Fjord Design Strategy and Innovation Internship: Gen Z and the Future of Work

The next generation is about to enter the working population, and they’re going to do it in a radically different way.

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Overview

Over the summer I had the incredible opportunity to intern at Fjord in their Los Angeles location as a part of their summer immersion program. I was with my design partner, the incredible Cynthia Gao and together we spent our time with UX and service designers, PMs, design strategists, and visual designers to better understand and redesign ways that generation Z might enter the workforce. In the end, we conducted many interviews, circulated around surveys, and did a deep dive into the Gen Z mindset that ended up in a digital product to help gen Z navigate the professional world to achieve their personal goals while providing benefit to employers at the same time.

Process

After receiving the prompt, we knew we needed to start with some heavy desktop research in order to achieve a better understanding of Gen Z. This initial research phase was interesting because it became apparent very quickly that certain publications such as Forbes and Business Inc. had a very limited perspective on Gen Z’s interests and objectives. Digging deep enough we found that almost every article or “study” on Gen Z branched from a single Nielsen study. While we got some great nuggets from the desktop research, there was a fairly obvious echo chamber and we would have to do more direct research to get what we were after.

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The key takeaways are that Gen Z is born roughly between 1995–2015, they make up 26% of the US population, and they will be possibly the largest driving force of change in professional communities in the next 5 years.
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Business Inc. asked 3,000 kids between the ages of 8–12 “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

During our desktop research we came across a few points of context that are very important when it comes to understanding the Gen Z mindset:

  • Growing up during the 2008 recession: The surface level way of looking at this point is to understand that Gen Z will value security heavily when it comes to money. While this is definitely true, we found some things during our direct research that complicated this a bit. Gen Z did, however, definitely grow up in a complicated financial atmosphere and as a broad trend they are more careful and understanding of the value of money than the generations coming directly before them.
  • They have more digital influences than any other generation: This generation is the first one to grow up as true digital natives and their access to information is overwhelming. YouTube, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok. Anything they can dream of wanting to know, they can find, and in a highly visual format.
  • They have many diverse options for education and how to make money: College is getting harder and harder to justify as it gets more expensive and digital learning platforms become more robust.

For our direct research, we greatly leveraged Gen Z’s home field: social media. I designed graphics to be posted on Instagram stories, Snapchat, and Twitter to drive relevant traffic to a 20 question Google Form we created. This was surprisingly effective because according to the analytics we received 100 responses in 2 days where 30 were friends we knew and 70 responses were organic traffic through social media.

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In addition to the survey responses, we also conducted a handful of phone and in-person interviews which was fairly easy because Cynthia and I are technically both “Gen Z” and as we were beginning to look for jobs we also had many friends also looking for their first full job. Most of our research focused on two parts: the job search, and the ideal job. This gave us all the information we needed to synthesize key insights.

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Ownership: Gen Z desires both entrepreneurial opportunities and job security.

We learned through our research that while there is a significant desire for job and financial security, Gen Z is also representing an overwhelmingly strong interest in entrepreneurship. A large number of respondents expressed their dream job as “being the founder of my own company”, 56/100 said they were working on a “side project”, and 47/100 said they would pursue it full time if it were successful. Gen Z desires ownership over the projects that they make and want to take initiative and drive impactful work.

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Would you prefer to work on-site or remotely?

Connection: Gen Z prioritizes human interaction and connection.

Not only does Gen Z actively seek community, but they also seek the company of those that inspire them. Growing up in a highly digital environment has made human interaction and connection increasingly valuable because of its growing rarity in the workplace. Those we interviewed expressed a desire for professional mentorship and companionship.

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Growth: Gen Z seeks opportunities for professional growth and exploring multidisciplinary skill sets.

Gen Z is going to be the most professionally multidisciplinary generation ever. Because of their access to platforms like YouTube, they are able to learn new and complex skills and are exposed to many professional skillsets. This is probably the most important insight we were able to take away from the research.

Gen Z is actively using professional environments as a tool for growth in different directions. When asked “What do you value most when it comes to looking for a job?” they prioritized opportunities for professional growth over salary.

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Balance: Gen Z is actively looking for ways to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Growing up with many digital sources fighting for their attention has made Gen Z conscious and aware of how they use technology and the effect it has on their lives. They will be looking for ways to avoid “burn out” and seek environments that respect their desire for work-life balance.

Based on our insights, we reframed our prompt into a more directed “how might we” statement:

How might we channel and empower Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit and multidisciplinary skill sets and drive innovation in the workplace?

The Solution

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One of the core goals of our product was to give the user a reflective bird’s eye view of their entire professional life. It’s a dashboard and digital assistant where you can put in all the things you are working on, whether that’s in your job or as part of your side project, and you can input and track metrics like skill areas you are growing in, how you feel about each task, and long term goals to visualize.

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This is our task board which features our user who works at Google but does freelance design on the side. Both areas of life are represented on the board. After each session of a task, the user can respond to how the session made them feel. This will create data that can be plotted over time allowing the user to better visualize and make decisions about where they should focus their time and energy.

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Understanding Gen Z’s multidisciplinary nature, we wanted to let them visualize multiple possible branching career paths and how they might overlap or intersect.

While nothing can replace in-person mentorship, we wanted to approach the digital element of mentorship in two ways. The first was making smart recommendations. Based on the user’s defined goals (in this case transitioning from a UI designer to an art director at Google) the digital assistant will make smart recommendations such as books or articles to read, people to talk to within the company, and mindfulness strategies along the way.

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Reflection

I had a truly incredible time at Fjord and what I learned more than anything else was the power of communication in professional settings. Because everyone was a designer in some form or another, we had a shared language.

Because of my major of “Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation” at the USC Iovine and Young Academy, I am often the one who will bridge the communication gap across disciplines and remind teams how important it is for good design to be integral to their mission. At Fjord, this is something everyone understood very deeply and whether it was working on projects internally or working with clients they were all master communicators.

Thank you to everyone there for guiding me, showing me what you’re working on when I poke around, and all the rooftop lunches. Thank you to Cynthia for keeping me on track when we were about to crash into a deadline, and thank you to all the teachers and professors who led to this experience. I’ve grown an incredible amount both personally and professionally and I’m excited for what comes next.

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Written by

Studying the intersection of Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation at USC’s Iovine and Young Academy

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