New Voices - Designing Spaces for Gen Y

Summer 2011
Johnson Controls’ Oxygenz research project is collecting Gen Y work space preferences through their interactive tool. You can create a personalized work space that details color, architecture, furniture and other design elements including the amount of natural daylight preferred in the work environment.

It’s no secret that designing functional retail and office projects for the mobile Gen Y demographic requires a thorough understanding of how this segment uses space for work and recreation.

Cho Suzumura, principal with MulvannyG2 Architecture, published part one of a four-part series on incorporating non-conventional design elements when building new office or retail space to meet the needs of this unique segment of the population. Suzumura and his colleague, Justin Hill, senior principal, AIA, LEED AP, recently provided greater insight into the innovation necessary to develop functional, authentic spaces that foster the sense of community sought by Gen Y end users.

Cho Suzumura

Cho Suzumura

Suzumura stresses the importance of understanding that Gen Yers are more information-oriented and Web-centric than any other segment. In a retail environment, Boomers are more interested in the actual products and merchandise while Gen Yers seek out the overall “retail experience.” This demographic enters a shopping desti­nation already familiar with the store’s products from using social media information sources. Hill believes that Gen Yer’s demand for instantaneous product information warrants a retail environment where that information is virtually “pushed out” to them. The space needs to literally “speak” to that audience, which can be ac­complished by incorporating onsite computer and mobile technology, sig­nage or live video feeds, among other design elements. Both Suzumura and Hill noted that creating an environ­ment that is authentic to the “brand” and fosters a sense of community, in addition to meeting the need for instant information and communica­tion, is crucial when designing for this segment.

Justin Hill

Justin Hill

Here are their do’s and don’ts when developing/designing retail space for this unique age group.


  • Design space that is quickly adapt­able; less emphasis on architec­ture and more on the space itself.
  • Incorporate plenty of open space; this audience relates well to the use of temporary “pop up” kiosks to quickly change merchandise offerings.
  • Retail space needs to speak to the audience in terms of authenticity – all of the design elements need to consistently reinforce the store’s brand.


  • Build out a retail project catering to the Gen Y market that contains a lack of flexible space.
  • Overbuilding a space hinders its ability to quickly transform and be­come an “experience” destination versus a typical suburban location with products/merchandise placed on towers and shelving.
Urban Outfitters office space

Urban Outfitters’ office space emphasizes flexible, open spaces, a key attraction for Gen Y employees.

In a work environment, Gen Yers tend to be more collaborative and tech-savvy than their predecessors so their office spaces should generate opportunities for greater connectivity and creativity. Incorporating plenty of open space that can be utilized for socializing or impromptu brainstorm­ing sessions is a must. Gen Y end-users find traditional high-ambient lighting too harsh for use with today’s technological offerings. Hill suggests taking a “retail” approach in building office space for this group by utilizing retail elements such as electronic signage and graphics. Suzumura cites some fictional office spaces featured in such popular television shows as CSI Miami as examples of the types of work environments Gen Ys find most functional.

Whether designing retail or office space for the Gen Y market, both Suzumura and Hill agree that the most important factor is branding the space. Authenticity is of utmost importance to this generation so being true to the brand is vital for success­ful projects.

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