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How to design with millennials in mind


Peter Ballard, co-founder of Foolproof, shares his tips on how tech companies can design a product for millennials.

If you believe everything that gets written about millennials, you could be forgiven for thinking this generation comes from a different planet.

Millennials are identified as those born between the years 1982 and 2002, and are variously described as fickle, work-shy, narcissistic, and driven by a raging sense of entitlement. Ouch.

We disagree. We consult thousands of millennials every year as part of our design research. In terms of basic, human, emotional needs, we think they’re pretty similar to every other generation. We all want long lasting friendships, fulfilling careers, safe and secure homes, life-partners, and to stay healthy and live as long as we can. Millennials are no different.

The difference is the economic and technological context in which millennials have become adult, and how this has affected their attitudes, values, behaviours, and expectations of the world around them.

Brands need to sit up and take note: by next year, millennials will number 17 million in the UK, accounting for a quarter of the population. To resonate with the millennial mind-set, brands must learn how to design product and service experiences for this group of consumers.

Here are five principles that we’ve identified to help companies do just this:

UX trumps reputation

Millennials have high expectations of user experience (UX), and won’t tolerate poor service or a substandard experience. In their eyes, a brand that has invested in designing a simple and intuitive user experience has demonstrated a commitment to its customers that goes beyond simply the interface.

AirBnB and Uber owe their successes to the effortless, and largely mobile, experience they offer, as much as the disruption they brought to their industries.

The message is clear for brands: make experience design the foundation on which you build differentiation and competitive advantage. Identify and ruthlessly eliminate the pain-points customers have through every touch point in the organisation. Seek out the best designers you can possibly find to create beautifully elegant, frictionless customer experiences.

Advocates trump advertising

Millennials are naturally cynical about advertising, and intolerant of inflated promises and false claims. They favour word of mouth and advice from friends or family over information received through advertising. They can tell the difference between companies that demonstrate their commitment to customers, rather than those that just claim it.

Research shows millennials are most likely to be influenced by family and friends (72%), followed by search engines and reviews (50%), social networks (21.4%) and bloggers/experts (20.2%).

Brands should build engagement with this generation through smart use of social media and the development of advocates and brand ambassadors. Two thirds of 16-24 year olds said they are more likely to become a loyal customer if a brand engages with them on social.

However, the product or service needs to deliver. These channels turn equally viral if service turns out to be poor.

Algorithms trump humans

This generation has grown up surrounded by data, but using it confidently to make the right decision has got harder and more stressful.

This could see the rise of AI and robot advice. Financial advice and healthcare will continue to lead the field, as wearable tech and robot advice rapidly evolve.

Brands targeting millennials must design products and services that can learn users’ behaviours, patterns of consumption, and personality traits and preferences. Millennials will seek brands and technology that guide them to make confident and correct decisions.

Loyalty trumps introductory offers

This generation are very aware of their power as consumers. They know their custom is valuable to brands, and want to be rewarded for it. This doesn’t have to be financially: it can be in terms of how they are made to feel, or what privileges they get for being a customer. Millennials want to feel important as an individual, and that they are being listened too. They know companies have data on their habits, their previous purchases, and their value as customers, so they expect to see this used intelligently and sensitively to have their loyalty repaid.

Brands must go beyond standard points based loyalty schemes, and consider what would really make a difference to a customer’s experience with their brands.

Access trumps ownership

Driven partly by necessity, and partly by preference, this generation won’t own many of the ‘big ticket’ items that previous generations slaved to buy. This generation owns fewer houses, cars, TVs and other luxury items per head than baby boomers or generation X-ers.

A preference for brands that act for social good has brought about the rise of the sharing economy. Fuelled by advances in technology, the shared ownership concept is being applied to housing, transport, travel and other luxury items, and fits both millennials’ ideal and budget.

A brand must ask itself if there are alternative ways to access their product or service, that fit with millennials’ preference for temporary ownership. It’s a global trend that’s growing fast, and will find new markets and new ideas. PWC estimates today’s global shared economy marketplace is worth $15bn, but will be worth $335 by 2025.

Key takeaways

Millennials have grown up against a back drop of near permanent global recession. This is shaping their values, and their expectations of how brands reflect those values.

Millennials have a great sense of belonging to a global tribe, and are keen to take responsibility for stewardship of the world’s limited natural resources and the inequalities between global societies. They value communities and shared ownership over their own, and look for brands committed to social good. 59% of 16-34 year olds believe brands should actively participate to improve good causes.

For brands that get it right, the prize is great: millennials will soon account for more than a quarter of all spend globally.

Brands need to understand, and respond to, the preferences and behaviours of this generation of consumers in order to keep up.