Design for a Moving Target

Every entrepreneur thinks they are designing for a complex and dynamic system. In the case of the housing industry, though, there really is very little one can take for granted, especially when designing for Millennials.

If you were born somewhere between 1980 and 2000, you've probably already heard more than you ever wanted to about your generation -- the Millennials. While dozens of books and miles of column inches have been dedicated to the apparent strengths and weaknesses of this generation, one thing is clear: They are a force that is going to reshape the housing industry.

It wasn't long ago that the tenets of the American dream were largely unchallenged: a nice suburb, a big house, a new car and a stable career.

For Millennials, though, it's a pretty different picture.

Today, the odds are good that Millennials live in a city, not a suburb, and will continue to do so. They'll also change jobs five to seven times during their careers and live in households requiring two incomes to run smoothly. They are more likely to live with their parents well into their 20s, and delay buying a home well beyond the age Mom and Dad took the plunge. While they are extremely well-educated, more so than any other generation, they're also likely to start adult life with something other generations simply did not have, which is significant and in some cases a crushing amount of student debt.

But, this isn't just a story about different economic realities facing Millennials. We've all been hearing about that for years. At Doorsteps, we're more interested in the different emotional realities they face.

The nature of work is changing: Jobs are increasingly mobile, remote and dynamic. Relationships are changing: People marry later (if at all) and have fewer children once they do. Tastes themselves may be changing as well. Last year, there were 40 million "McMansions" sitting empty around the country. It's not simply because people cannot afford them, but rather because this new generation of homeowners doesn't want them. An unnecessarily big house is increasingly seen as much of a burden as it is a status symbol. They are also generally located in the wrong place for most Millennials, who may eventually be coaxed out of the city once babies arrive, but only into nearby areas that some developers call "urban light"-- denser suburbs that revolve around a walkable town center.

So what to do when designing in the face of supreme instability for this audience?

Ask Yourself Question 0.

Question 0 is simply the most fundamental question one can ask themselves about the business they are in, especially when designing for Millennials. For instance, a university textbook publisher shouldn't ask themselves how they could sell more books on campus. That's both a good and pressing question, but it isn't the most fundamental to their business. The real question 0, in this case, would be "How do students learn?" If you can design for that, you can stay relevant even in the face of iPads and online courses.

As a business, what is your most fundamental question? If you don't know that, the likelihood of you succeeding with this very large and very savvy set of consumer is slim to none. You can't hide from them. The brands that will survive, thrive and be created in the next 10 years will share one thing: they will be bigger than themselves and they are tackling real issues.

Companies have to matter today and you can be sure that if you don't that the Millennials will uncover your irrelevance. Companies like Etsy, who is working to re-imagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world, Uber who is evolving the way the world moves by opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers, and Evernote who is helping the world remember everything, communicate effectively and get things done have big ambitions that act as their guiding light.

We're not suggesting that you stop doing anything that you are currently doing. That is your "today" business. This is about looking to the future. It's about building upon, framing and focusing your "tomorrow" business.

Why not spend some time today on your most fundamental question? There is nothing to lose.

Except maybe everything.