I think Gen Y is awesome because they are dramatically shaping how we all think about design. But, I am a little biased -- I was born in 1981, which makes me Gen Y, too. In April, one of my colleagues at Smart Design and I were asked to speak as part of the IDSA:LA California State Long Beach Duncan Anderson Design Lecture series. We decided to build our talk around understanding Gen Y and how to design for them. It turned out to be to be an opportune subject due to the fact that our audience was primarily made up of design students from the generation that we were exploring. Like every generation, Gen Y has been shaped by events that happened in our formative years, resulting in some strong opinions on how we see design. In our talk, we considered how this generation's motivations and values were molded and how they have been translated into unique expectations toward the design of new experiences, services, and products. Below is an overview of the insights that rose to the top through our research and discussions.
The purchasing power of Gen Y rivals that of the Boomers.
First, a clarification. Everyone has a different name for Gen Y. Some call us Millennials or Generation Next. Some use the name Echo-Boomers because we are the hipsters born from hippie parents of the Baby Boomer Generation. Gen Y is generally defined by birthdates, born approximately between 1980-2000; but more significant than birthdates is our mindset. We have a common bond of growing up through some intense events: the first era of reality TV, Columbine, the rise of dot-com millionaires, and virtual relationships. Today, the purchasing power of Gen Y rivals that of the Boomers so we at Smart Design think that Gen Y is pretty awesome. Gen Y thinks so, too.Everyone Is Awesome
Gen Y is a generation of self-confident optimists due to years of helicopter parenting and unconditional positive encouragement. Just think of all the trophies we got for just showing up. After the shootings at Columbine, "jock" domination started to make way for more tolerance and a rearranging of the social constructs in Gen Y's high schools. Today, Fox's über-successful TV show Glee celebrates the new age of high school hierarchies -- or lack thereof. In Glee club, "We're all losers" but that's a good thing. Design needs to support this sense of feeling unique and awesome, but also the feeling of honesty. A brand that is picking up on this idea is Levi's. Their product design and marketing actively acknowledges different body types with their "Curve ID" platform. Their latest communication uses typography that appears hand-painted and snapshot photography that celebrates "real-looking" people.Change Is Mandatory
The best designs for Gen Y offer flexibility but also the ability to slow down
MTV, YouTube, RSS feeds, Twitter, and Facebook status updates have transformed Gen Y into a generation that expects change and regards instant as not fast enough. Lady Gaga and her ever-evolving persona are a perfect example and expression of these evolutionary ideals -- she never wears the same look twice. Change is now expected but some things also need to slow down. Gen Yers want to retain the notion of nostalgia and the meaningful moments that this technology-driven era has taken away. If we primarily communicate through Facebook posts, text messages, and Twitter, what will happen to real conversations? The best designs for Gen Y encourage change and offer flexibility but also offer the ability to slow down and enjoy life's meaningful moments. In this context, it's no surprise that the iPhone with its many possibilities within controlled boundaries is such a favorite for Gen Y. It has an OS that allows for infinite customization but it also offers apps such as Face Time, Hipstamatic, and Words With Friends that offer nostalgia and encourage conversations.Sharing Is Second Nature
Boomer parents instilled a philosophy of "we can share anything" in their families. Gen Y has a closer relationship with parents and family, in contrast to Gen X, the independent "latch-key kids." Growing up online and with mobile phones has amplified this trend. As a result, Gen Y today is highly connected and uses peer-to-peer exchange, crowdsourcing, and collaborative filtering to shape their world. Design must take into consideration that Gen Y is more interested in use than ownership. Relayrides, the first peer-to-peer car-sharing site in the nation, is an example of a company that has built a platform on Gen Y's willingness to share and trade. Their idea found its inspiration from Zipcar but the model is different. Rather than renting a car from a company, Relayrides enables people to rent their next door neighbor's car for a run to the store, or a trip out of town -- or, conversely, to make an average of $250 a month lending your car out to your neighbors.
I Can Make it
Gen Y is more interested in use than ownership.
Gen Y is the generation of new entrepreneurs. Forget traditional business hierarchies, Gen Yers want to be the CEO of their own companies. We grew up seeing instant pop "idols" and teenage nerds turned billionaires overnight. Gen Y has struggled with an unstable economy but we are bouncing back because we were raised to feel like we can do anything. It's no wonder that YouTube sensations like Rebecca Black make it. Sites like Etsy have given the "crafty" among us a way to support ourselves while Kickstarter encourages a community to help make innovative projects into realities. Gen Y doesn't want to work for the man, so by providing tools to let us co-create, customize it, make it meaningful, and see success quickly, we will love it ?- and we will make it.So Now What?
The designers we spoke to at Cal State were enthusiastic about the impact that their generation is having on culture and design but they also feel a responsibility to guide generations to come. They are worried that if everything is fast, instant, and abbreviated -- what will be meaningful? We are excited about the design implications this growing trend will have on our work, specifically in the connected home and in the mobile space. We are excited to see how technology can be used as a platform to bring back meaningful experiences and to increase interactions with other people. Design is about people and Gen Y is the group of people that will be the catalyst to cultivate and design the future of "awesomeness" in our everyday lives.
[Top image by Lori Tingey]