How to Design for Millennials: Don’t.

04 May 2016

We all know the marketing drill: segment, segment, segment. From Baby Boomers to Gen X, it’s been marketing’s strategic bedrock. But the times, tech and tools have changed, and the way we segment now shouldn’t look like it did 15 years ago. Online communities drive the internet, each with their own needs and tastes. Our billboards are now apps, our magazines, now smartphones. Thanks to this tectonic shift, we know more about our audiences than a generational label could ever reveal, and simply put, designing to age is a lazy guess in today’s data-rich, tech-reliant world.

And just think about how design has changed. It’s not photos and copy that guarantee conversion anymore. Today we rely on a foundation of technology to deliver our campaigns to the masses. The design of that tech is now as important as the message itself—imagine a newspaper that opened half-way, or a billboard that popped up in your front yard. Annoying is annoying, no matter how you cut it, and requires foresight to avoid. Today design disciplines are surgically niched (UX, product, content, graphic, front-end, motion etc.), all working together to get the message out—and all concerned about segmentation differently.

Take UX as an example. Plenty of folks like to talk about millennials and UX. But in terms of strategy, segmentation and UX just don’t have much in common. Good UX is attuned to human intuition, it lives outside of cultural or generational boundaries. What works for a teenager should apply to a senior citizen. And people, well, they just don’t change that much—a clearly worded button, a concise navigation, an intuitive gesture, a well-timed alert—these decisions are age independent.

But when it does come time to segment, don’t let age get in the way. Can you imagine designing your digital product just for millennials and ignoring people over 35 (or almost 40% of the US population) in the process? That’s a lot of revenue up for grabs and foolishly assumes none of those 125+ million people care about your message.

Instead, find out who your users are and why they’d want to interact with you. They might be 12, 40 or 80 years old—but what they’ll share is a common interest and emotion. This is where graphic designers shine. Armed with your data, craft messages that speak directly to your users and make segmentation work for you in headlines, copy and photography. That’s where targeted creative really powers decision-making: when we tie design decisions to behavior, attitudes and passions. These are the qualities that bring users together, build community and drive authentic affinity to a brand. Age-agnostic advertising won’t be too far behind.

So the next time someone asks you “What are we doing for millennials, generation z, (or whatever letter’s left..) in our market?”, make sure you approach with caution. A preference for selfies, online tools, or the shared-economy doesn’t make a millennial. What you’re really observing is familiarity with technology and a passion for the 21st century.

I’ve seen it first-hand with an iPad in the hands of my 78-year old father, which I guess means there’s a little millennial in all of us.

Gardiner Rhoderick

Senior Designer

When not pushing pixels, Gardiner loves jumping into the nearest swimming hole and pretending he's in a rock band.

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