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How to Approach Design to Engage the Next Generation

designing for gen z

Times are changing.

We’re in the middle of a generational shift, as the millennial demographic loses its buying power to the tech-savvy Gen Zs.

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Zs are estimated to have an annual spending power of 144 billion dollars. That’s a lot of cash.

But if you want a piece of that pie, you’ve got to shift, too. And design is a powerful tool to help you do it.

Different perspectives and a digital upbringing mean that the Gen Z market responds to brands very differently, compared to their millennial predecessors. They move fast, value authenticity, and aren’t afraid to call you out (very publicly) if you make a wrong move.

In this article, we’re sharing 8 ways you can approach design to woo this entirely new generation (and not get canceled).

8 ways to design for a Gen Z audience

1. Design with responsiveness in mind

Tech-savvy Gen Z’s are online over 10 hours per day. They’re multi-taskers, constantly switching devices to consume media, services and products.

To win them over, your brand must offer a seamless experience at any given touch point, especially on mobile. The entire generation has had a cell phone since they were 8, and statistics from American Express show that 23% of them will drop a brand that’s not mobile-friendly.
Intentional UX (user experience) design is essential.

2. Design for shareability and short attention spans

As the online generation, a staggering 94% of Gen Z use social media. And 50% of them are active on platforms daily. 

We’re comfortable with designing for social media these days, but the difference with this demographic is that they see their social media profiles as an extension of themselves. A digital representation of their identity.

They’re quick to share content from brands that they like to enhance their online persona, yet equally as quick to banish you from their feeds if they don’t connect to you.

Your designs need to be instantly shareable to keep up with famously short attention spans. 

That’s bite-sized information, legible fonts on small screens, unconventional colors, and clear messaging.

If they need to stop to work out what you’re offering, you’ve lost them.

3. Cut the fluff

Aesthetics are important to Gen Z, but so are clarity and function. 

If your product or service looks good but doesn’t work, or is hard to use, you’ve got yourself a first-class ticket to a negative review. And you bet they’ll write you one.

They’re the first generation to grow up entirely with technology, so they’re less bothered by the novelty of it all. 

Your designs need to be clear, concise, and functional to cut through the clutter. 

4. Design with intention and showcase your values

More than any generation before, the Gen Z market is attuned to a brand’s agenda. You must showcase your values (and stand for something) if you’re going to win their hearts. 

Design is a great tool to do this.

It could be as simple as designing environmentally friendly packaging, or as complex as designing an app that allows them to share their fight for human rights. 

Global issues like climate change are important to them, so they’ll opt for brands that design for social good.

Diversity is key here, too. The Gen Z demographic is 48% minority, so it’s essential that you’re practicing diversity and inclusion in your designs. From photography to illustrations, be aware of cultural connotations and be a champion of representation. 

But do so authentically and honestly. Because they’ll see right through it if you’re fibbing.

5. Bring them into the design process

Want to encourage engagement with your brand? Bring the Gen Z audience in on your design process. 

As a generation, they’re eager to interact with a brand they like. 44% of those studied in Gen Z Brand Relationships said they’d willingly submit ideas for product designs. 

Want to know what design style they like? Ask them.

Try a social media poll between two designs for starters. 

6. Be cohesive and reliable with your designs

Consistent and cohesive branding is important to the Gen Z market. 

Why? Because they’ve grown up surrounded by instability. 

Economic uncertainty, the birth of cyberbullying, and global lockdowns mean they look for reliability and familiarity in the brands they interact with. 

When you’re designing, keep your logos and branding consistent to build that trust and increase recognition. 

This is especially important for the highly saturated and fast-paced e-commerce and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) markets, as consistency and repetition will help make you memorable.

7. But be fluid

On the flip side of consistency, the Gen Z market needs you to be fluid, too. 

The world is continually changing, and brands need to keep up. Keep a finger on the pulse and be prepared to be flexible and adapt your designs when needed, without losing sight of your overall identity. (They need reliability, remember.)

How do you do that? 

Subtle tweaks and changes that reflect the current climate can work in your favor. Seasonal design elements, references to pop culture, and reflections of ‘trends’ within your niche keep you relevant.

Gender neutrality is essential here, too. Gen Z-ers are breaking down barriers like never before, so steer clear of stereotypes.

Blue for boys and pink for girls? You can do better than that.

8. Don’t fear experimental design 

Growing up surrounded by media means the Gen Z market is hard to surprise. It’s not easy to present something that’s not yet been done.

But, this means you can be experimental with your designs and still see results. In fact, the demographic needs the unexpected in order to win its attention. 

Bold colors (they even have their own Pantone: Gen Z Yellow), unique pairings, unusual imagery… think outside the box.

Unsurprisingly, their digital habits mean Gen Z seek out analog aesthetics, perhaps a nostalgia for an offline life they’ve not lived. 

We’re seeing a trend for retro styles, 90s influences, and grainy filters that feel more tangible and ‘real life’.

Have you considered how your designs need to shift to make way for the new generation? 

If you need support from a global team of professional and vetted designers with skills from UX to animation to packaging, get in touch with Design Force today. We’ll help give your brand a Gen Z approved ‘glow up’.

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