Treat them with respect and intelligence. Be direct, visual and succinct to help them become experts. And the entrepreneurially-driven, altruistic Generation Z will love your user experience.

Do you hear that? On the horizon is coming a very different approach to design and technology, and it is the sound of the impending generation coming of age. As evidenced from our previous post centered around teens use of digital, we felt the need to definitively delineate the differences between Millennials and Gen Z. Generation Z, as they have been coined, consist of those born in 1995 or later. Including both teens and tweens, they make up 25.9% of the United States population, the largest percentage, and contribute $44 billion to the American economy. By 2020, they will account for one-third of the U.S. population, certainly worth paying attention to.

Marketers, for more than a decade, have been focused on the Millennials. As a matter of fact, Millennials are the most researched generation in history but that trend is quickly changing. Generation Z might not yet be the group with the most buying power but their consumption patterns and behaviors will be the catalyst for big changes. Are you targeting the right generation?

Who is Generation Z?

Compared to Millennials, Gen Z is a much different group of people and have been shaped by the times in which they were born and raised. Growing up in a time of uncertainty (the post-9/11 world, the Great Recession) and changing norms (increased racial diversity, shifting gender roles), Gen Z is mature, self-directed, and resourceful. They know how to self-educate and find information. As we learned in our own recent research on teens, 52% use Youtube or social media for typical research assignments. They are known to be driven workers. A DIY culture and access to crowdsourcing shape Gen Z’s goals for work and self-employment. Social listening reveals that Gen Z are determined to “make a difference” and “make an impact.” Social entrepreneurship is one of the most popular career choices. This backs up our own teen research showing that Gen Z tend to be nicer than we had expected. They’ve learned traditional choices do not guarantee success as a result of witnessing the struggles of Millennials, and have resolved to make different choices.

Gen Z has had a unique childhood. There is much greater diversity amongst teens and tweens. Multiracial children is the fastest growing youth group in the US with a 50% increase in the multiracial youth population since 2000. Research has shown that multiracial children tend to be high achievers with a strong sense of self and an adaptability to change. Traditional gender roles have been challenged as well. This may result in a harder time finding mates and maintaining households when they become adults. Self-identity is less constructed by gender than past generations.

What makes Gen Z different than Millennials?

How Gen Z differs from the Millennials is distinct and remarkable. Whereas Millennials have generally been focused on the present, Gen Z is future-focused. Once again, they want to make a difference and they believe they can. Gen Z are realists, they’ve grown up in a world filled with consistent reminders of what is wrong and what needs to change. Millennials grew up as optimists, constantly told they are special snowflakes and deserve the best the world has to offer. Also, as a result of helicopter parenting the Millennials, parents of Gen Z have been discouraged from smothering and coddling their children. This has caused Gen Z to be more self-directed, accessing answers and inspiration on the internet. They also are more likely to live in multi-generational households. This has caused them to be sharers and have a greater affinity and respect for the elderly. Gen Z shares many of the same values as the Great Generation. This again confirms our research that teens wish to take advice from older generation.

One of the most striking differences between the two generations would have to be their choice and method of communication. Gen Z communicates with images and they multi-task across 5 screens as opposed to Millennials preferring to communicate on 2 screens and via text. Gen Z’s attention spans are getting shorter as well, explaining their preference for video and images rather than text. They are the ultimate consumers of snack media. They communicate in bite sizes. Punchy headlines or razor sharp text resonate much better than lengthy chunks of words or longwinded passages. They communicate in symbols. They speak in emoticons and emojis. The symbols provide context and create subtext for their private conversations. Text has affectively been replaced by images. This communication is speedier as well. Gen Z are agile communicators. They are accustomed to rapid-fire banter and commentary. Precision communication is not their forte, so they tend to leave a lot of room for interpretation. Research studies suggest that their brains have evolved to process more information at faster speeds, and are cognitively more nimble to handle bigger mental challenges. But getting and keeping their attention is the rub. Currently, the average American attention span stands at 8 seconds. This is a predicament that can not be overlooked and requires all design to be succinct and razor-sharp.

Generation Z thinks spatially and in 4D. They have always known how to zoom, pinch and swipe. they’ve grown up with hi-def, surround-spun, 3D as well. #60 degree photography and film is their normal. Ultra slow motion and hi-speed video is their standard. Consequently, They lack situational awareness. They are oblivious to their surroundings and unable to give directions. Some speculate that Gen Z have become to reliant upon their devices. Also, Gen Z don’t want to be tracked. They are drawn to incognito media such as Snapchat, Secret and Whisper. Those part of Generation Z love the ephemeral and rare. They are drawn to social media that is temporary and/or self-destructs. Being attuned to NSA surveillance issues, they are more concerned about disabling their privacy settings.

But what’s the best way to reach them?

With all of this said, how does one go about designing for and connecting with Generation Z? Rule number one is, in big flashing lights, do not treat them like Millennials. They are remarkably different in so many ways, almost night and day. Here is a list, in no particular order, on the best approach designing for Gen Z.

Communicate across multiple platforms. The more screens your design can fit the better. Responsive design is paramount. Let the Gen Z choose how they receive your content. Give them control and preference settings.

Connect through images. Whether it be emojis, symbols, pictures, or videos, Gen Z wants your message to be visually digestible. they are over reading blocks of text. The alphabet is so 20th century. This doesn’t insinuate that text should be forgotten altogether. To the contrary, the text should be completely on point with no frills or unnecessary details.

Communicate through snackable content. Once again, focus on the fact that you are designing for a different attention span. Be precise. Know what you are trying to say and have a succinct theme and delivery. But be careful about thinking simple equals dumb. There can be a great deal of nuance in the short and sweet.

See them as diverse. The same divisions that existed just one generation prior no longer apply. Gen Z is a vocal amalgamation of everything, a proud melting pot of all the things. Do not alienate, do not oppose. Focus on the similarities, rather than the differences. Accomplish this by connecting viewers with collaboration and live-streaming technology.

Don’t talk down, treat them as adults. Inspire your audience with social causes to rally behind and fight for. Assume they have opinions and are vocal, even influencing family decisions.

Feed Gen Z’s curiosity. Tap into the entrepreneurial spirit. Make stuff and help Gen Z make stuff. Collaborate with them and help them collaborate with others. Educate and build expertise, they want to be experts. Help them to achieve it.

Generation Z is a fascinating group. They have so many positive qualities and attributes that could potentially help make a better world for everyone. The game is changing. The same design and marketing techniques just won’t work anymore. In order for your designs to succeed, it is imperative to learn who they are, what they want, and, most importantly, how to communicate it to them quickly and with impact. Generation Z is a huge group of diverse, multiracial people filled with a desire for altruism and driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit. They think fast. They communicate primarily via symbols and images over multiple screens. They prefer privacy and want the power to edit and adjust their settings and preferences as they see fit.