in Strategy, User Experience

The generation expectation is an in-depth article describing how the generation you were born in affects how you use technology and what you expect it to do

Do you know what generation you were born in? Experts argue endlessly about the dates of the various generations. For example, I was born in 1964 which—by most research—puts me right at the beginning of Generation X. But some researchers say I am tail-end Baby Boomer. I personally identify with Gen X far more than Boomers. For the purposes of this article however, let’s use these generally agreed-upon dates:

SILENT GENERATION

Also called: Traditionalists, Greatest Generation
Years: 1929–1945
Archetype: The Artist

Defining Events and Influences:

Great Depression, World War II, Dust Bowl, Korean War, Jazz, Surrealism, American Realist Painting, Alcoholism, 40-Hour Work Week, Unions, Family Car, Saturday Evening Post, Atomic Energy, Cold War, Communism, Joe McCarthy, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Hefner, Productivity, End of Agricultural Society, Pool Halls, American Know-How.

If you still prefer newspapers, you’re Silent Gen

You’re the most patient with websites, most likely to read the disclaimers and most frustrated by slang terminology. You dislike trendy user interfaces that have lots of huge videos and very little to actually read. You scroll when it’s obvious to do so and the site offers good content. You double-check all your form fields before hitting submit and still don’t see why “password123” isn’t a good password. You probably type entire URLs into Google. Your grandchildren get upset when you do this, but it seems to work, so you keep doing it, out of habit. You assume no one your age is on social media, and you’re completely wrong about that. You’re the fastest growing group.

How the Silent Generation Uses the Web:

Silent Generation members take the most time completing tasks online. Part of this is due to your generation’s cautiousness and part of it is simply age. Your aging vision and possible cataracts are likely to make small type painful to read. You long for the days when websites (prior to mobile) offered a way to increase the type size. Why did they stop doing that? Despite what marketers claim, you do enjoy videos, especially when they teach you something new and are easy to share.

Most of your time online is spent reading news, history and looking at family photos on Facebook. You use email as your primary online communication, and often write extremely long emails as if you won’t hear from the person again. You are delighted when a company reaches out to you or helps you quickly (for you, that’s under 72 hours). You are not fond of smartphones, but if you have one, it’s for sharing photos of grandkids and occasionally texting. Many of you own simple phones like Jitterbugs because failing vision and cataracts make tiny icons difficult to see and understand.

“Research indicates that when users hit 25, the amount of time needed to complete digital tasks increases by 0.8% as they age each year, withmore time being spent on each page and more visits before a task is completed.”


BABY BOOMERS

Also called: Boomers
Years: 1946–1963
Archetype: The Prophet

Defining Events and Influences:

Hippies, Economic Recovery, Television, Civil Rights, MLK, Viet Nam War, Rock and Roll, Apollo Moon Landing, Mainframe Computers, Disco, Psychedelic Drugs and Posters, Packaged Foods, Big American Cars, Prime Time TV, Playboy, Mass Consumerism, Bra-Burning, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Dick Clark, Andy Warhol, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, JFK, Lenny Bruce, Johnny Carson, Pinball Games, Pay someone to fix It.

Long hair, don’t care

Still won’t cut off that silver ponytail despite being semi-bald? Sorry, it looks awful, but we love you for your willful resistance to feeling old. You were the generation who saw paperwork turn to computer work. For you, technology is something that you use to get things done, mostly at work. You are likely to be heard saying, “Ugh, I have to turn this thing off! I was on my computer for two whole hours today,” leaving the younger generations to think, “And your point?” While you still read print editions of newspapers, you use the internet 82% of the time to research a topic of interest. Your mobile phone has a Bell telephone-style ringtone at an upsettingly loud volume.

How Baby Boomers Use the Web:

You are probably the first boss to have to deal with a company website. To you, it is an online brochure, but not likely to help sales, in your experience. When it came to designing a company website, you are of the opinion that no one scrolls and the meat of the content must be above the fold or no one will see it. And you’d be 100% wrong. Well, 92% wrong actually.

This is because you learned web design rules early on, before we had (literally) millions of user tests that proved most of what we believed was correct about Web behavior—even as recently as four years ago—was based on assumptions, opinions and anecdotal evidence. Everybody scrolls. You Boomers love your laptops and big screen iMacs and Dells.

While you probably have an iPhone, it isn’t your primary web device. If you do use a mobile device for the Web, it’s probably a tablet. You use your phone for—gasp—actually calling people. You occasionally text family members—often in all caps because you “forgot how to turn the damn caps lock off.” You love getting quick responses from companies, either on their chat or via email response. You tell all your friends when you get a company email that is personal and helpful as you miss the days of in-person service.

According to a 2015 BuzzStream and Fractal joint study, you Boomers consume most of your web content between early morning and noon. Baby Boomers peak between 9AM and 12PM with more than 20% of respondents online during this time range. You like to read about entertainment, world news, politics, technology sports and local news.

Despite your complaints that Millennials are “never in the real world,” you Baby Boomers actually spend more time online per week than Millennials do (27 hours, compared to 25 for Millennials). The site you love most? Facebook, where most of you are spending 11+ hours a week. More than all other sites combined.


GEN X

Also called: Generation X, Latch Key Kids
Years: 1964–1980
Archetype: The Nomad

Defining Events and Influences:

Punk Rockers, Birth Control, Watergate, AIDS, AOL, Mad Cow Disease, Threat of Nuclear War, Berlin Wall, Desktop and Laptop Computers, Mac vs. Windows, MTV, Vanity Fair, Hacking, Animal Rights, Synthetic Drugs, VCRs, First Cellphones, Pagers, Recycling, PETA, Junk Food, Japanese Cars, Indie Bands, Comics and Culture, Vegetarianism, Blade Runner, Mad Max, The Terminator, Grunge Rock, Metrosexuals, DIY Tattoos, Steven Wright, David Lynch, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, Steve Jobs, Princess Diana, Bill Gates, End of Job Security, Freelancing, Anarchy and Libertarianism, Video Games, AI, Webcams, 19 Year-Old Entrepreneurs, Hack it.

If you hate other generations, you’re Gen X

You are the apathetic ones, skeptical of authority, of the written word and of traditions (unless they happen to fit your world-view that day). You grew up on the first desktop computers. I am a great example of this generation. I was a beta tester in college for a new application called Adobe Photoshop. I bought the very first Macintosh (before we called them ‘Macs’). Despite the apathetic attitudes and latchkey upbringings of Generation X, this is the most educated group in history, with 6% more bachelors (or higher) degrees than Boomers. Considering how small the population of this group is, that’s impressive.

Gen X’ers are the best researchers on the Web, especially when it comes to finding good prices, reading reviews prior to purchasing or considering security. We were the first computer hackers and the first to animate splash pages in Flash (sorry about that).

How Gen X Uses the Web:

If you are from Gen X, you prefer clear language on websites, have no problem with scrolling and love when your data actually syncs across devices without losing years of work. You blast through websites like a Type A personality, even if you are the shyest person around. You hate banner ads and being marketed to in general. Gen X grew up with “You’ve Got Mail” and the first BBS’ and forums so it is natural to you to reach out on forums and chat for help.

While you often sign up for social networks to see what the fuss is about, you are just as quick to dismiss them as lame and leave your account to wither. You lurk on social networks, rarely contributing—except on the photography networks (like Flickr, SmugMug, and 500px) which Gen X’ers tend to dominate. The other sites you dominate?

Gen X is online mostly at night, peaking between 8PM and midnight. You tend to read a lot on entertainment, comedy, healthy living, world news, politics and personal finance.


MILLENNIALS

Also called: Gen Y
Years: 1981–1994
Archetype: The Hero

Defining Events and Influences:

Hipsters, The World Wide Web, First African American President, American Idol, Craft Beer, Gay Rights, Mixed Race Marriages, Oklahoma City Bombing, SARS Virus, Linux, Going Vegan, Paleo Diet, Nano Breweries, Über, HGTV, DVR, Nano-Technology, Anti-Vaxxers, Nude Selfies, Streaming Media, Y2K, Swine Flu, Barrack Obama, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Tattoos with Mom, Shepard Fairey, Lady Gaga, Tim Cook, Remote Working, Tiny Homes, Virtual Reality, Destination Weddings, Sustainability, Starbucks, Responsive Web, Helicopter Parents, Trophies for Everyone, Mobile Games, 12 Year-Old Entrepreneurs, DIY.

If you love SnapChat, you’re a Millennial

Period. The older generations hate that app. Just kidding. Not really.

Having always had cable TV, internet and continual access to information, you love instant gratification and have the lowest attention span, rarely reading anything in depth. You don’t put too much emphasis on large investments like homes or cars. No wonder you love SnapChat so much; you crave the ephemeral and have little regard for permanence (so why is Gen X called the Nomad?). You Millennials consider the internet to be a given, like clean air. In fact, the quickest way to keep Millennials from being a return customer is to charge for wifi.

If you do own your own home (probably a tiny home) it will likely include some of the first smart home devices like a Nest® thermostat or some Philips Smart Hue bulbs. You almost never watch cable, getting the majority of your entertainment from Netflix and the bulk of your news from Facebook and SnapChat.

How Millennials Use the Web:

You prefer swiping to scrolling, although you love long, scrolling pages, or at least designing them. Millennials have the most connections online, but the fewest actual close friends. You often text someone who is right next to you. You do not consider it disrespectful or rude to use your phone during a business meeting—especially when you were simply researching more information pertinent to the meeting.

You have the second highest (so far) internet usage of any group (93%) and tend to access it through your iPhone or Android and account 40% of all video views. Like Gen X, you are online more in the late evening and your favorite content is generally entertainment, tech-based or sports. Nielsen described Millennials as “Don’t call me. Friend me.” and that is the truth. Millennials favorite place to catch up on social media? The bathroom.

You love cause marketing and will gladly support numerous causes—even if you know little about them if the cause site seems compelling enough. Ninety percent of Millennials are likely to switch from one brand to another — even when price and quality are equal — if the second supports a cause. You will also gladly donate money if it’s easy to do (PayPal, Wallet, Stripe, Amazon Pay, etc.).


GEN Z

Years: 1995–2012
Archetype: The Artist

Defining Events and Influences:

9/11, ISIS, Al Qaida, Smartphones, Diverse, Living with Terrorism, Always at War, iPods, Growing Up with Social Media, Arduino, Pi, LEGOs, Zika Virus, Messaging Apps, Reclaiming Privacy, Drones, Apple Watch, Transgender Identities, No Style as a Style, Gender Neutral, Cyber-Bullying, Black Lives Matter, Movie Reboots, Target Hack, Banking Crisis, Augmented Reality, 9 Year-Old Entrepreneurs, Invent it.

If you had a Facebook profile when you were five, you’re Gen Z

Generation Z—the children of Gen Xer’s—stand in stark contrast to the open lives of the Millennials. Where Millennials think nothing of sending nude selfies, SnapChatting themselves getting pulled over, or live streaming, well… everything, Gen Z is cautious, private and sensible. They do not want to be photographed getting in trouble like Millennials did. In fact, many of them exhibit disdain for the casualness of Millennials, and probably have more in common with their Silent Generation, great-grandparents. A Sparks & Honey trend report called, “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials” asserted that this group places a lot of emphasis on being “mature and in control.” Forty-two percent of this youngest generation said that social media has a direct impact on how they feel about themselves.

According to the Center for Generational Kinetics: “What is most interesting is that what worked for Millennials does not seem to be working as well with Gen Z, and this creates tremendous challenges and opportunities for organizations of all sizes and in all industries.”

How Gen Z Uses the Web:

Gen Z holds the record for time spent online, averaging 10–12 hours per day online (compared with Millennials at 25 hours per week). Yes, they spend more time online than their parents spend working. You also are big on the cord-cutting idea. And according to Nielsen, 40% of you have no plans to get cable service (except for Internet).

Their attention span on the Web is the same as offline; short. Not because they lack an attention span, but because they are hyper-focused and don’t like wasting their time. Think 12-year-olds who act like busy CEOs. They also prefer short messaging upfront. If your positioning statement (or some statement of purpose) isn’t the first thing they see on your site or app, they are gone and not likely to return. Gen Z kids believe that 13 is the appropriate age for a child to have a mobile device. Gen Z kids are wary of credit card usage on the Web unless it’s through an app specialized for that purpose like Venmo or Cash.

Gen Z are not big fans of voice-activated interfaces, despite the mad rush to implement them. This may be due in part to this generation still being under the legal driving age and unlikely to be cooking all the time. Once they have had a need to use a hands-free device, this may change. Gen Z believe their experience with technology will help them achieve their life goals.


GENERATION ALPHA

Years: 2010–2025
Archetype: TBD, probably The Prophet

Defining Events and Influences:

Having a social media profile at birth, Mixed Reality, Trump, a return to conservative values, device addiction.

If your baby toys had touch screens, you’re Alpha Gen

The oldest members of this generation are seven-years-old. In a few years, this generation will begin showing us what they have to offer the world. We do know a few things about this generation. They become instant addicts to devices and exhibit behavioral issues when separated from devices.


Are you designing properly for all generations?

Webmentions

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