Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Design Advice - Four Keys to Creating Products for Gen Y

Like every generation, Gen Y has been shaped by events that happened in our formative years, resulting in some strong opinions on how we see design. If you want to succeed in development of new brands, products, and services, today you need to be following Gen Y. Sarah Nagle, of Smart Design, has some lessons and below is an overview.

Four Keys To Creating Products For The Lady Gaga Generation is reprinted from Fast Compan Design

The purchasing power of Gen Y rivals that of the Boomers.

First, a clarification. Everyone has a different name for Gen Y. Some call us Millennials or Generation Next. Some use the name Echo-Boomers because we are the hipsters born from hippie parents of the Baby Boomer Generation. Gen Y is generally defined by birthdates, born approximately between 1980-2000; but more significant than birthdates is our mindset. We have a common bond of growing up through some intense events: the first era of reality TV, Columbine, the rise of dot-com millionaires, and virtual relationships. Today, the purchasing power of Gen Y rivals that of the Boomers so we at Smart Design think that Gen Y is pretty awesome. Gen Y thinks so, too.

Everyone is Awesome

Gen Y is a generation of self-confident optimists due to years of helicopter parenting and unconditional positive encouragement. Just think of all the trophies we got for just showing up. After the shootings at Columbine, "jock" domination started to make way for more tolerance and a rearranging of the social constructs in Gen Y’s high schools. Today, Fox’s ├╝ber-successful TV show Glee celebrates the new age of high school hierarchies -- or lack thereof. In Glee club, "We’re all losers" but that’s a good thing. Design needs to support this sense of feeling unique and awesome, but also the feeling of honesty. A brand that is picking up on this idea is Levi’s. Their product design and marketing actively acknowledges different body types with their “Curve ID” platform. Their latest communication uses typography that appears hand-painted and snapshot photography that celebrates "real-looking" people.

Change is Mandatory

The best designs for Gen Y offer flexibility but also the ability to slow down

MTV, YouTube, RSS feeds, Twitter, and Facebook status updates have transformed Gen Y into a generation that expects change and regards instant as not fast enough. Lady Gaga and her ever-evolving persona are a perfect example and expression of these evolutionary ideals -- she never wears the same look twice. Change is now expected but some things also need to slow down. Gen Yers want to retain the notion of nostalgia and the meaningful moments that this technology-driven era has taken away. If we primarily communicate through Facebook posts, text messages, and Twitter, what will happen to real conversations? The best designs for Gen Y encourage change and offer flexibility but also offer the ability to slow down and enjoy life’s meaningful moments. In this context, it’s no surprise that the iPhone with its many possibilities within controlled boundaries is such a favorite for Gen Y. It has an OS that allows for infinite customization but it also offers apps such as Face Time, Hipstamatic, and Words With Friends that offer nostalgia and encourage conversations.

Sharing is Second Nature

Boomer parents instilled a philosophy of “we can share anything” in their families. Gen Y has a closer relationship with parents and family, in contrast to Gen X, the independent "latch-key kids." Growing up online and with mobile phones has amplified this trend. As a result, Gen Y today is highly connected and uses peer-to-peer exchange, crowdsourcing, and collaborative filtering to shape their world. Design must take into consideration that Gen Y is more interested in use than ownership. Relayrides, the first peer-to-peer car-sharing site in the nation, is an example of a company that has built a platform on Gen Y’s willingness to share and trade. Their idea found its inspiration from Zipcar but the model is different. Rather than renting a car from a company, Relayrides enables people to rent their next door neighbor's car for a run to the store, or a trip out of town -- or, conversely, to make an average of $250 a month lending your car out to your neighbors.

Gen Y is more interested in use than ownership.

I Can Make it

Gen Y is the generation of new entrepreneurs. Forget traditional business hierarchies, Gen Yers want to be the CEO of their own companies. We grew up seeing instant pop "idols" and teenage nerds turned billionaires overnight. Gen Y has struggled with an unstable economy but we are bouncing back because we were raised to feel like we can do anything. It’s no wonder that YouTube sensations like Rebecca Black make it. Sites like Etsy have given the "crafty" among us a way to support ourselves while Kickstarter encourages a community to help make innovative projects into realities. Gen Y doesn’t want to work for the man, so by providing tools to let us co-create, customize it, make it meaningful, and see success quickly, we will love it –- and we will make it.

So now what?

The designers we spoke to at Cal State were enthusiastic about the impact that their generation is having on culture and design but they also feel a responsibility to guide generations to come. They are worried that if everything is fast, instant, and abbreviated -- what will be meaningful? We are excited about the design implications this growing trend will have on our work, specifically in the connected home and in the mobile space. We are excited to see how technology can be used as a platform to bring back meaningful experiences and to increase interactions with other people. Design is about people and Gen Y is the group of people that will be the catalyst to cultivate and design the future of "awesomeness" in our everyday lives.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Checklist for a Gen Y to Assess a New Job

Have you looked at your company’s recruitment strategy for its appeal to Gen Y’s? Here are some tips through the lens of a Gen Y. Members of this generation have some surprising qualities they are looking for.

And for those of you Gen Y’ers in the hunt, here's a 30 point checklist to review as you look for that perfect job.

If you are a Gen Y, think about these aspects before you begin the career search process:

 Recruiting practices that reflect the reality of your life and speak to you
 The absence of any negatives in the company's reputation - ethical, environmental, or others that would make you uncomfortable to be associated with this firm
 The presence of reputation positives--a well-known brand name, a culture that resonates with you, or support for philanthropic and community activities you care about
 Rich web sites that offer lots of information about the company
 A positive reputation as an employer - among past employees (check websites), friends and family (what I call the "parent-approved" stamp)

During the hiring process, look for
 Evidence of a clear process for on boarding and induction
 Clarity of rewards and benefits
 Personalized communication throughout the recruiting and hiring process, including the use of communication approaches (texting, email) that fit your life
 Formal development programs, including a variety of learning approaches
 An efficient, time-sensitive hiring process
 Criteria to measure your performance that seem appropriate
 Rotational development programs, what I call "lateral" career moves
 Opportunities for management training and leadership development

During the interviews investigate (through politely worded questions):
 Executives who create a "gift culture"--an expectation that leaders will take the time to provide lots of helpful advice
 Low levels of bureaucracy, including speed in getting work done and decisions made
 Breadth of rewards, including greater opportunity and responsibility, as well as formal recognition
 Work arrangements that reflect a philosophy of flexibility and efficiency
 Rewards and recognition that are perceived as fair relative to performance
 Up-to-date technology
 Evidence that informal and formal mentoring is prevalent
 A philosophy behind the evaluation system that seems appropriate (for example, team based, if the work is done as a team, or individually-based; if individually-based, is it a forced ranking in which one person has to lose for another to win)
 A performance evaluation process that is perceived as fair by other employees
 Opportunities to participate on teams, both as member and, on occasion, as leader

When you meet your future manager and immediate colleagues, look for:
 A manager who seems genuinely interested in working with you
 A manager with a reputation of holding regular, informal development discussions focused on your future
 A manager you feel you can learn from
 A manager whose style will give you the room to grow - who will allow you to experiment and fail occasionally
 Relationships among colleagues that appear supportive
 When you discuss what your initial role would be:
 Challenging on-the-job learning experiences, with variety - opportunities to "figure it out" as you go
 Assignments that offer responsibility and the ability to make a contribution

Interested in seeing if YOUR company is effectively attracting Gen Ys?  Contact or visit