Net Gen and Design

The net gen has significant influence on the world of technology and design

People have been talking about the generation gap for many years. I remember my parents telling my sister to turn down her record player like it was yesterday.  Herman's Hermits, the Beatles, and other British bands had clearly invaded more than America, they invaded the Hill household. My sister's love of the Beatles was mystifying to my dad. Music was Mozart, not mop tops with odd collarless suits and crazed women fainting at the sight of a guy named Ringo. Decades later, it turns out that both my dad and sister knew what was special in the world of music, but at the time, the generation gap was very real.

Portable music technology and design circa 1965

Today, the generation gap continues, but it seems to have stretched even wider due to the rapid changes in technology. I didn't own my first personal computer until I was in my late 30's. My children, on the other hand, were nearly born with them. The generation I am talking about  is often refered to as Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, Generation Next or theNet Gen.  This group is marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. They don't fear new technology, they just think it's too slow. They rarely use email, and probably have no idea what a stamp costs or that you used to lick them. I just read an interesting article published by Beloit College about what they call the Annual College Mindset List. They have published this fascinating and entertaining list since 1998. Here is an excerpt from the introduction to this years class of 2014 list: The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since "digital" has always been in the cultural DNA, they've never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The Beloit College list helps us to put into context the "mindset" of this latest generation. The list provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. 

Here are three of my favorites from this years list: They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station. All of this is important because it helps to put the designer in the mindset of the latest generation of customers and technology critics. Do they care about the SysRq key, or would they prefer a Skype optimized camera ? Is it about the latest colors, or authenticity of materials? How does the environmentally responsible factor play out for a generation who never bought a hamburger in a styrofoam clamshell?  Designers always need to have a view on what's next. What better way to study where we are going, than to understand who is leading the way.

David Hill