User Centred Design & its influence on the Millennial Generation
tl;dr; UCD is helping shape the behaviour of current generations because everything is designed based on the needs of the user. And that is a good thing.
Millennials are commonly described as the “me, me, me generation”, they focus all their decisions on their needs, they switch tasks often, and they want ownership of everything.
I find that description unfair. I assume all previous generations judged sternly their successors. So it is not news that we are doing the same to Millenials or that I am being judged by that standard. Since I am old enough to be a Millenial or a Gen X, I think I can switch back and forth as I see fit. (Although, according to new research, I am a Xenial)
Millenials, like previous generations or future generations, are a product of their environment. We, as humanity, know more things and understand better how the world ticks. We have changed a lot of faith based decisions to data-based decisions. And, we have a major new tool at our disposal: Information & Communication Technologies (ICT).
ICT evolve fast and have given access to most human knowledge in a matter of seconds (Mason knowledge is by membership only, unless Sci-Hub Manages to get hold of their books). But not only that, ICT has changed the way we produce products. The key aspect is that we use a User Centred Design approach when building digital products. We focus on the user, we empathise with the user, we strive to understand the user, we take into account the user abilities and misgivings.
Millenials, and all future generations, are growing up getting used to having things designed for them. It is not their task to “think like a machine”, but rather the machine to be created according to the needs of users. It is not only what we are producing, but how we are producing it.
User Centred Design (UCD) comes in different flavours and shapes, but the core philosophy is the same across them: you design for the user; and in particular, you design to provide a good experience to the user. From a designer or engineer perspective, it is not ok to see someone unable to use our products because they don’t get it. The fault is not on the user, it is on who created it.
Like many things, the core principles of UCD are not new. It just that before it was reserved to people wealthy enough to afford their own in-house/designer or engineer. But even then, the user had to adapt to the way of thinking of the designer and understand the product put before them; but it was easier since the designer was right there to explain it. (I guess we can consider that Leonardo Da Vinci was the UCD for the Borgia’s War Machines).
Just like the scientific method sprung a revolution over the last 100 years, giving us several technological and scientific advances that we take for granted these days: Penicillin, vaccines, computers, cars, commercial electricity, and so on. UCD will continue to revolutionise our world and the behaviour of future generations. We will use UCD not only to produce digital products, but to create all types of new technologies.
UCD will permeate into other aspects of our lives because of two reasons: more products will have a digital component; and, people will demand more products created centred on them. Think about how Elon Musk (together with his team) created Tesla, or how Van Moof is designing bikes. There are plenty of electric cars out there, but besides the innovative engineering behind the Tesla Motor, users are crazy about the experience of driving a Tesla. And Van Moof bikes have a killer feature, that all of us bike users always wanted: if your bike gets stolen, they go and get it back to you! (Among other great biking features).
So, I will continue to get annoyed when I read articles condemning Millenials for everything: from eating avocado toast to job hopping(have the critics noticed that retirement plans changed and you no longer need to be tied to one company?). Just like I get annoyed every time I hear someone say that past times were better (they were not!).
Let people live their lives and take advantage of what the world and humanity have to offer. Do not stay tied down to old dogmas and let data and new scientific discovery shape your beliefs. And when we don’t have enough research or data to support a claim, again, let them live their lives!
This generation and future generations will continue to be shaped by the previous generation: changes we make to our environment, scientific and engineering discoveries, and different ways of solving problems. User Centred Design will continue to shape the behaviour of our generations, and as we shift to other paradigms like Human Centred Design or what ever comes next, new generations will have new behaviours and expectations acting over the world that the previous generation is building.
P.S. I stand by my claim (in Spanish) that Millenials at the University I was teaching were too conformist. May be they were expecting for an App to start the revolution.