Summary: don’t design for Millennials; design for millennials’ tasks and you’ll likely find they’re universal.
Since I changed my work email, I haven’t been getting the NNG Alertbox, I checked it out today and found an interesting article about millennials.
It confirmed much of what I’d previously thought about millennials as a design audience/ user group. But I first had to stop at the generation definitions and the assertion that Generation X (me) are the parents of Millennials — so it’s our fault: the parenting practices (helicopter parenting, enabling, etc.) lead to the most annoying characteristics of the generation (entitlement, self-obsession).. Of course this detoured to a sidebar search to check who Google thought were the worst parents; which turned up a lot of fun reading I’ll have to check on later, but basically blames both/either Boomers or GenX. Seems to me offspring of a generation skips a generation, so I’m gonna go with it’s the Boomers’ fault.
But I’m here to complain about a generation (sour grapes that we’re ignored). One of the common misconceptions UX designers have to deal with is that we need to change the way we design for millennials — allow for task switching, skip the desktop, bite-size chunks, make everything social, etc., and this article (sort of) dispels those myths. Digital natives may be more used to technology, and less tolerant of poor UX; but this isn’t unique to one generation — does that mean we can make crappy products for older workers/users and focus our design efforts on the new generation? Not likely. It’s Universal Design all over again; make it easier for one user group and you’ll benefit others.
I’ve been tasked with this a few times at work — ‘we need to make everything touch based for mobile’ and it has backfired in a few cases, basically mis-applying a design for content consumption to a context of content creation. Or creating a clickable wizard workflow for a single transaction, where the user who needs to enter/edit many transactions all day long can’t TAB between form fields and has to jump between many screens rather than do everything on one page — one thing I learned in my first job working with customer contact reps that hasn’t changed in 15 years.
Task flows don’t change with digital fashions. Focus on the user goals and you’ll likely find there isn’t much difference in what each generation wants to accomplish. Technologies change, but the essential task remains unchanged. For example, I remember the family round robin letter, which was really my grandma’s generation. Nowadays Facebook fulfills the same goal of sharing news between friends, and does it instantly. I don’t think the user experience of today is that much better–no third-party corporation intercepted the letter and stuck a bunch of ads into the envelope, and the joy of getting a new facebook alert doesn’t quite match the joy of getting a fat envelope with a week’s worth of reading.
Of course, some millennial entrepreneur will likely make an app for that, with hopes of flipping it to Facebook/Twitter/Yahoo.