Designing for Millennials: Striving to Slow Down and Connect

In February, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about the subject of Designing for Millennials, hosted by Artistic Tile. Part of a daylong event celebrating the design industry at the San Francisco Design Center, the panel included myself and my colleagues, Lizette Marie Bruckstein and Regan Baker. Moderated by Traditional Home magazine’s Senior Designer and Lifestyle Editor, Jenny Bradley Pfeffer. (Photo by Nikki Richter)

Because inquiring minds want to know: How do Millennials shop? What are their spending habits? And what elements or aspects of design intrigue them?

The trending definition of Millennials is anyone born in or after 1984. (For a succinct and entertaining, if also somewhat daunting discussion of the M-generation, see Simon Sinek’s popular talk, “The Millennial Question” on YouTube.)

As Sinek describes, this is a generation that has grown up with the concept that things happen quickly. Everything from conversations to shopping and shipping online. They are quite used to instant gratification. Their challenge is to slow down. Their achilles heels are patience, and depth of connection.

Regan Baker and Laura Martin Bovard connecting about millennials and design. (Photo credit: Nikki Richter)

Regarding their buying habits, what they are drawn to, this is a generation that wants things to be unique; they don’t care about brand names. This is the age of maker culture, by-hand, locally-sourced. And they care about the environment.

They make great clients for us for all these reasons; they have the same value system I do.

However, based on their experience of growing up with the Internet and instant-gratification technologies, they may need a fair amount of education about working with designers. They are accustomed to want-it-quick-and-now. Because they have access to everything — or at least they think they do — they may not realize that the design process, to be done well, takes time. And they may not know that higher-quality bespoke pieces are only available through the trade.

It takes time to infuse soul into an environment, a beautiful, welcoming space is created over time, with multiple layers that communicate well with each other.

Eco-Chic and Unique: A Sofa a Millennial — or anyone — might adore: Exemplifying the desires Millennials express, to be unique, to make a difference in the world, and also according to Sinek, to be comfortable, this custom-designed sofa in a condominium we designed in San Francisco’s Dogpatch District is made from eco-friendly materials including a cozy gray flannel cover that invites snuggling and napping. Photo credit: Ramona d’Viola.

Evidence of their buying habits: They want their homes to look different; they don’t want to see same thing in their house as in their friends’ houses, which is why retail design giants like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware are currently struggling.

So, from an industry perspective, we are challenged to educate them about the practices of artisanal production, and the value of patience.

The good news about this generation is that they are eco-conscious; they are curious to learn the best way to “go green” with their purchases and choices. And they deeply care about the impact they have, in their careers and in their personal lives.

As Sinek points out, Facebook and Instagram have taught us all how to put on filters and present our best selves, but a deeply felt, soulful life is messy; and even online dating has taken away the risk humans used to take to be awkward with each other, to walk up to someone and say, “Hello.”

There is a desire, no matter what year you were born, to feel connected; to be authentic.

Ultimately, designing your home and designing your life is about creating and living from your heart. Because of the era of technology (and a few other things Sinek blames, including overly-praise-filled parenting, the concept of “participation medals,” and a corporate culture that prioritizes productivity over humanity) Millennials may need additional help navigating the necessarily meandering path to satisfaction in job, life and home.

Family room we designed for a Millennial-generation couple and their growing family, featuring eco-conscious and beautiful materials and colors, layered textures. From our portfolio, Hillsborough Haven. Photo by Eric Rorer.

As designers, we help with the home part. And that creates the haven from which all other tasks are possible, and to which we can retire to restore ourselves after a long, messy day of taking risks to become our best selves.

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Laura Martin Bovard

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