What Millennials and Gen Z Users Expect from Their Online Experiences — and How to Give It to Them

With the change in preferences, come new generations of users who are more vocal about the changes and standards they wish to have within a design.

learn more about Goran Paun

By Goran Paun

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Time is the catalyst to change. Whether it is a push for new standards, a sudden switch in trends or new ideas that pertain to established rhetoric, time is never static. In the UI/UX digital design world, innovation and industry standards are ever-changing, and designers and developers are often seeking new modes of ingenuity to enhance experiences and digital products. With the change in preferences, come new generations of users who are more vocal about the changes and standards they wish to have within a design.

We are living in an epoch in which our society is saturated in everything digital, thus standing out from the crowd has become a new angle of competitive marketing, and the greatest asset is the newest generations that are attuned to not wasting time on a web design or digital interface that does not propel their experience. Younger generations of users that have grown up with exposure to the online world — millennials or Gen Z users specifically — have higher standards for their online experiences, and ensuring your brand matches their energy with experiential and human-centric digital products is what is allowing companies to have that competitive edge. How then, can brands design their websites, mobile applications and even copy to align with a newer generation of users? Frankly, it begins with paying attention to your target audience.

Related: Good Design is Good Business

Convenience is key

Modern digital ecosystems are made to be quick, convenient and highly usable to boost the overall experience. For newer generations of users, these three features are instantly noticeable, and if it lacks one of the three, that is also highly noticeable, which can sway your users away from a design. The online world has postured many users to expect speed in every digital product they engage with as today's attention span to these digital experiences is reportedly around 8 seconds. If their interest isn't captured within that small window, many users will seek an alternative that quells their impatience. Further, the modern user expects any website to be responsive to mobile or tablet, for immediate results on the go. In fact, 55% of worldwide online visits come from mobile, as opposed to 43% that come from desktop interactions.

Thus, ensuring that your brand's online presence is made for mobile is a key factor that shouldn't be placed on the back burner. Modern audiences expect their searches to extend to mobile and be fully usable as they would on a desktop. No matter the services offered, information shared or ecommerce products sold, your website should be highly responsive to any propel conversations and be in tune with modern expectations. If your website caters to an ecommerce platform, ensuring your users are able to browse, shop and check out without interruption is pivotal. Further, ensuring that your visual hierarchy is built for mobile will also seamlessly make an impactful experience. Lastly, certifying that your content — whether visual or readable — is easily digestible and straight to the point is what modern users prefer most.

The influence of social media

It's no secret that the rise of social media has not only greatly shifted our daily interactions but our exposure to new brands as well. Currently, many social media outlets carry themselves as tools to communicate with others. However, as of late, it has an opaque undercurrent of marketing strategies, ecommerce and overall brand recognizability. For newer generations of users, social media is a huge part of their everyday interactions and mode of information sharing. Many established legacy brands have emphasized their presence on social media to drive engagement and brand awareness.

In fact, 88% of companies have hired at least one social media coordinator because of the opportunities it brings forth and the audiences they are aiming to appeal to. Social media outlets allow for faster communication with modern-day users and for ecommerce purposes. When brands engage with their users on social media platforms, it builds a level of authenticity and trust because of these more casual forms of business-to-consumer communication strategies to answer questions or simply converse about their brand.

With a whopping 78% of Gen Z users and 67% of Millennial users utilizing social media to discover and learn more about brands, attaining a strong online presence has become just as important as having a website online. Social media has become a portal for brands to utilize these "casual" platforms to boost their sales conversions to newer generations of users. Your website needs to easily have modes for users to find your social media platforms and vice versa. If a brand is discovered through social platforms, it is key that the excitement they felt there carries out to your website.

Related: The Business of Harnessing the Power of Social Media

A positive experience in and outside of social media interactions is highly valuable to modern users. It is important to remember, however, that when interacting with users on social media, your social media posts and voice align with your brand. These further drive brand recognizability. Newer generations of users prefer a casual, more playful tone of engagement on social media, and if that does not align with your brand or translate well to your brand testimony off social media, it could affect your brand identity. Your brand's overall identity needs to remain authentic, approachable and engaging to appeal to the new generational mode of marketing, design and recognizability.

A sincere push for accessible experiences

In our own digital design agency, we have always been advocates for pushing usability and accessibility for all users, as it should never be an afterthought. Yet not all websites are created equal. Many brands' websites still lack full AAA compliance by W3C or do not fully have accessible and inclusive standards for users of all abilities. The modern user, however, is highly perceptive if there is a lack of authenticity when it comes to advocating for full accessibility and inclusivity of users. New generations of users are also much more vocal about disparities in equality and respond better to brands that are authentic and trustworthy — 90% of users, in fact. New users, however, expect these usability practices to be carried out, as opposed to stated in a cover-all blanket statement.

Related: Inclusion and Accessibility in the Digital Space

To ensure your digital product is usable to all audiences and highly inclusive, and you practice what you preach, incorporating accessibility tools to your online presence can begin with embedding plug-ins such as AccessiBe or ReciteMe, researching color contrast standards, alt-text and more to be fully inclusive. Inclusivity within copy content is also important to make all demographics of users feel welcomed and represented.

New generations of users are always going to challenge the status quo and disrupt the established norms for the better, and this has become highly evident in the digital design world. Designing and catering for users should be experimental, usable and modern to align with the times and the audience.

Goran Paun

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Principal, Creative Director

Goran Paun has spent the better part of his career helping companies with branding and design strategies by giving authenticity to their corporate identities through focused design, visual branding and UI/UX. Paun founded the full-service creative agency, ArtVersion, in 1999.

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