Meet the F Generations: Give a F, or get an F. by Kevin Landwehr

  1. “When I was a kid, you wanted a jacket you had to go to a tailor.”
  2. “When I was a kid, you wanted a jacket you had to go to a store.”
  3. “When I was a kid, you wanted a jacket you had to order it online.”

“I am a kid, and if I want a jacket… oh snap, jacket! I did like nothing and I have a jacket.”

The generations after millennials are still arguing over what to call themselves. For now, I’m pulling them into a bigger category I call The F Generations, because as The New York Times notes, most don’t care what they’re called. What they do care about is a Frictionless product experience.

More than ever before, they also care about companies that stand for something; and if you’re Frictionless, you’re standing up for them.

Teens, twenties — they still continue to identify with this kid playing Jack(et) in a Box with a Uniqlo eKiosk. This kid, his older brother, and the generation moving into the workforce are different than those before them; they aren’t holding the same definitive generational lines.


They’re The F Generations: Frictionless or 🙄.


For The F Generations, frictionless is simply the way they live; anything else feels messy. Or worse... dumb enough to slap with the dreaded 🙄 eye-roll 🙄 emoji and share 😂 with the world. (😭).

On the other side of The F Generations, Gen-X parents and aging Millennials are deeply attracted to experiences that meet this “Frictionless” expectation, it’s an environment where experiences can be absorbed and enjoyed by all of us, sans-drama. But more on that later.

Today maybe let’s talk about what we already know we’re selling, frictionless disruptive authentic empathetic tell-your-story branding, but maybe also lets cut through the BS and talk about what is actually happening.

A brand is a promise — a promise that’s either kept or broken the moment a customer experiences a brand’s product or service. We know that to create strong brands, we design experiences that frame our promise through design strategy, customer journeys, built environments, and satellite service touchpoints like these.

A simple framework for all of that is that at every opportunity and in every detail, your brand should reflect three all-important Gen X-A characteristics:

  • Modern
  • Relevant
  • Active Culture

So we want to make sure that wherever we can we are injecting beautiful details that communicate innovation, activity, connection, and community. This supports your brand promise and promotes the frictionless promise:

A connected, human (product) experience for a dynamic and technologically rich world.

Businesses that are killing it are taking this stuff seriously. It’s probably worth stating the obvious, that it helps to start with a great product — there's a lot of trash product out there hiding behind solid design strategy and frictionless web design, and they'll either improve the product iteratively or flame out along with their funding. But that's another blog post.

Here’s what’s critical: Leaders across departments need to engage with design experience as product DNA; and comprehend as well that “frictionless” is just the start, our new baseline, and really just one of five requirements for meeting Generation X-A expectations.


Five requirements for meeting Generation X-A expectations


01. A Frictionless Experience

Clear, Concise, Intuitive

Pretty straight-forward, pun intended. We’ve all now seen a 7-year old kid with awesome hair buying a jacket at an eKiosk. Frictionless is just the start. A new baseline. Plus, numbers 2-5 are all tied to frictionless. Let’s move on.


02. A Personalized Experience

Thoughtful, Considerate, Validating

While developing digital strategy, branding, web design (the whole thing, you get it) for an historic planetarium in Chapel Hill, I presented a mini-profile of a potential experience seeker: a mother on the go and looking for something to do at exactly that moment. She whips out her mobile device and she types in the URL. She's trying to get to very specific information as quickly as possible:

“What do you have that I can do with a 5 year old? What if I have to bring a 3 year old brother along for the ride?” 

When in the planning process, customers make decisions based on problems they have to solve:

“I need something safe and fun to do that is cooled and indoors out of the rain, where my 5 year old can explore and my 3 year old won’t be overwhelmed or disinterested. They will get hungry at 4:15, so there will have to be food. And it can’t be mid-afternoon because it’s nap time.” 
Mom, mom, MOM MOM MOM MOM, mommy, mom, mommy, mom, MOM, mommy

Mom, mom, MOM MOM MOM MOM, mommy, mom, mommy, mom, MOM, mommy

This woman has EIGHT different requirements, and she needs to get answers fast, while handling a crying baby, preparing to pick the oldest up from school, and trying to get the middle one dressed.

Here, you identify a dated UX failure and abandon traditional search — this woman doesn't want Google-style search results inside an institution’s website. We can solve this problem with a fast, simple search tool broken down into 3 components: What/Who/When.


This significant improvement to the user experience asks a user the most important question:

how may I help you

“Hello, how may I help you?”

Don't expect users to help you help them.

Personalized UX asserts itself as a helpful agent from the moment a guest arrives. It illustrates clearly what a user needs to do to in order to find what they're looking for. It rearranges website content in realtime in ways that help the user.


03. A Unique Experience

Better, Memorable, Effective

How does your brand experience differ from competing experiences? 


04. Enhance the Brand Promise

Enjoy your heritage, celebrate shared values, be consistent

Build loyalty by offering consistently great experiences.

enhance your brand - trust issues.gif

Don't create trust issues.


Loyalty begins before purchase and ownership of an experience. Broaden outside of your typical space to give potential experience-seekers multiple opportunities to experience and advocate for your brand. 

Build loyalty over time, so when the moment for a decision comes, you are the first thought and a trusted choice.



05. Connect Emotionally

Validate enthusiasm for your brand by championing your customer socially, adding quality to the community

The F Generations are growing up inside the new social network. While kids under 10 may not be actively using these networks, their siblings and older school-age role models are, and they receive these messages on shows they enjoy. As a result they feel more connected than any generation before them, don’t carry the same social biases, and aren’t challenged by borders on a map.

The F Generations are increasingly community focused and want to use their voices to create change. Businesses that thrive over the next 5-10 years will be those who directly integrate that opportunity into their product experience. When we give the customer a sense that they are creating change, they see us as a valuable part of the change paradigm.

Find ways for your brand (especially your brand’s website) to focus the creative energy of customers in ways that can be shared online, not just on your website, but on your customer's personal platforms.

Connect through shared values

  • Product narratives that make sense of the world convey meaning to others. 
  • Across demographics, shared values give us something emotional to identify with, a feeling to attach to a logo or a name. 
  • Take your brand into the territory of “beloved” by expressing the attributes that set it apart. 
  • Tell stories that relate what your brand stands for to how customers live.


The First Principle of 💩 Bullshit 💩

The observation of more honest creatives over the past decade is that hot words like “EMPATHY” and “EXPERIENCES” and “FRICTIONLESS” and go-to phrases like “EVERY BRAND NEEDS A STORY” are really just symptomatic reactions to a big picture need. Not every brand needs a story. Problems today require multi-tiered solutions that fully tend to a crazy range of customer needs.


Telling your story isn't the issue; the issue is connecting emotionally and telling a story is just one way of accomplishing that.


“Being authentic” isn't critical to enhancing a brand’s promise; if it were, consumers wouldn’t line up to pay through the nose for a t-shirt made in China by Chanel (yeah, authentically expensive, if price and quality were equitable) nor would they continue to stand by brands like Apple, who pedal magnificent images of bullshit that allows them to sell billions in dongles and cases for phones that haven't innovated for nearly a decade.

Still, we find ourselves (again) tossing around our newest buzzword. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with taking notice of what’s working. But “Frictionless” needs to grow up. We must do more to help our companies and brands bind people together. We must do more to meet expectations across generations. And (win-win) we can profit from it, too. 

Maybe the F in The F Generations stands for Fight.

These customers want us want us to fight the echo chamber. To pursue a complete, holistic, disruptively creative approach to brand strategy. To help grow F Generations’ frictionless values. Because, in the end, asking “How do we make this a better fit for people?” and “How can we make something disruptively newer and better?” isn’t empathy, or an attention-grabbing story, it’s just the first principle of good design.

Here’s Your Stupid Incredible Five-Step Secret Guaranteed Recipe for Everlasting Creative Cool. Totally Works! by Kevin Landwehr

Need to revitalize your creativity? Try pushing the limits of your talent, you lazy ass.

A three-minute read about staying sharp and proving something until the day you die.


Are you leaving things out when describing what you do? Do you feel you have more to offer? Are you indispensably unique to your employer? Have you explored the reach of your talent? Have you considered new ways to help people you work with? Have you tried applying your expertise across verticals? Are you increasingly whatever about the word “vertical”? Do you suspect you are more capable?

Creative types these days wear many different hats. Creative director, brand strategist, communications manager, experience designer, copywriter, web designer — where are the lines drawn? LinkedIn cares, but most doers have done all of these jobs, bundled into one inaccurate title or another.

What we’re called is less important than what we create: A look, feel, intellect & spirit for what usually began as somebody else’s dream. In the end, most of us judge our career by whether we’ve enjoyed our work, made money for our benefactors, and made the world a more beautiful place.

For 15 years I’ve explored a broad range of commercial projects, and while a lot has changed, one thing hasn’t. People need people who do what it takes to get the job the done right, and getting the job done right usually means you have to care.

How, though? If 10,000 work hours makes an expert, how, after 30,000 hours, could anyone still care?

Here’s how I’ve done it so far.

Design as a cultural anthropologist.

If you’re a marketing professional, you’re empirically rigorous and theoretically sophisticated. You’re excited by changing linguistics. You’re fascinated by food culture. You follow economics, cultural analyses of value, debt, capitalism, and globalization. You’re a social animal, and you love to study folks in their natural environment. Make sure to get beyond your tribe though — can you design for moms as well as millennials?

Design as if you’re a high old hippie bridging the human/digital experience.

If you’re in marketing, you’d better be keeping your client relevant. That means you’re digital first. More importantly though, it means you have to innovate. You have to take cold technology and and communicate soulful charms that warm the soul.

Create as a writer, a painter, a set designer, an actor, a bartender (same thing?)

You get the idea; bending your talent into adjacent or closely related derivatives feeds your talent. Beyond that, try working within the constraints of various creative fields. How would a painter design a poster? How would a bartender improve a coaster? How would a dancer have done your commercial? If you gave a writer from the 1930's a flux capacitor, how would they design a website? 

Constantly expand the reach of your talent.

I think if you’re a designer — truly — a pure designer — you should be able to confidently design anything, in any medium and on scalable platforms. If your platform is big, try going after an evasive demo, or working pro-bono for a charity or a friend. If you primarily serve independent clients, seek out some corporate work and discover your flexible side.

Master a complex skill that compliments your discipline.

This is where by a power of ten (or something like that) you sharpen up. As a design generalist working in digital and frictionless experience design, I feel compelled everyday to take it further and design branded spaces. Observing and thinking about people interacting inside spaces I’ve created has enhanced my understanding of how we connect customers to brands, products, websites, SaaS & more. 


So how does it apply to you? Only you can answer that, but it usually presents itself as something your clients ask you for that’s just out of your skill set. Like if you’ve been directing commercials for ten years and you’re overly reliant on your writers, enhance your wit with a year of improv classes. Awww, c’mon. You can do it! I mean, the entire point here is that you kind of already have what it takes, #amirite?

More & more marketing & graphic design professionals are crossing over into environmental concepts. Clients who value fresh ideas pull creatives from beyond the echo chamber.


Our clients wanted to see just how attached to their brand customers could become. We were happy to do whatever it took to create lasting moments with their brands. Now, we know that part of the XD / Experience Design discipline improves the online experience; but the other side of the concept revolves around designing brand-supportive moments which integrate naturally into the ways we experience the world. And so, without much fuss, we just did what we do: we took it further. Well, okay. A lot further. Did it work? Sure it did. Let’s look at some social data.

I guide brands through difficult problems using a combination of empathy & first principles. What’s really there? Not the paradigm, not the perception; what’s actually happening? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we addressing real problems? Make sure to identify not just what works visually, but what caused the problem in the first place. Once you’ve nailed that down, the rest is execution. The magic will flow.

It isn’t Jedi-wisdom, but here’s my ongoing recipe. Often we rush into asking our clients or our co-worker what they think, either so that we don’t have to think for ourselves, or to relieve ourselves of culpability for a bad idea, or to massage our need for affirmation (I’ve done so much work for you, look at all the options I’ve given you!) Instead, just ask yourself these four questions:

Does the work have texture? 

Does it engage the human experience? 

Is the storytelling alive? 

Does it give the brand soul? 

Marketing seeds with cold analytics and consumer insights, and succeeds by connecting us to the beauty of our shared humanity. It’s what makes it all so much fun; we’re just working hard, everyday, to be more human... and I promise — being human, feeling alive? It never gets old.

Trust me.


CURRENT Artspace + Studio, Powered by Carolina Performing Arts by Kevin Landwehr

Opening in 2018 at Carolina Square in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, CURRENT ARTSPACE+STUDIO is Carolina Performing Arts new unrestricted arts lab.

Working with the talented team at Rivers Agency, I had the great pleasure of developing names, branding, design thinking, wireframes, copywriting, and direction for this video for the wonderful people at CPA and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This is my first project with Rivers Agency and my first since moving to North Carolina. Rivers is loaded with a great array of talent and can produce just about anything in short order, which is a lot of fun.

Domicile Properties Rebrand by Kevin Landwehr

I’m just wrapping up my rebrand of Domicile Properties. I think it’s smart, fresh, and free of the dry, overblown elegance that plagues the graphic design in this industry — most of it stinks of a previous generation. The redesign of the website was well-served by the owners; who had faith I could create something appropriate to the category of real estate without rehashing the same tired approaches.

This was so much fun. It was so satisfying, in fact, that I’m tempted to call every realtor from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Aspen to New York to Miami and pitching them a vision for a better tomorrow.

The Domicile Properties website is slated to launch very soon, I’ll update this entry when it’s posted.

Domicile properties, in partnership with Compass.

Stunning New Naturalist Invitation Designs by Melissa Constandsé by Kevin Landwehr

A mix of romance and innovation is on glorious display in this just-launched invitation suite, the Open Sea Collection. Graphic design can be so caught up in its category these days, but these designs powerfully redefine the expectation of what a wedding invitation can be.

Possessed of dazzling color palettes, crisp typography, and an elegant naturalism, these floral-inspired suites are classic masterpieces. 

Brand Launch: La Milpa de Rosa Disrupts by Kevin Landwehr

With 500% growth over 5 months, it’s clear something’s working. La Milpa de Rosa became New York’s top supplier nearly overnight. How? The concept was simple:

They’re doing it wrong, we’re doing it right. 

In addition to the delightful growth, it’s been bizarrely fun working on the branding, mobile / web, and packaging for Tortilleria La Milpa de Rosa. It's a great example of the benefits that come with branding from the bottom up: Everything's in sync, from the name to the frame. Here's a look at the new website.