Do you really know Millennials?
Everyone I know talks about Millennials. However, I’m under the impression most people don’t fully appreciate how different they are. I was born on the fringes of Generation X with Millennials. My parents are Baby Boomers. My brother is Millennial.
One of the things I’ve observed is how different Gen X are from Millennials. I look at my brother, and it’s hard to believe we had the same parents. I have more in common with my parents than my brother will ever have. The irony though is, when I look at Generation Z, I feel the gap isn’t as big as with Millennials.
And the truth is, the shift in product usability patterns is a clear example of how disparate they are compared to my generation.
The behavioral change is tremendous, and it’s becoming one of the hardest things to design for. The reason is, key decision makers aren’t from that generation. Companies bring in Millennials; they even give them management positions. But Senior Management has a hard time going all in with Millennial ways. The only companies I’m seeing do it right are those founded, run and staffed by Millennials.
This week though, an exciting move caught my attention. Fast Company wrote an interesting piece digging into a tool the Target Made by Design team is using to gather feedback. Its codename, Studio Connect.
“I’m looking at an app, and I could swear it’s Instagram. I see large square photos in an endless feed. Avatars appear in round circles. You can tap a heart to like something. Inside any post, there are dozens of comments.”
The generational gap isn’t just about Millennials. The consequences are rippling over everyone. The way this generation understands products is changing not only theirs, but everyone else’s too.
“Marketing to millennials may sound overplayed, but in the interior design world, there are only a few moments in someone’s life when they actually make a lot of major purchases: The move to college, the move into the first home, the onslaught of kids, and the pared-down, empty nester life.”
Made By Design is Target’s big bet on minimalism
We’ve gone from a product-centric approach to a customer-centric one. The change has spurred differences on how companies pursue product development. The customer’s feedback is critical, and so, product cycles are keyed into them. Agile, Lean, Scrum, are familiar terms by now.
Still, not all processes have changed. Many parts of the overall product development cycle remain the same. Interviews, feedback gathering, observation techniques. And the core should stay the same, for the simple reason that, despite generations, we’re still human.
Nonetheless, as I stated before, most people don’t acknowledge how different Millennials are. So, while the human behavior is still typical to everyone, the way to measure and detect it is different.
This is why a product like Studio Connect caught my attention. While the design team is deep in Design Thinking territory, they realized they needed a new approach to engage with their audience.
“For any goods Target develops, it takes a firm design thinking approach. By spending time working with customers, the team identifies pain points, prototypes a solution, and then it iterates with wave after wave of consumer feedback.”
Made By Design is Target’s big bet on minimalism
Traditional focus groups or interviews aren’t cutting it anymore. Images and video do. Stories do. Why not use the same approach that powers the largest Millennial Social Network? Why not replicate what Instagram or Snap have achieved? Could it be used to drive the attention to problems we want to solve internally?
That’s precisely what Studio Connect has done. And it seems it’s been very successful with it. It’s a brilliant move. Bring what’s resonating with their behavior and focus it on our products.
While the article doesn’t grant much detail, I’m pretty sure the system enables powerful microtargeting and additional bells and whistles that help on the feedback gathering phase.
As childish as it might look, you can’t fight fire with the same tools of old. You also need to improve and update the internal approach to Design Thinking. I would argue that new feedback gathering tools are one field, but we’ll see others getting upgrades, like remote co-design tools.
Millennials are driving changes around product expectations. They want cheap, high quality, well-designed products. And they want them now. There is a certain entitlement element that’s driving every single design trend. From Target’s Made by Design, to things like WeWork’s office spaces. Millennials know they can complain and that their following hordes will support them. Brands will kneel, and they’ll get what they want. For free.
I won’t discuss the morals of such entitlements. The fact remains that companies are designing their products to fit the bill. They require not only quicker product cycles (Agile), but more informed feedback (Lean/Design Thinking). On top of that, they need to find ways to keep the quality but lower their production costs. This is where disruptions like 3D Printing come into play. Last, they want their products, and they want them now. Last mile delivery and robust logistics are the final nails of the Millennial-Product-Design-Cycle (M-PDC).
Those companies that don’t invest in each of these steps will find themselves at a disadvantage and will be removed from the market. The game isn’t to advance in one, but to push all four aspects simultaneously.
Every company focuses on some new aspect, but sometimes we forget the most elemental aspect. Use consumer products dynamics to aid you in the design process. I expect more companies to take a page from Target’s manual and turn to products like TBH, Snap, Tinder, Wattpad, Twitch, Venmo or Uber, for inspiration. What would a product testing Twitch look like? Would something like Instagram Stories work for employees? Could we do an Uber for physical products?
It’s all about rethinking how we do what we do, in the most engaging way for our target audience. And the target audience has changed a lot. Not only is it different, but their new behaviors are spreading, and fast, to other segments.