What millennials and Gen Z users expect from their online experiences – and how to deliver it

Opinions expressed by businesskinda.com contributors are their own.

Time is the catalyst for change. Whether it’s a push for new standards, a sudden change in trends, or new ideas that relate to established rhetoric, time never stands still. In the world of digital UI/UX design, innovation and industry standards are constantly changing, and designers and developers are often looking for new forms of ingenuity to improve experiences and digital products. With the change in preferences comes new generations of users who are more outspoken about the changes and standards they want within a design.

We live in an era where our society is saturated with all things digital which has made standing out from the crowd a new angle of competitive marketing, and its greatest asset is the latest generations who are tuned in not to waste time on a web design or digital interface that does not propel their experience. Younger generations of users who grew up with exposure to the online world — particularly Millennials or Gen Z users — are placing greater demands on their online experiences, and ensuring your brand pairs their energy with experiential and people-centric digital products enables businesses to have that competitive advantage. So how can brands design their websites, mobile applications, and even copy to connect with a newer generation of users? Honestly, it starts with paying attention to your target audience.

Related: Good design is good business

Convenience is key

Modern digital ecosystems are made to be fast, easy and highly usable to boost the overall experience. For newer generations of users, these three features are immediately noticeable, and if one of the three is missing, it is also very noticeable, which can distract your users from a design. The online world has led many users to expect speed from whatever digital product they interact with as today’s attention span for these digital experiences is said to be around 8 seconds. If their interest isn’t piqued within that little window, many users will look for an alternative that suppresses their impatience. Furthermore, the modern user expects every website to be responsive on mobile or tablet, for instant results on the go. In reality, 55% of global online visits come from mobile, as opposed to 43% that come from desktop interactions.

So making sure your brand’s online presence is made for mobile is a key factor that shouldn’t be put on the back burner. Modern audiences expect their searches to extend to mobile and be fully usable like on a desktop. Irrespective of the services offered, information shared, or e-commerce products sold, your website should be highly responsive to all propulsion conversations and in line with modern expectations. If your website is suitable for an e-commerce platform, it’s critical to ensure that your users can browse, shop, and checkout without interruption. Plus, making sure your visual hierarchy is built for mobile also seamlessly creates an impactful experience. Finally, certifying that your content – whether visual or readable – is easily digestible and clear is what modern users prefer.

The influence of social media

It’s no secret that the rise of social media has dramatically changed not only our daily interactions, but also our exposure to new brands. Currently, many social media channels carry themselves as tools to communicate with others. Lately, however, it has had an opaque undercurrent of marketing strategies, e-commerce, and overall brand recognition. For newer generations of users, social media is a big part of their daily interactions and ways of sharing information. Many established legacy brands have emphasized their social media presence to drive engagement and brand awareness.

In reality, 88% of companies have hired at least one social media coordinator because of the opportunities it brings and the audience they want to address. Social media channels allow for faster communication with modern users and for e-commerce purposes. When brands interact with their users on social media platforms, it builds a level of authenticity and trust because of these more casual forms of business-to-consumer communication strategies to answer questions or just talk about their brand.

By as much 78% of Gen Z users and 67% of millennial users who use social media to discover and learn about brands, achieving a strong online presence has become just as important as having a website online. Social media has become a portal for brands to use these “casual” platforms to boost their sales conversions to newer generations of users. Your website should have easy modes for users to find your social media platforms and vice versa. If a brand is discovered through social platforms, it is critical that the excitement they felt there is transferred to your website.

Related: The business of harnessing the power of social media

A positive experience inside and outside of social media interactions is very valuable for modern users. However, it’s important to remember that when interacting with users on social media, your social media posts and your voice align with your brand. These further increase the recognisability of the brand. Newer generations of users prefer a casual, more playful tone of social media engagement, and if that doesn’t resonate with your brand or doesn’t translate well to your social media brand testimonial, it can erode your brand identity. The overall identity of your brand must remain authentic, approachable and attractive to appeal to the new generations of marketing, design and recognisability.

A sincere urge for accessible experiences

In our own digital design agency, we have always been an advocate for promoting usability and accessibility for all users, as this should never be an afterthought. Still, not all websites are created equal. Many brands’ websites are still not fully AAA compliant W3C or do not have fully accessible and inclusive standards for users of all levels. However, the modern user is very perceptive if there is a lack of authenticity when it comes to advocating full accessibility and user inclusiveness. New generations of users are also much more outspoken about equality differences and more responsive to brands that are authentic and trustworthy — 90% of users actually. However, new users expect these usability practices to be performed, contrary to what is stated in an all-encompassing general statement.

Related: Inclusion and Accessibility in the Digital Space

To ensure your digital product is usable by all audiences and highly inclusive, and you practice what you preach, you can start incorporating accessibility tools into your online presence by embedding plugins like AccessiBe or ReciteMe, explore color contrast standards, alt-text and more to be fully inclusive. Inclusion within copy content is also important to ensure that all user demographics feel welcomed and represented.

New generations of users will always challenge the status quo and disrupt established norms for the better, and this has become abundantly clear in the digital design world. Design and catering to users must be experimental, usable and modern to match the times and audiences.