Amy holds a block. She joins it to another block. And then another, and another. But she’s not playing with blocks. She’s building a castle. And she’s building a kingdom. Her kingdom. She and her friends are connecting one kingdom to another, bridged by train tracks split in two by a magical redwood tree. Two sheep wait in the tree’s branches. One schemes to prevent visitors from proceeding to the other side. The other waits to hear the secret password – a message hidden back along the tracks can help them figure it out. Someone is piling sheep wool underneath the tracks because once visitors say the right thing, the good sheep will tell them to jump. A soft landing and more instructions await.
Amy and her friends are playing in the imaginary world of Minecraft.
They are learning to build. They are learning their generation’s social behavior. They are learning, period. And they are having a ton of fun in the process. Adults have lauded the benefits of Minecraft for Generation Z. “Great for developing problem-solving skills and it teaches computational-thinking,” they’ll say. “Inspires sharing, an understanding of digital citizenship and appreciation for coding,” they shout. They’re right. About all of it.
“Amy and the rest of Generation Minecraft aren’t just playing these experiences, they’re making them for each other—brick by brick—and sharing them every day.”
Minecraft’s simplicity means its youngest users can be prolific. Amy and the rest of Generation Minecraft now have the skills and the freedom to create for each other. That freedom, coupled with Minecraft’s unparalleled engine for kid-powered building and making means Generation Z’s digital repertoire is full of randomly conceived, designed, and deployed experiences created by themselves, for themselves. And they’re building these experiences for each other while not knowing or understanding the academic philosophy behind user interactions, human-centered design, or any other prevalent UX doctrine held by “experts.” They’re creating their own random user experience philosophy and it is driving a disruptive form of online discovery — irrational discovery.
A new kind of digital experience strategy—one that drives irrational discovery
In this fast-growing, sometimes frustrating, and almost always surprising UX model outcomes are distanced further and further from their catalyst. To Amy, the following are all design considerations to ponder as she tinkers:
• The castle, whether or not it exists
(and every imaginable rule, behavior
and attribute a castle could have).
• The road to the castle (and its appearance,
or whether it exists at all).
• The freedom for Amy’s friend to sabotage
her en route to the castle (say, with an
army of road-blocking fire-goats).
• The freedom for yet another user to
create a secret passageway underneath her
castle (from a not- so-nearby tree).
And these elements are all in play as she encounters someone else’s creation. The freedom she has to implement these design decisions ultimately defines another user’s experience, and sparks the exponential outcomes their unique experiences generate. Phew. Got that?
Despite the complexity that comes out in describing them, the tools themselves are incredibly easy to use. In fact, most users in the sandbox game community have embraced the irrational UX model. From Minecraft, Roblox, Game Wizard, and Super Mario Maker to Lego Dimensions, Scribblenauts, and Pokemon GO, Generation Z’s digital world is full of irrational UX and moments of irrational discovery.
And while it may be new or foreign to you, it is comfortable, and relevant, for them.
Examples of irrational discovery
You may not have heard the term irrational discovery, but you have almost certainly experienced it. The uptake of irrational UX is revolutionizing the digital playground as many game developers and app designers use it in their design solutions. And it’s spreading quickly—making its way from the kid web to your web.
Go to Facebook messenger and open up a chat. Attempt to send a “thumbs up” to your friend. Except this time, hold down on the thumb icon, don’t just tap it. Look what you found: all different sizes and ultimately different meanings. Irrational discovery.
Or head over to Snapchat and start shooting a video. Now, while that video is playing back (and before you send it) pull down the emoji tab (the page curl icon). Select an emoji (like the coffee cup I attached to my, um, coffee cup below) while the video is still playing. Now, grab that emoji and hold it over an object, then drop it again. When the video starts playing again, the emoji will animate with the object as though it’s pinned to it. Did you know that was there? Irrational discovery.
What the ubiquity of irrational discovery means for your (future) business
Your future digital strategy depends on your utilization of irrational discovery. Irrational discovery is replacing the rational discovery model you’re accustomed to. As this phenomenon expands, it is easy to imagine a world where this kind of customer experience becomes the norm, not the interesting exception. In a world where Slack has replaced email, your (amazing) bed now comes in a box (from a company of non-bed experts who believe in a better way), and your messages are animated, painted on, and disposable—irrational discovery will become the way today’s brands and businesses find Generation Z’s hearts and minds tomorrow.
But If you’re like the 190 million other businesses operating in the world today, your customers probably discover you, well, rationally. As in, they find you because you “tell” them they should. Irrationally minded companies almost dare their customers to enter the fold — thus curating an experience rather than dictating one. Is your brand capable of being irrational? Can it even become irrational without becoming an imposter?
It’s high time to rethink your digital experience strategy. Is it irrational enough?
Just look at what the kids have done. Generation Z demands to exist in a playful, ephemeral, and inquisitive digital world. Companies should future-proof their businesses by using this knowledge now to build services and products Generation Z will surely grow into later.