Designing Apps for Different Generations

The generation in which we were born influences many things in our lives, including our relationship with technology. As a result, it’s valuable to consider generational demographics as you design and develop your app.

We’ve written before about market considerations for app development, noting the importance of defining your product vision and objectives prior to launching into any technical work. One of the most critical items to pinpoint is your target user — the person for whom your app solves a problem or meets a need.

The work to understand a target user is typically called customer segmentation. Customer segmentation is a strategic process of identifying a narrowed customer base with similar differentiators – demographic, geographic, behavioral, etc. The process not only helps your marketing efforts, but also allows you to better understand the behaviors and expectations your customers will have when using your product.

In this post, we are exploring a key demographic factor almost any project will want to consider – age. Currently, the market landscape is primarily made up of four generations with wildly different backgrounds and experiences in technology. Not surprisingly, each one has different motivations, preferences, and expectations when it comes to using technology. We will speak generally in this post about how generation impacts design — not to stereotype, but rather to analyze the expectations for each group and better equip you to build the most tailored product.

The Baby Boomers (Born 1946 – 1964)

Baby Boomers, currently 55-73 years old, have personally witnessed a remarkable evolution of technology — TVs became common in homes only shortly after many of them were born. A defining experience for the Baby Boomer generation was the Vietnam War Years, which caused this group to collectively value human rights and individual freedom like never before. Privacy and security concerns remain paramount when it comes to technology, and they are hesitant to give out personal information. This generation grew up having to leave the house to find entertainment and social interaction, and they highly value community as a result.

While Boomers still prefer to communicate face-to-face or with a telephone call, they’ve certainly adapted to the technology younger generations are using – utilizing smartphones, texting, online shopping, and social media to achieve their goals. In fact, a 2017 report from KPMG found that Baby Boomers shopped online just as frequently as Millennials, and actually outspent them, as they tend to buy items at a higher price point. While younger generations are leaving Facebook in favor of other social platforms – often quipping ‘Facebook is for old people’ – Baby Boomers continue to increase in numbers and engagement on the platform. A study by Fractl showed that Baby Boomers are 19% more likely than other groups to share content on Facebook daily.

App Design for the Baby Boomer Generation

There are several takeaways to consider when designing and developing products targeted at the Baby Boomer generation. While the demographic is certainly open to new technology, they need a straightforward user experience that won’t cause them to stumble when first using the app. Employing well-known interactions and common UI elements will allow them to connect intuitively with your digital product, and increase your chances of retention.

Additionally, products that provide transparency when it comes to how they’re collecting and using data will go a long way with Boomers. These users are currently concerned with housing, medical support, security, independence, and quality of life and are responsive to products that can offer them value in these areas. They’re aging gracefully, and looking for products that help them to personalize their experience when it comes to their diet, fitness, and lifestyle options.

Gen X (Born 1965 – 1976)

Generation X, currently 39-54 years old, spans the smallest number of years. While this generation can at times be overlooked, there are many reasons that make this age group crucial to the digital product landscape. This generation holds the greatest spending power at this point in time, as they are both raising Gen Z children and taking care of Baby Boomer parents. Many Gen Xers find themselves within the busiest period of their lives – beyond family considerations, they are hitting the peak of their careers and making the investments that will serve them long-term.

Generation X grew up in the midst of Watergate, the Reagan era, the end of the Cold War, and directly before the rise of computers and the explosion of internet technology. The generation is skeptical and pragmatic by nature, and will take the time to ask questions and feel confident in their decisions. In a lot of ways, they share qualities with their neighboring generations. From their Baby Boomer parents, Gen X inherited their work ethic and practical nature. They also still appreciate face-to-face interactions, whether in their social life or when it comes to purchasing.

However, their digital habits are more closely aligned with the Millennials generation. They’re highly connected through mobile phones and on social platforms. Indeed, many of them were early adopters and continue to embrace technology at the same pace. The greatest difference, is that Gen Xers remember a time of life without technology, and consequentially don’t use it in every facet of their lives. For example, Gen X is less likely to create or cultivate social relationships using technology than Millennials.

App Design for Generation X

When designing and developing for Generation X users, its important to keep in mind that these users are value-driven – weighing factors like cost, time, and energy simultaneously. Skip the fluff, and deliver relevant and straightforward information, design, and solutions to this demographic and you’ll find this generation with the highest brand loyalty to be customers for life.

Millennials or Gen Y (Born 1977 – 1995)

Millennials, currently 23-38 years old, experienced an upbringing unlike any other in history. While they initially learned how to do things ‘the old way,’ the generation was quickly characterized by the rise of the internet, the dot com boom and the surge of technological advancements that came along with it. Also called ‘digital natives,’ Millennials have been fundamentally shaped by technology when it comes to how they learn, work, socialize, buy, communicate, and play. The internet became the trusted authority when it comes to learning and information, and crucial to the way Millennials approach solving problems. Because of this, there is a disconnect between Millennials and previous generations as they disrupt the way things have been done.

Millennials are an extremely tech-savvy group of individuals that are dependent on tech in many facets of their lives. This demographic is the first group to be connected to their peers at all times and they leverage their social media networks for many purposes. Social media helps them stay in touch, connect with brands and companies, access news, ask for peer recommendations, and even connect to job opportunities, to name only a few. They value their lifestyles and relationships first, and make life and career decisions based off of those.

When it comes to communication, Millennials prefer to communicate using text messaging or direct message over a phone call. In the work place, platforms like Slack allow teams to connect and collaborate remotely and in real time, allowing Millennials the flexibility they desire in creating their work/life balance. Millennials are more open minded and civic oriented than previous generations. Collectively, this group wants to have an impact and contribute to a greater good. As the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, they already have and will continue to do so.

App Design for the Millennial Generation

Millennials place a high value on experiences over things, causing them to leverage technology to make it work for them. Digital products would do well to recognize their desire for connection and flexibility, and provide a solution that enhances their real life. This generation has grown up with the internet at their disposal and they expect transparency from companies and their products. They know quickly if something is providing value, and if they’re not sure, they’ve created a system of accountability through ratings, reviews and online forums that will tell them.

When it comes to design and development considerations, these users can intuitively interact with digital products, so keep the main focus on the value you are providing, but have fun with it. They are the early adopters of technology, and will continue to be adaptable as tech evolves.

Gen Z (Born 1996 – TBD)

These new kids on the block, currently 0-22 years old, are the first generation to grow up with the internet around for their entire lifetime – and it shows. Having grown up with the ability to learn at their fingertips, they’re a highly educated and independent group of individuals, many with entrepreneurial goals. With information at their disposal, they expect companies and technology to anticipate their desires, and are willing to move on when they don’t deliver. While they may be less loyal than previous generations to businesses and brands, that is not true when it comes to their peers. Gen Z values diversity and equality, and is already making waves when it comes to social and political issues.

They’re highly cognizant of their digital brand and its connection to their perceived identity. This generation is always cultivating their online presence, and are known to create fake, private accounts to share the ‘real stuff’ with their closest friends, while their curated feeds are meant to appeal to the masses. Sharing content is second-nature to them, and is certainly a functionality they’ve grown to expect from digital products.

App Design for Generation Z

While tongue-in-cheek, the popular phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” is said for a reason. Apps targeted at Gen Z would do well to consider how their users can share and interact with others on the platform, or else risk their users asking “what’s the point?” Gen Z users are willing to provide information in exchange for a more personalized experience. For example, these users will have no problem logging into a new app using their Facebook or Twitter credentials, if it results in a better experience by automatically being connected to their contacts and interests. Gen Z is accustomed to tailored technology, and will continue to expect predictive technology to be as reliable and adaptable as they are.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully we’ve given you a sense for some of the nuance required in designing apps for different generations. We recognize that many products, though, may be solutions for users spanning multiple generations.

Thankfully, users in neighboring generations often have some overlap when it comes to their behaviors and expectations, and you may find your app’s features are equally well received by more than one generation. In other cases, you may need to be more intentional to provide features that can accommodate one group while delighting another. For example, if you want to address Boomers and Gen Z, you may need to ensure your on-boarding process is familiar enough for the older generation, while still providing more modern authentication options for the younger generation.

Also remember that age is just one factor to consider when building a new digital product; it may not be particularly determinative for your app. Perhaps in looking at gender, industry, geography, income or education level – or other differentiators – you will find other commonalities/differences that are more crucial. The goal is to use these insights to inform and maximize the value your digital solution is providing to your users.

As always, we are here for you as a resource. Please contact us if you have questions about how generational demographics might impact your app development project.