There’s no question millennials are the hot target market these days — and many companies have decided that designing for millennials is a ticket to success. Take the recent Whole Foods announcement about its new store concept, aimed at millennials with “modern, streamlined design, innovative technology, and a curated selection” of lower-priced organic and natural foods.
Like many others, I read about the new store concept and thought, “Millennials like those things? So do I. And so does my mom. Don’t people of all generations want those things?”
So Is Millennial-Specific Design Really a Thing?
There are certain characteristics we associate with millennials. For example, we know they love customization because it’s something they grew up with. They got to choose the color of the bands on their braces instead of having to settle for standard-issue silver, and they created their own stuffed animals at Build-a-Bear rather than choosing them off the shelf.
Now multiple brands let you you design your own shoes online and the increasingly common Coke Freestyle machines let you customize your soda one of 120 ways. And while this clearly appeals to millennials, the reality is choice and customization appeal to everyone. (I myself am an old-fashioned Diet Coke drinker, but it’s comforting to know I have 119 other options, just in case.)
Or Is Design Just Changing Along With Everyone’s Tastes?
This could explain why the backlash against millennial-specific design has begun, with critics saying it’s pointless to say designing for millennials is different than designing for anyone else. In a recent New York Times article, Ravi Dhar, the director of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management, said what lots of us have been thinking: The attributes businesses are ascribing to millennials — including a dependence on technology — apply to the population as a whole.
Companies need to determine whether a product or feature they’re touting directly correlates to a life stage or whether it’s appropriate for everyone who’s changing with the times. As Robyn Bolton noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article: “Far too many companies take a ‘product-out’ view of segmentation, where they essentially ask their customers to line up around their products by demographics such as age or income. They should take an ‘outside-in’ view that orients products around their customers’ attitudes and behaviors instead.”
My advice to companies I work with: Of course they should consider millennials in their workplace or product design, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Segmenting by generation shouldn’t be the ultimate criteria used in hiring or marketing. It is one factor among many to consider. Because checking a one-size-fits-all millennial box is no different than lumping people together by gender, ethnicity, regional differences, star sign or Myers-Briggs personality type. It’s just one potential way to segment, but — given the differing ways members of different generations see the world — it is one that should not be left out.
Have you seen some dubious examples of employers and brands designing for millennials? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
Lindsey Pollak is a New York Times best-selling author and a nationally recognized millennial expert who helps employers recruit, train, manage and market to the millennial generation. Her speeches and training sessions inspire multigenerational collaboration and foster lasting organizational success. Contact Lindsey to learn how she can help your organization understand and connect with millennials.