The pen becomes, in essence, an extension of yourself. If you are trying to empathize, or reveal yourself in a very human way to your readership, writing by hand might give you the voice, the personality you might lose when typing. There is a sense of formality involved with typing, which could be a hinderance to writing something personable. While writing by hand, you might come across a thought that is too informal for typing, but might be the most relatable take on what you’re writing.

Writing by hand is laborious, and that is why typewriters were invented. But I believe that the labor has a virtue, because of its very physicality. For one thing it involves flesh, blood and the thingness of pen and paper, those anchors that remind us that, however thoroughly we lose ourselves in the vortex of our invention, we inhabit a corporeal world.”

3. Writing by hand is limitless.

It is structureless. Writing on a computer is limited by its interface—spacing, font, left-to-right, top-to-bottom. But in a notebook, preferably an unlined notebook, you are free to do what you like. You can write in spirals, landscape, draw little graphs or doodles in the corner, releasing the creativity that a computer, an application, limits.

In fact, we learned that the FitBit had originally started out as a doodle in the corner of a sheet of paper a designer was brainstorming with.


4. A piece of paper does not have push notifications.

Overall, a piece of paper is less distracting than a computer. You can not get a text or email to your piece of paper. There is no refilled Two Dots life in your notebook.

Your notebook is a place to be loose, free, but focused. It is a place to regurgitate your creative mind, let go, and let it spill out.

Zach Sims, the co-founder of Codecademy, encourages his employees to leave the laptop outside during meetings. He says:

“Paper forces you to be present with the people in the room and your thoughts. When people aren’t messing around, they’re more engaged and finish faster.”

5. Writing by hand helps foster memory.

A study at the University of Washington showed that:

“…printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.”

So, you remember things better when you write them down. Think back to taking notes in college. Did you do it by hand, or did you have a laptop? How engaged were you with what you were typing or writing down?

We’re not saying everything should be written by hand. Because, well, most people’s handwriting is not legible. However, there is a time and a place for handwriting, when it’s more beneficial than typing, and we encourage you to try it out.