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Designing for Gen Z

With International Youth Day on 12 August 2018, we look at Generation Z. Who are they? How do they think? What do they want from their careers as they enter the workforce? And most of all, how do you design for them?

People born in the mid-1990s are now entering the workforce. Their parents and older siblings have struggled with financial crises and austerity. So, what does that mean for the next generation and what do I know anyway?

Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found Generation Z youth had lower teen pregnancy rates, less substance abuse, and higher on-time high school graduation rates compared with millennials. And my teenage son would rather go to a gym than a pub.

Millennials were the first digital natives, they learnt to be more collaborative and inclusive. They’re motivated by sharing experiences rather than owning things. Designing for millennials has meant providing an incentive for them to “share” and “like”. But they’re easily distracted and have been naive about their digital footprint. Millennials have an idealistic outlook and they don’t welcome criticism.

Gen Z have learnt from their older siblings, they “follow” others on social media rather than “share”. They use different types of social media for different purposes. The most important being avoiding their parents’ social network.

Higher education has become more commercial. The buying power of a student has affected attitudes to learning. Graduates feel the responsibility of debt. There is pressure to enter the workforce sooner and begin to climb the pay grades. Some school leavers are confident enough to skip university or take apprenticeships instead. Entrepreneurial types are starting their own businesses very young. Social grades for marketing and recruitment will need reassessing.

Yet, like millennials, Gen Z don’t just want a job. They also want a feeling of fulfilment in their career and a sense of social purpose.

Yet, like millennials, Gen Z don’t just want a job. They also want a feeling of fulfilment in their career and a sense of social purpose.

An ability to pick up new skills and learn software quickly will make them desirable as employees. They should be more adaptable and easier to retrain or redeploy. And so, it’s likely they’ll become polymaths with lots of interests rather than specialists.

Young shoppers prefer exclusivity, limited editions and drop culture. Scarcity makes things more desirable because they’re only available to those who are tuned in. Preferring not to overshare, they value their independence and don’t feel a need to belong to a tribe. Brand loyalty is being tested.

Technology will affect us all as it continues to provide new ways to connect and communicate. Change is normal, and the pressure is on to keep up and stay relevant.

Returning to the point about living through the financial crisis. Are Gen Z more motivated by security and less likely to take risks? Youth is a time for rebellion and enjoying the freedom to mess up and make mistakes. Mistakes can be life-changing and generate the outliers – exceptional people who think differently and operate at the outer edge of what is possible. Design students today are technically very competent. They are ready for a commercial world but too many play it safe. The more interesting graduates have taken risks. It gives them a point of view which is useful for problem-solving.

Every generation is keen to show how different they are from their predecessors. In reality these stereotypes are only a marker. It helps us identify what society as whole expects will happen next: anticipating trends, reacting to new technology and noticing changes in behaviour.

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