Designers Cecilia Martin and Klasien van de Zanschulp consider themselves global citizens, and through their work with Lava Lab they have produced visual storytelling for clients all over the world. And what they have found time and time again, they say, is that clients struggle to connect with the younger, so-called Millennial audience. Speaking at Design Indaba 2016, Martin notes that Millennials are “probably the most important generation in the world,” predicting that they will comprise 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025.
First of all, “Millennial” is a broad, somewhat spurious term, but then so are “baby boomer” and “Gen X.” If we are to give into generalisations, however, Martin observes that each age group has been shaped by the innovations of its time; post-war baby boomers were the idealists and the hippies, Gen X saw the invention of the internet and modern pop culture. For Millennials, the current ubiquity of tech and transparency has resulted in a new code of ethics. “They want to stand up for what they believe,” says Martin. “And they think corporations should not be about growth, they should be about human value, they should be about purpose. And that is why you see many, many Millennials becoming social entrepreneurs.”
Too often, says Martin, there is the notion of “bridging” the gap between the offline and online worlds, when to millennials, there is no distinction. These two realms coexist; Millennials feel very personally connected to technology. “They use it to construct their own reality,” she says. “It’s an amazing boom of new ideas.” Millennials are shirking traditional business strategies and models to come up with new ways of doing things, and as self-perceived creative innovators, they’re not interested in end products any more. “They want something they can mess around with, and take to the next level,” says Martin.
What does this mean for the future of design? Lava Lab predict open-source furniture and fashion; fast culture and fast platforms. Martin herself admits that creating for Millennial consumers has been a steep learning curve, especially when it comes to the misconception that living online serves to isolate people. “It’s not anti-social, it’s the new social,” she says. “Wi-Fi is the new oxygen.”
As these consumers continue to rapidly adopt new technologies, more challenges are sure to surface, but van de Zanschulp believes that this is the best part. “For us designers, it’s going to be a really exciting time ahead,” she says. “A website has so many rules in usability, how to log in and log out, but in the virtual space these rules are not really set yet… Isn’t that super exciting, that we’re on the edge of designing these rules? Maybe there are no rules!”
Martin, meanwhile, has one resounding piece of advice for Design Indaba: “If you want to innovate, please, work with Millennials!”