The rise of Gen Z: What you need to know about this new era in marketing

Gen Z. This generation was immersed in the internet from childhood, with most owning a smartphone by their 10th birthday.

So, what makes this digital-savvy and hugely diverse generation tick when it comes to design? Designers can tailor their outputs to appeal to this hyper-visual demographic, with these useful insights.

Individuals born between 1995 and 2012 are referred to as Generation Z, as well as Zoomers, Plurals, and Post-Millennials. This digital-savvy generation grew up with the internet, likely had their whole childhoods documented on Facebook, and consider social media to be their primary source of information and social interaction.

They’re the greatest consumers of media, spending up to nine hours a day browsing online and watching YouTube videos. Because of this, Gen Z can be dismissed as seeming to live solely within a digitally-constructed world. However, this demographic is full of activists pushing for change.

Gen Z has incredibly broad exposure to information and different designs. As a result, they can be difficult to umbrella target with marketing campaigns.

Designers have to be more nuanced when creating media for this easily-distracted demographic.

Keep in mind that Gen Z has a sixth sense for inauthenticity, though. Brands that communicate to this group on personal and authentic levels will always win over soulless corporate campaigns.

What makes Gen Z tick? These core design trends will help you create campaigns and brands that tap into the Gen Z psyche:

  1. Amped-up nostalgia

  2. Hyper-visuality

  3. The Metaverse

  4. Fluidity

  5. Gothcore

Read on to discover more about these key trends and how to put research-driven insights into action.

1. Amped-Up Nostalgia

As a broad rule, every generation romanticises the designs loved by a younger generation from two decades before. This is usually connected to the nostalgia of childhood. We are attracted to designs that feature styles that surrounded us in our youth.

Gen Z has ripped up the rulebook, taking a mix-and-match approach to nostalgic styling. They are particularly attracted to ’90s and early 2000s-influenced designs, which represent a rose-tinted pre-social media era.

They also have a tendency to mix a wide range of vintage and retro influences from a variety of decades. This is likely due to the fact that this Gen Z has access to a wide range of nostalgic influences on the internet, resulting in designs that blend a broad spectrum of retro aesthetics.

For designers, an easy way to tap into this amped-up nostalgia trend is to use textures and backgrounds that have a vintage, physical feel. Torn paper, Windows 95 fonts, and Polaroid-style photography are surefire ways to bring instant nostalgic appeal to any Gen Z design.

2. Hyper-Visuality

Muted colors and subtle layouts are not design features that will charm over-stimulated Gen Zers. This demographic is exposed to an onslaught of imagery online each day. They are extremely visually aware as a result.

Make your designs hyper-visual, looking to ultra-bright colors, gradients, exaggerated imagery (through collage or anime-derived styling), and animation.

3D typography is a micro-trend that holds particular appeal to Gen Z. Think early 2000s R&B font styles that could be lifted from Word Art, and you’re on the right track.

While neon colors have over-saturated the internet, you can still achieve hyper-visuality through bright pastels or rainbow palettes. Gen Z is responsive to ambiguous colors such as purple and violet.

It would seem they also don’t respond to gender-specific coding, meaning that traditional designers are scratching their heads over pinks and blues.

With Gen Z responding to ambiguous colors, violet and pink are good color choices for this demographic.

The overall message for designing for the hyper-visual Generation Z? Go bold or go home.

3. The Metaverse

The much-hyped term Metaverse—often discussed by tech CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Satya Nadella—refers to what’s considered to be the next evolutionary stage of the internet.

A series of interconnected virtual worlds, in which social interaction is the primary impetus, these worlds will be structured around virtual and augmented reality.

While you can interact with a form of the Metaverse now through games like Fortnite, it’s still unclear how the Metaverse will fully take shape in the future.

So, what does this largely abstract idea have in relation to designing for Gen Z? This group will be the generation to create the Metaverse and inhabit it, too. There’s a sense of growing anticipation for this next stage of the internet, and there’s a whole culture of games, avatars, art, and designs that relate to the Metaverse.

Avatars have become an intrinsic part of self-identity for many Gen Z individuals. Designs that use avatar-like characters or cartoon-like imagery will attract Metaverse-hungry eyes.

Photography and graphics can be given game-like characteristics, such as exaggerated features, costumes, or cutesy styling.

With the NFT market booming, the idea of what Gen Z people consider to be art is rapidly changing. Digital art that references memes, cartoons, and popular culture is this generation’s incarnation of Pop Art.

For designers, this means that images that were once considered simply humorous internet-fillers are now a central part of creative culture. Brands that use NFT-inspired imagery in campaigns and designs can sometimes replace human subjects with avatars.

Fashion brands are already taking full advantage. High-end houses like Balenciaga, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton are charging users to dress avatars in their luxury garbs. They also feature avatars in advertising campaigns.

4. Fluidity, and Activism

Gen Z has pushed for social change. They are the most activism-driven generation since the counterculture of the 1960s.

For designers, this means that campaigns need to feel attuned to a range of issues to remain relevant.

Gen Z is wary of brands that are out-of-touch, even in the smallest of ways, so it’s paramount that designers keep the content of communications (as well as aesthetics) at the forefront of the creative process.

Designs that tap into fluidity will hold the attention of a Gen Z viewer for longer. It also helps if designs feel genuine, authentic, and personal when leaning into these subject areas.

If, say, a corporate campaign uses an inclusive design to simply “tick the box,” savvy Gen Z viewers will be instantly turned off. If this is presented in a more personal way, such as through an influencer-led endorsement, the chances of success are much higher.

5. Gothcore

A Gen Z trend that continues to grow is the resurgence of goth and emo design. This is a reaction to Instagram-curated perfection.

This neo-gothic trend taps into the darker emotions of a generation growing up in a rapidly changing world. In mainstream culture, goth fashion is trailblazing this stylistic approach, with influencers and actors dressing in an edgy mix of black clothing accessories.

The Gothcore design trend is a darker take on the zodiac trend that Millennial audiences have been particularly responsive to. It blends elements of ’90s emo culture with plenty of anarchic punk spirit.

Designers can channel a Gothcore aesthetic for Gen Z campaigns with blackletter fonts, moody photography, and graphics.

Ready to tap into the Gen Z mindset? Target this young generation with campaigns built on authenticity and nostalgia, while keeping in mind that these individuals live their lives with one foot (if not two) already in the Metaverse.

A bold and personal approach to the design process will reap rewards . . . and build long-lasting connections with this diverse demographic.

DM to talk your bespoke strategy.

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