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How Generation Z (iGen) is Impacting Product Design

With each new generation comes a flurry of anxieties as to what new eccentricities will accompany them. With Gen Y, it was a fear that the willful youth would ruin the job market with their ADHD job hopping tendencies. With Generation X, older members of society feared a disenfranchised youth– cynical and lazy. The anxieties for Generation Z, though, (or iGen) are less judgemental and more focused on understanding a batch of young adults who have owned iPhones since they were 10.

Selling to this tech savvy youth is actually quite simple. As with selling to any group, it simply requires paying attention to the characteristics of the demographic.

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These characteristics may be primarily exemplified through the following 4 qualities:

  • Familiar Interfaces
    • Gen Z is used to things being easy: they are not impressed by products that work well; they expect it. And part of that expectation is a tendency to revert to those interfaces that have always worked well: iMessage, Facebook timeline, Netflix search bar, etc. For a generation that is used to a highly intelligent search bar when looking for movies, you don’t want to throw a wrench in the user experience by making them adjust to a wholly new search system that, chances are, doesn’t work as well as the original. (This is not to say “don’t give them new stuff”; only to say that the new stuff should be built upon what is already good in their lives). Using multivariate testing with UI/UX, you can determine what works and what doesn’t.
  • “Digital is in their DNA”
    • At this year’s CES Conference 2016, three speakers will discuss how to design and market products that speak to a generation who takes technology for granted. Astoundingly, 79% of Gen Zers exhibit signs of distress when kept away from their devices. They not only know how technology works, but assume that it is a part of their daily lives. This means that they expect your product to seamlessly blend with their habits and the myriad other products that fit into those habits.
  • Social media is so last year!
    • Gone are the days where having a Facebook page made your company young. Gen Z is not excited by social media; it’s always been there. What they are excited by is innovative ways to engage them: be it through in-app messaging, through video chat, or via the product itself. Take Taco Bell’s Snapchat strategy: a “story” that is run by twenty-somethings “fluent in emoji”. The Gen Z world is one of buzzing white noise, the white noise of a million platforms and products– and to push through that noise you must be doing something different than the rest.
  • They want their customer service easy, immediate, and unscripted
    • This is the generation that mocks customer service cliches and faux pas (“would you like fries with that?”). More and more companies are forgoing the antiquated approach of giving their support teams a script; Gen Z wants everything to be personalized to their needs, including mobile messaging, customer service, and all other interactions with a company.

Another thing about this generation: they’re the ones most likely to let your company know when it’s screwed up. This can be good or bad, depending how you handle it Getting customer feedback early through direct channels can deflect negative public reviews. It is essential to have a process by which feedback is expressed in support and then distributed accordingly to improve the product. Not having a good feedback loop in place pretty much ensures you’ll get some bad word of mouth and unhappy customers. Because whatever social media platform they choose, Gen Z is going to let you know if you don’t meet their expectations. Designing for Gen Z means getting them the best possible product in the shortest amount of time, and being prepared to personally assist and handle their feedback. At the end of the day, our anxieties about designing products for Gen Z will be alleviated simply through understanding them.

Published January 5, 2016
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