What You Need to Know to Design for My Generation

ILab Notes
Our design for the universe is different from yours.

Note from our editor:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said that when thinking about the future, most people focus on guessing what will change in order to innovate. His approach is the opposite: focus on what will not change, and innovate around it. Amazon knows that not matter what, twenty years from now consumers will still want to pay as little as they can for an article, and to get it as fast as possible. His job is to simply make sure that innovation from his company makes this desire possible. This summer, we publish a series of articles written by the future generation, two interns, Diego (19) and Marc (17), who helped us innovate for their peers. Their desires, wants and needs are exactly the ones we had when we were their age - those do not change. Innovation to fulfill them - for example, a phone line in your room in the 80s or a mobile today, enable the unchangeable teenage need to be hyper-social with their friends.

In the first two articles of this series, Diego, who is midway through university, writes about what you need to do to attract and retain his generation to your company. From the physical space to the definition of what an employee is, you need to think differently to deal with the new workforce about to knock at your doorstep. Marc opens your eyes to the fact that 17-year-olds are post-millennials, just to add to your to-dos in case you're still catching up on learning how to deal with millennials. He writes about three principles of design you need to pay attention to if you want his generation to pay attention to you.

Enjoy what this amazing generation of mindful thinkers has to teach you. 

Diego & Marc, june 2017.


By: Marc Velten-Lomelin, 

If you’re wondering how to design for millennials, you’re too late. It may comfort you to know that many confuse us with millennials. We’re completely different. We’re the generation after them and we’re almost ready to come out of the shell. Our generation - those born at the turn of the century, is tech savvy and always on the move. To design for us you must think like a seventeen year-old, and be mindful that “new” things like the Internet or mobiles already thrived before we were even born. To design for us you must be mindful. 

Bridging the gap is simple, not complicated. 

The only Instruction Manual you need

Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer and one of the giants of industrial design, came up with “10 Timeless Commandments for Good Design” in the 1970s that kick-ass designers all around the world use as an inspiration for their work. Since these commandments are timeless, here’s a quick guide on the three commandments you should be on the lookout for in order to appeal to my generation, no matter your line of business. 

1. Good design innovates by moving us forward

When you design for us, be more like WAZE and less like MAPS 

A map shows you the route between point A and point B. A talking map guides you from point A to point B. Waze helps you go from point A to point B in the most efficient way in real time. A Driveless Car with a Map powered by Waze frees you to do something more interesting while en route from point A to point B.

See the difference?

Good design is innovative. It adds value. All help you get from A to B. Yet only Waze incorporates the here and now - which make both the map and the driveless car way more useful. 

Homogenous is not only boring, it is useless. My generation strongly believes one can’t design and move the human race forward by being the same as the guy next door. That's a waste of energy and resources. That's a waste of our time. That's why we are not of Facebook, and are all over Snap (more on this later). You just need to launch something differently useful, with the same overall purpose, to ensure we pay attention.

Take music for example. Music has always been there for humans. It has withstood the test of time. It’s been tattooed into the human experience. One can’t find a human that doesn’t like music, but every human certainly has unique music tastes, and that's why there are countless genres and forms of music. Genres of music can contrast a mood or evoke feeling within us humans. Imagine if the world of music only consisted of a handful of songs. Can a handful of songs evoke every human emotion? Could they reflect the richness of the human experience? A world with one song would bore us to sleep. Music would become irrelevant quite fast. This would be “the day the music died.”  

Music is music. Yet, every new generation invents its own kind of music, evolves the forms it takes, and even the ways they listen to it. iTunes did not become the world's largest music store by inventing music, or the business of selling music. It added. It moved music forward, and people happily followed. 

Our generation expects design to work that way. We like to buy things that are not only original, but move us forward. We love unique experiences. We rave for the undiscovered clothing label that has a story to tell. For us, your brand and your product must be different, original and meaningful to stay relevant.  


2. Good design makes a product understandable

When you design for us, be more like SNAPCHAT and less like FACEBOOK.

Keep it simple and make it fast.

Understandable is easy. Complicated is hard. There is nothing in between, and if you try to find something in between you already lost our interest. Our generation expects everything to be easy to use. Unlike you, we’ve never even heard of an instruction manual for anything. We don’t have the time. We also don’t have patience to push multiple buttons, navigate apps, watch tutorials or even wait for the perfect image to download. We move fast.

A product must be self explanatory to appeal to us. If a design is understandable, it will overcome any other shortcomings. Take Snapchat. We love Snap. It's fun to use and unique. Its edge over other social media platforms is how easy it is to use. Simple design is not simplistic design. We will take Snap over Facebook every time, even when Facebook has way more features than Snap ...or maybe because of it. For us Facebook is so complicated, it is totally irrelevant. Most of you think we're not on Facebook because you are. Sorry to disappoint, but your generation is not that important to us to keep us from using any tool we find useful. The answer is not you. For all its features, Facebook is static. That is the little overlook fact that keeps us away. Snap is the new king of communication not only because it has  one button, three user interfaces, and has one primary objective, but most importantly, because it is designed to move at our speed. 

3. Good design is honest

When you design for us, be more like BERNIE and less like HILLARY

Honest design is the hardest design principle to fulfill. Trust me, even the masters of design keep messing this up with us. You cannot fake with our generation - just ask Hillary Clinton. Despite being the generation of inclusiveness, we fell in love with an old while male over an energetic woman. No expert could have predicted that. We did it because we felt Bernie was authentic and she wasn't. First impressions are everything because our attention span doesn't leave time for a second chance. An old guy who dares to take controversial positions right on was a million times more appealing than an experienced politician who wanted to be everything for everyone. Had the older generations voted our way in the Democratic primaries (we can't vote yet), we would not have a clown in the White House.

If the story behind a product (or a person) is not clear and honest to us at the get-go, any interest in it fades from our always distracted minds. Despite living in the era of fake news, the days of products and people with great marketing but with fabricated stories are over. Over-engineered products that serve no clear purpose fall into the same category of "gone from our ADD minds because we have no time to go deeper."  

The one time Google launched a product that was not honest, it failed miserably. When Google launched their over-engineered Google Glass, a head mounted ubiquitous computer, my friends and I we were in awe, star struck by the things we could do with it. When show-time came, however, the reality was quite different. Did we really need to learn how to use glasses? Was there an obvious use for them? Google definitely thought so, and designed "clever" marketing that included a friends' list, scarcity, and a price tag that made a statement on how stupid you were. Over-engineered AND dishonest. No wonder.

Thinking like a 17-year-old can feel alien to you. However, design thinking is easy to conceptualize, and that's all we are asking for you guys to do. Appealing to us is not rocket science. Stop overcomplicating things because you think we will like those useless features you added to make your product perfect. Stop making products that need an instruction manual because you want to explain to us how hard the product is to use. Stop creating things that you wouldn’t even use. We aren’t that different from you guys, after all, our generation is still human. We still empathize with good design just like anyone else. But, the products that pop out to our generation are the products that innovate forward, are simple to figure out and are honest. We have no time to second-guess you.


Photo courtesy of friend of Innovation Lab and photographer Christopher Michel (