We can sometimes forget that brands, just like people, have generational identities. While we’ve lived and breathed the millennial brand for the past decade, we’re set to make contact with a new phenomenon: the Gen-Z brand. From 90s design aesthetics to a tongue-in-cheek appropriation of internet culture, we take a look at the traits that will help you spot a Gen-Z brand.
The 90s are big again
When it comes to 90s design trends, Gen Z can’t get enough of them. But to understand what aspects of 90s visual culture the so-called Zoomers are interested in, it’s important to think about how they conceptualize the decade. On one hand, the 90s were an era when corporate advertising culture consolidated itself. At the same time, the decade also witnessed the rise of independent cinema and, along with the internet, a do-it-yourself digital aesthetic.
As a result, Gen Z brands offer an honestly divided aesthetic. You’ll find bold, zany color choices and vibrant pairings that feel ripped from a Will Smith music video. But at the same time, certain elements of mass-produced visual culture are frowned upon. High-definition, perfectly crisp images are out, and a certain fuzziness, reminiscent of film photography and connoting honesty and sincerity, is in.
Contemporary internet culture and its digital vernacular are naturally a big part of the identity of Gen Z brands, but it’s the early internet that really reigns supreme. Gen Z brands engage with the kooky, homegrown, maximalist aesthetic associated with the early days of the internet — think brash typography reminiscent of WordArt and shimmering, pixelated graphics. Gen Z’s aversion to curated perfection is relevant here as well, with special emphasis given to digital distortions and other errors and breakdowns that couldn’t be avoided on a PC in the early 2000s.
Messy, loud, casual
The ideal of simplicity embodied by “millennial pink” couldn’t be farther from Gen Z’s mind. If Instagram was the millennial app, where clear and perfect curation was the name of the game, TikTok defines the aesthetic of Gen Z, with its messier, more honest feeds that aren’t afraid to shout. All of that adds up to a brand identity that’s typically messy, loud, and casual.
If the colors of a Gen Z brand are loud and bright, they’re also raw and unfiltered, seeking to convey effortless sincerity. That sense of keeping things casual extends to brands’ preferred methods of communicating with their customers — expect Gen Z brands to utilize humorous and self-effacing visual media like memes to get their message across. Though of course, it’s not all casual — in keeping with the value Gen Z places on honesty, expect Gen Z brands to take bolder stances on current events.