I have always said that I hire people younger, smarter and better-looking than me. Frankly, that is getting easier on all three counts as time passes. I am a boomer, a member of the once young and proud generation that was going to change the world. Well, we are no longer young, but we did change the world.

Since those days, subsequent letter generations X, Y and now Z have arrived with all the youthful dreams and aspirations that we had. They too have changed, and they continue to change the world.

As the generations come into their full potential, it is exciting to see and recognize the uniqueness of each. It is also exciting and challenging as a design group to understand the differences and to design to that uniqueness. The generally understood breakdown of generations is as follows: the greatest generation (born prior to 1946), baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (1965-1984), Generation Y, also known as millennials (1982 or 1985 to 2004; this generation is so awesome it has two names); and Generation Z (born after 2004).

Embrace the Generations

All of these generations have their own influences environmentally, socially and economically that have made them unique. They each have their own distinct effect on the world. Our world is constantly changing.

As retailers, which generation are we to design to? The correct answer is all of them.

What a challenge! How can we do that? Each location has its own combination of generations and socioeconomic profiles. I call this generational design. We are designing toward the habits and tendencies of each generation. The key is to adjust to the unique demographics of each individual location. This site-specific adaptation of our retail space allows us to capture the maximum possible sales. You are still designing to the entire generational matrix, but you are placing special emphasis on the store’s unique demographic.

I was recently at a store we designed and noticed that the order kiosks were covered up and not being used, so I asked why. I was told that only the young customers used them, so it wasn’t worth the effort: “Our customers just won’t use them.” I continued to dig and asked what had been done to encourage older customers to try this new technology.

I think that’s where the disconnect was. It is not that boomers like myself won’t use an order kiosk; we just need a nudge and some education. That and we don’t like feeling stupid for not understanding. (Remember that whole pride thing.)

Each location has its own combination of generations and socioeconomic profiles.

I suggested that the retailer offer help to customers and stand with them as they order. This nonjudgmental approach is good for all generations and good for sales. Not only will they get it, but they will ultimately enjoy it. Great examples of this are pay at the pump, self-checkouts and automated check-in at airports. It might take a time or two, but we eventually get it.

Come in Third Place

Lifestyle design is embracing the uniqueness of your customers and designing to that lifestyle. A great example of this is the propensity of millennials to, as Starbucks says, find “a third place.” This is a place other than home or work that resonates with them and where they feel comfortable. We can provide this third space if we design to the future and not to the past.

The future of design is understanding the generations and designing to the various lifestyles. The caveat is that it is not “If you build it, they will come.” That happens only in movies. In retail, you have to do the work and interact and engage your customers to not only build the space but also sustain the third-place destination.

A great example of this has been the debate about seating. Should you or should you not have seating in a c-store? Traditional thinking has been to get customers in and then get them out. Historically, this has been as much about our limitations in seating, food offering and the preferences of the prevailing generation. But things have changed. Have you changed with them?

The letter generations are looking for a place to call their own: a cool environment with good food and drink, good atmosphere, Wi-Fi, music and a place to sit. Current lifestyle design includes comfortable indoor and outdoor seating access with great lighting, landscaping, technology, and parking put together with an eye for colors, textures and materials that are welcoming. We can no longer tell our customers to get in, buy something and get out. We have to create an experience for them that creates the third place.

I might be a boomer, but I think I might want a third place too.