Millennials are an elusive audience that every brand is courting, and every other generation has got something to say about.
Apparently they’re whiny, selfish, and will never be able to afford a house because of their relentless appetite for avocados. Yet, they’re the audience advertisers are the most desperate to reach.
So, what is it that they want from a user experience? And, with so many mediums trying to capture their attention, how can you build something that will make them come your way, and stick around?
The rules of designing for millennials
Firstly, whatever your product, it needs to adhere to these rules:
It needs to be fast
Millennials have absolutely no tolerance for things that are slow. With every brand courting them, and offering other experiences they can choose to spend their attention on, there is absolutely no chance they will stick around for an experience that doesn’t load quickly.
Optimizing your product for speed is vital. If it’s a video, consider uploading to a platform like Vimeo, or YouTube. If you’re running a publication you should be optimizing your website for Google AMP, and Facebook Instant. Anything that can make each experience they have with your product, wherever they’re coming from, fast, and satisfying puts you in a position to satisfy a millennial audience.
Mobile optimize your product
Millennials are the smartphone generation. As a millennial myself, I know I almost exclusively listen to music, listen to podcasts, use apps, read articles, and surf the web on my phone. On top of that, it’s almost always while I’m doing something else like commuting, or streaming something on another device.
If you are targeting a millennial audience, there is absolutely no excuse for not building your site to be optimized for mobile. In fact, you probably want to consider building your site first, and foremost for mobile, then adapting it for the desktop. That’s how important that platform is to this audience.
Come to terms with the fact that millennials don’t go to homepages
While Facebook’s recent algorithm changes mean there’s diminishing incentive to share to the platform for brands and publishers, it doesn’t mean millennials will be running to your homepage anytime soon.
The reality is that they’ll still usually be referred from social media, a search engine, or an aggregating service. So, it’s up to you to try and both attract them to your site, and retain them when they get there. No matter which way they get in.
If you’re a publication, autoloading the next article beneath the current one, so that they can effortlessly scroll from one to the next, is a start. Just make sure that next article is closely related to the previous one. Try, and get them to sign up to an email newsletter, so that your newest articles, or product news will be right in their inbox.
Do whatever you can to keep them around on your site, and coming back, building your rapport, and trust with them.
Don’t force them to download an app
Looking at the homepage of most people’s smartphones, it’s clear most of us don’t need any more apps.
While apps provide great advantages when it comes to controlling the user experience, and collecting user data, they’re just not something people are keen to download more of.
As mentioned in the section above, millennials are unlikely to even find your brand, and its content, anywhere other than social media, or Google. So, focus on other ways you can retain them without bombarding them with ads for your app. Or, worse, blocking them from viewing your content unless they download it.
Unless you are some sort of subscription service, do whatever you can to reduce the friction between them discovering your brand, and consuming your product.
Make your product high quality, and focused
Millennials seem like they live hectic digital lives, full of loud social media channels, and brands constantly yelling at them. And, well, they kinda do. Which is why the only things that cut through for them are high quality products with a clear focus.
There’s no shortage of sites that shamelessly try to capture clicks, rather than deliver true value. Millennials have enough options for those sorts of experiences in literally every other part of the internet. Provide what they prefer: a straightforward focus on delivering a specialized product that’s purpose built for them.
Remember, millennials want to feel special. Delivering content that feels specifically tailored to them will mean they feel like they’re getting something that gives them a unique perspective on the world that, maybe, puts them a step ahead of the next person.
Make them feel like a trendsetter.
Millennials like a lot of change in a short amount of time
Think fast fashion brands like H&M. As soon as a trend has caught on, there’s something new in the pipeline for next season.
This doesn’t mean you should be endlessly pivoting its product, or changing its design aesthetic. Rather, it means that your style guide should be clear on the fundamentals of your brand and user experience, while have built in flexibility that allows for some elements to be constantly changing.
Maybe you change the product’s color palette every few months. Or, the shape of your buttons alternates, or animates differently. Or, each of your feature articles is completely bespoke to match its topic like Bloomberg Businessweek did for many years with its cover.
Don’t get stale. We hate that.
Products that are built well for millennials
There’s a whole wave of products that have emerged over the last few years that feel really of the moment, and a good fit for millennials.
One site that’s built inside, and out for this generation is Axios.com.
Launched in 2017, by the founders of Politico, Axios focuses mostly on politics, and is built for the mobile age. Each article offers a snippet of less than a hundred words with a “Keep reading” button that identifies how many words are left in the article – usually somewhere from 100 – 600 more.
Each article is short, and focused, using dot points, and clever use of font weights to emphasize the most important elements of a story in a minimal amount of time.
It’s also built to be easily shareable, and be viewed on Facebook. The experience is so mobile friendly, it feels like a Newsfeed in itself. Even when you open one of the articles on Facebook, or Twitter, it’s sticky enough that you get sucked into reading another, and another, with the next article card loaded beneath, and related.
It’s a great experience.
Quartz has always done a magnificent job of smoothly moving you from one article to the next.
It was also one of the earliest examples of a publication built for mobile inside, and out, with a clear business focus, and a well honed design identity.
Its homepage is also a shining example of how to use space in an engaging way. And, also how to deliver content on your homepage, sometimes, without another click being necessary.
If you are going to try to make a news app for a millennial audience, here’s how to do it well.
The Quartz App is focused on delivering the news of the day in an interactive, digestible manner.
Structured like a messaging app, it greets you, then offers you a short teaser of each story in message form. You then choose from two responses as to whether you want more, or whether you’re not interested.
With its mix of casual language, use of emoji, GIFs, and a drip by drip style of information delivery, it’s an excellent example of how to build a modern news app.
Always a favorite of ours, The Outline, launched in 2016, takes a refreshing approach to user experience, from its design, to its content, to its advertising strategy.
Its aesthetic is challenging, and provocative, which works, because its content is also challenging, and provocative.
It’s trying to innovate with its approach to advertising on the site. It wants you to interact with the cards advertising The Chi on Showtime. But, it’s an opt-in experience. Which potentially means the metrics they measure, are more meaningful because people choose to interact.
Also, the suggested articles beneath the main one offer a glimpse of the content, but require you to press “Read more” to see the full version. Once again, not in any way trying to fool you into reading something else, thus making their metrics more meaningful.
The headline promises something that the content then delivers in a very straightforward way.
Each listicle item has a headline of its own, an image or GIF, and body paragraph, all designed to make you react.
With three ways to engage you within every listicle item, times that by 17, and even without reading the body of any of them, the list will probably deliver.
New York Times’ podcast The Daily is a news program released every weekday morning, hosted by Michael Barbaro.
Generally around twenty minutes long, which, the general length of a commute, it takes a deep dive into one of the day’s stories, while highlighting the other day’s headlines.
After numerous attempts at multimedia, in podcasts, and notably in video, this has been the Times’ first breakout hit. And, a lot of it comes down to the user experience design of it.
Firstly, podcasts have a similar ability to email newsletters, in that they invite retention through subscriptions. Once a user has subscribed, they receive the content in a much more frictionless way than stumbling across it on social media, or visiting the site’s homepage, cold.
Beyond that, Times subscription or not, it’s complementary to the main written content that many will probably read later that day. It’s not reading the newspaper to you. It’s not taking a deep dive into every single story. It’s taking one story that’s already published in the newspaper, and looking at it from another angle, often interviewing the article’s author to get some insight into how the story came together.
It also helps that the host isn’t using a voice of god approach in his delivery, often synonymous with traditional newscasters. Barbaro is more of the Ira Glass school of presenter, where the language of the script is carefully aligned with the way he speaks naturally, and not unnecessarily pompous. The result of which is intimate, perfect for a podcast, a medium people usually consume alone.
Spotify uses both visual design, and listening data to get you discovering new music.
It’s been investing a lot of resources into regularly refreshing the covers of its playlists. With that, every few months, visiting your Browse page will feel like you’re being greeted with a bunch of fresh content. It’s also playing on the fact that when we see the same things every day, they become basically invisible to us.
Discover Weekly is a rather simple, but often delightful experience that plays well into the habits of millennials.
Music is something people consume mostly while doing something else, so the ability to simply press play on a playlist, updated every Monday, put together based on what you’ve been listening to, is fantastic. And, with each track you skip, it learns that’s not something you want, and adjusts for next week’s playlist. It’s a living, breathing user experience built exclusively for you.
Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple HomePod
AI assistants by Google, Amazon, and Apple are being used more and more by millennials. And, now with the home versions that double as bluetooth speakers, they’re taking over.
Google’s search engine got us used to asking for what we need when we needed it. Even to the point that Featured Snippets – those cards that often pop up on a search results page with the answer you’re looking for – mean there’s less friction than ever between asking something, and getting an answer, no matter how wrong it may sometimes be.
Voice assistants take this to a new level. And, the home devices take it to the level beyond that.
Calling out a request, and getting exactly what you asked for provides a convenience, and a focus that’s never been experienced before.
It’s also changing the user experience of how people receive other content like podcasts, news, weather, and potentially so much more.
It’s still at a very early stage, but you can see it bringing things together. Imagine receiving an entire Axios breakdown of the latest Trump story through Google Home.
It’s making information digestible with interactions pretty similar to the Quartz app. Perfect for a generation who want specifically what they’re asking for, and has trouble focusing on one thing for long periods of time.
Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Google AMP Stories
And finally, instant video messaging has become a huge thing for millennials.
It began with Snapchat, continued with Instagram Stories, and now even Google’s getting in on the act.
Video has long been presumed to be the medium with the biggest potential in the online space. But, the realization over the years has been that there are multiple different types of video that will work for different audiences, and fit different platforms.
Short, low-fi videos that can be sent to a group of friends seems to have captivated the millennial audience. Built exclusively for the phone, this form of content takes up the full screen, when holding your handset vertically, and that has made it super engaging to the younger crowd.
Add to that the stickers, and captions you can overlay, as well as the different masks you can apply on your face, and a sensation was born that every advertiser has been trying to master.
In conclusion, yes, millennials are a fussy audience. But, they’re not just spending money on avocados. They’re the biggest potential money spenders for advertisers.
But, beyond that, they’re an advanced audience, whose expectations for how the user experience of most products works will eventually become the standards of launching a product online.
So, listen to them. Try, and figure out how to give them the digital experiences they want. Because if you figure it out for them, you’ll have figured it out for the rest of the online audience as well.
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