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What is good design to a demographic that prioritizes experiences over stuff?

With the rise in shared economy and an increasing trend of non-ownership, this was a curious, qualitative research study to gain a deeper understanding into the universe of products and services that millennials purchase. The study was conducted using generative exercises to access latent knowledge around their decision making and value system. 
14 weeks / Summer 2019

Millennials represent a large segment of the population and are an important target market for consumer companies. Born between 1980 and the early 2000s, they make up for roughly 25% of the U.S. population. 

They are important consumers that should be paid attention to because albeit a low spending generation, millennials are extremely loyal to the right brands. They choose to spend their scarce cash on products they believe will be worth it. It is important to understand their values and what makes a product worthy of their investment. 

Source: The Importance Of Millennial Consumers.” Investopedia.

Insights into how millennials see their universe of products and services

Products as vessels for experiences


Going much beyond traditional product boundaries, connected products offer new experiences with constant software upgrades. Millennials look at these products as a better investment because of their longevity. They are seen as vessels for new (upgradable) experiences. 



Creating experiential products that are long-lasting and upgradable. With blurring lines between products and services, there is opportunity for businesses to stay connected with their customers long after the product is sold, via digital offerings. 

Electric keyboard with an extensive online (upgradable) piano library 

 "Software is a big part of modern products. Customers can have better and better experiences with their products with constant updates." 


- Rain Zhou, participant

Products as means of self-expression 

With the ever expanding social media and networking platforms, millennials have grown to embrace multiple ways / modes of self-expression - from tattoos, travel pictures to personal blogs. They leverage different means to create different identities of themselves for distinct realties and audiences. Customization of products is another opportunity for them to create a unique identity and stand out. 



To connect with the millennial consumers, brands must understand and align with their values and aspirations. Brands are increasingly becoming a means of self-expression for this consumer base as everyday purchase decisions become part of their identity. 


Canon AE-1 film camera

 "I really like the vintage type feel and that's why I think this camera aligns with the aesthetic that I like. Also, getting a roll film developed every time is pretty exciting." 


- Erin Chan, participant

Hoarding life experiences over stuff


Investing in self is more important to millennials than investing in stuff. They want to experience different lifestyles, cultures, adventures in order to build their social capital and expand their world view. Hence, any business / service that helps them add to their knowledge and skills in an experiential format is valuable. Products associated with such memorable experiences often carry sentimental value. 



Identifying products that would shift from assets to tools (experiences) / what people will stop owning. Creating businesses around subscription-based ownership of products or services that fulfill customer aspirations. 

Hiking boots

"I went on a solo roadtrip by myself. In hindsight, I think I definitely would have had more fun with somebody else but it was one of those things that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do."


- Erin Chan, participant

Sharing makes it count

Just as one's house and car has traditionally defined their status, for millennials, expressing individuality via sharing their unique stories and experiences is what builds their social status. A lot of experiences are experienced just to be captured and shared - a behavior evident in the emerging pop-up museum culture.



Brands can gain attention by creating new, innovative, “limited-edition” experiences for their consumers. 

Businesses selling hardware products must also consider the experience of how their customers would instagram and show off their products after purchase. Designing a wholistic experience with their products, including capturing and sharing post purchase, is becoming increasingly essential. 


Photo credit: Unsplash

 "There's this feeling of needing people to know that you know of this new spot or food that not many people have tried."


- Kristina Comer, participant

Modest products are quiet and loyal 


In line with their principle of giving less importance to bank accounts and more to people and their life experiences, millennials prefer a lot of their belongings to be modest. These neutral, inconspicuous products do not give away information about their status to the world. Muji's concept of a universal line of "brandless" products with neutral, subtle aesthetics that do not scream for attention is a perfect example of how this value is addressed. 



With the increasing indifference among millennials towards brand labels, new businesses have the opportunity to create quality, minimalistic products. There is an increasing demand for clean, quiet and simple products. 

 "I just don't want to be perceived. The kind of thing that I like to emulate is simple and classic."


- Erin Chan, participant


4 Participants / 1 Expert interviewed

Participant specifications:

American Millennials (23 - 38 years)

Diverse group - Americans / Latin Americans / Asian Americans

Having their own space / room

People that value experiences over stuff 

Primary research using generative methods

Primary research tools

Secondary sources

Purpose of secondary research along with primary research was to gain a better understanding of the subject. It was also useful to support and frame primary research in context using the relevant market vocabulary in the research area. 


Research Analysis

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