Thoughts about UX Millennials: The least tech-savvy generation?

My first computer was a Laser 486. It had a 120MB hard drive and 640k memory, and it ran DOS 4.01. This was in 1990. I was 14 years old and the best part about the technology was that it existed. I didn’t expect much from it other than to run. I used my beloved 486 to design a Fanzine for artist Todd McFarlane in Paint for Geoworks. This was the first time I was expressing my creativity in pixels. Everything about the experience was brand new and mind-blowing. Even the simplest functions were exciting.

When I bought a titanium PowerBook G4 in 2001, it was the coolest thing to date. I drove three hours to get one. It was crazy light—seven pounds. What emerged was a series of email threads that connected PowerBook G4 fanboys, all engaged in discovering the extensive capabilities of this new toy. No detail was too minute for us to pore over—we once spent days advising a newbie about where to find the perfect case.

As much as I admired these incredible triumphs of human engineering—my Laser and my PowerBook G4—they certainly did not come without flaws. Even the simplest problem required a knack for troubleshooting. For anyone that remembers the old Mac model: you would power it on and all the preferences started up as little icons. If your computer stalled, you’d know immediately what the problem was. To solve it, you started your computer without the preferences loaded, threw the problematic preference out, and then turned the computer back on. Simple. If you knew what you were doing.

Today’s generation of users largely don’t—and that’s the absolute truth. Gadgets and apps are expected to just work, and if something doesn’t happen at first touch, swipe, or glance, they’re off to the IT helpdesk. Users demand immediacy or else they can’t even. There is no learning curve because there is nothing to learn—everything always works. And if it doesn’t, who cares? There’s always something else. Can’t figure out a website? They’re outta there in five seconds flat. Swipe left to delete; pinch to close.

Nest

The enormous benefit of growing up in the primitive days of personal computing was that everyone knew what was happening under the surface—how to hard boot, soft boot, and clear the PRAM. We installed our own software and knew how to debug. For me, working with the intricacies of my Laser and PowerBook G4 wasn’t just necessary—it was half the fun. But, unless you were really into the stuff, understood the software—and were motivated to occupy yourself with it—it wasn’t yours to use. If you weren’t ready to invest several hours setting up new technology, you wouldn’t bother buying a TiVo or a RAZR iTunes phone. Not until it got a lot easier.

“Younger users have an established comfort level with simplified interfaces that older users feel uneasy about.”

Being an early adopter today means something very different than it did when I was frantically searching email threads to decrypt a software glitch. Now you’re an early adopter simply by purchasing something. Take the Nest Thermostat for example. I got one just a few weeks after they launched, but there was nothing to it. All I had to do was buy it, unbox it, turn it on—and it worked. So much for the glory of being an early adopter.

The bottom line is: millennials aren’t as tech-savvy as they are given credit for. And that’s why my team at Infor is making enterprise software unbelievably easy to use. The rising workforce won’t take the time to learn complicated software. Younger users have an established comfort level with simplified interfaces that older users feel uneasy about—because they’re so used to seeing everything displayed on screen. What used to be an overview of functionality for the previous generation looks like clutter to the next. Back in the day, seeing was believing—even if it made the experience feel clunky. Millennials don’t want to see. They assume.

This is the crux of the illusion. While an older user might be able to tell you all about the details of the software, when faced with the stunning simplicity of modern apps—they’re stumped. Not because they don’t know what’s happening, but because they can’t see it happening. Younger users don’t care about the blueprints—software just has to work. To be tech-savvy today requires you to engage with the surface, not the structure. Simple experiences, that prioritize the work over the technology, have become the expectation. And that’s what we have to deliver.