Designing In A Gen Y World

I love great design, and judging from the proliferation of design focused blogs like Design Milk and Apartment Therapy, I am not alone. Seems Millennials also like design. They over-index in Simmons for lifestyle statements like Creative, Inventive, Imaginative and Artistic, and for activities like remodeling. It would also seem that based on the number of design-oriented TV shows like Design Star where many of the contestants and contributors are of Gen Y age, networks get this, too.

Design movements are started by all kinds of things from historical events to typefaces. So, is there a Millennial design movement beginning? Not in the Modernist, Bauhaus or Biobject sense. But there is a Gen Y ethos around design that brands should consider when designing new products or experiences. Whether a product, service or experience, successful design today embrace some of these philosophies:

1. First, self-expression. Design that enables us to make things unique, real and custom as individuals is highly valued. Millennials like to tell stories and customization enables them to tell a story about themselves through design. Yves Behar is great at this. He designs products that tell stories and that enable you to have a new experience with a familiar product. The Leaf Lamp and Jaw Bone are great examples. Self-expression can also be seen in automotive category: according to TrueCar, the Scion had 21.9% of Gen Y buyers in 2010. It offers a high level of customization.



2. Second, it's the economy stupid. Not the economic one, the social one. Millennials live in a social economy. Cotton isn't the fabric of their lives. Facebook and Google are. Great design should be shared and/or enable sharing.

While Dropbox, Yousendit and image-sharing sites continue to grow, crowdsourcing is an interesting place where the social economy meets design. Just as Clive Thompson suggested in a recent Wired article that programming should be a populist craft, design is becoming one as well. Check out, which boasts over 36,000 designers and 106 as the average number of designs submitted per project. Millennials love this type of co-creation and participation with a brand.

Sharing has even come to your home. What started with has now moved to full-on swapping of homes and apartments with services like

3. Third, designing for a Millennial world doesn't mean everything has to be fast and frenetic. As with physics, with every cultural shift there is often an opposite and equal reaction. Despite Gen Y icons like Lady Gaga who change their persona's daily and their outfits more than that, not all things need to be about speed and surprise. Millennials want to be remembered for the quality of their human relationships (not just the quantity). Apps like Face Time and Words with Friends enable more of the kind of real interactions we'd have if we were together in person. And Burger King's Whopper Friend trade in showed just how willing Millennials are to get rid of extraneous friends.

4. And finally, not surprisingly, the Millennial design ethos also includes a bit of social consciousness. Architect William McDonough brings his cradle-to-cradle thinking to bear on his work. And brands like Method have embraced the philosophy for their brand with products like Method Replenish that not only save money but have added value to a Millennial. Another example from Amsterdam is Platform21's repair manifesto It was quickly downloaded over a million times and strives to make redesign and repairing a creative and contemporary activity.

While designing something that incorporates customization, sharing, social consciousness and better quality connections will certainly help connect with the Gen Y design ethos, design still has to be cool to be successful.

In the book <I>How Cool Brands Stay Hot</i>, the authors identify six characteristics of cool from a Gen Y perspective. While cool usually relates to pop culture, they found coolness had to do with Originality, Popularity, Appeal, Edgy, Buzz and Effort. While there were differences between the perceptions of what makes an experience, brand or product cool, Originality was near the top in every case. For a Millennial, above all, it's very important that what you design becomes cool in an original way. In every example (iPhone, Scion, Jaw Bone, and Method), each had some elements of the Millennial design ethos but above all, they are original.

1 comment about "Designing In A Gen Y World ".
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  1. Kern Lewis from GrowthFocus, Inc., July 29, 2011 at 6:03 p.m.

    Is this mania for customization and design truly "new," or simply a reflection of increased electronic ability to interact with products individually?
    Baby Boomers famously shook up the world by bringing an "anti-establishment," challenge-the-norm approach to life in their twenties. I see millennials doing much the same thing ("Keep it real, baby!") but with many more tools with which to do it.
    Strategically, not much has changed with the reality of generational differences. Tactically and executionally, on the other hand, just about everything has.

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