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From rock and roll to punk, and from flares to ripped jeans, the tastes and fashions of youth have often been a reliable indicator of where consumer trends are heading. In addition, teenagers exert considerable consumer pressure via their parents’ wallets. Hence, being on top of those trends makes business sense, especially as today’s fringe ideas can become tomorrow’s multi-billion-dollar industry.

Understanding the behavior, desires and attitudes of today’s youth is essential. Generation Z is the group of people born between the mid-1990s and the 2010s. Members of Gen Z are the first to grow up in a world where the web and social media is ubiquitous. As a result, they spend an overwhelming proportion of their time consuming and interacting with digital content. For many of today’s young people, much of life’s experiences can be viewed through the lens of a smartphone and that’s what they use to share and comment on what they like.

Prequel is an increasingly popular photo and video-editing app for iOS and Android devices that offers a library of ‘aesthetic filters’ that can be used to adjust, alter and decorate digital imagery. By adding special effects and stylistic tweaks, users can personalize their content and Gen Z users seem to be coming to Prequel in their droves.

Since its launch in 2018, the Prequel app has been downloaded more than 100 million times. It has consistently been one of the most popular apps of its type, especially in the US, Europe, South America and Asia. The overwhelming core of its users is the younger generation.

Prequel boasts more than five million followers on TikTok and Instagram, with the bulk of paying customers under 25. In addition, the app has racked up a string of celebrity endorsements from A-listers, with musicians, actors and models posting content to their social media accounts using Prequel to embellish their images.

Under the hood, Prequel uses some clever technology. The filters are more than the simple effects built into Facebook, TikTok and Instagram. Instead, they’re created and processed using machine-learning algorithms, with results ranging from subtle color shifts to complete reimagining of an image. As a result, the app is enormous fun to use and the Cartoon filter is a firm favorite. Users seem to have fallen in love with the way it can turn a selfie into what looks like a hand-drawn image that presents someone’s portrait as a beautiful and glamourized version of themselves.

Perhaps the secret to Prequel’s popularity can best be explained in how Gen Z’s attitude to imagery is changing. Older generations got into photography through the medium of film. However, you had to pay for a limited number of shots; developing each image and bringing them back from the lab took time. Standalone digital cameras changed all this. However, those first-generation digital cameras have now been entirely replaced by the smartphone. The image quality produced by smartphones is excellent and has the advantage of always being with the user and ready to capture any situation or event.

Now that unlimited digital representations have become the norm, Gen Z users naturally take them for granted. They’re so used to digital images; they now crave something new. Many want a more personalized, less perfect window on the world that enables them to embed their feelings in the creative content they share.


Even a small change, such as additional text in a particular font, or a more washed-out color effect, can make an on-screen image look more personal. One explanation could be that a filtered image encourages the viewer to feel a certain way about the content. Prequel’s range of filters offers this dreamy and dramatic effect at the touch of a button without having to invest lots of time editing a picture using traditional tools like Adobe Photoshop or Final Cut Pro.

The manipulation of photos using filters is a concept that more purist photographers often sneer at. After capturing perfect representations of the world with today’s advanced digital cameras, the idea goes against all their film-based instincts to embellish an image with additional digital effects. However, is adding a filter so different from how a professional photographer carefully sets up their lighting, enhances shadows or manipulates color to create a certain mood? When that image is eventually published, it’s most definitely been tweaked and adjusted using software like Photoshop.

For Gen Z, Prequel does something similar using clever technology that can turn an image snapped with an iPhone into something that looks like it could be on a magazine cover. The result is the creation of a dream where the user imagines themself as a celebrity or superstar media personality, something many young people identify with. It’s an example of how Prequel and its filters take image-making beyond the accurate 1:1 photo by extending the image to include personal feelings.

The latest addition to Prequel’s Cartoon+ filter is imposing. It brings the hand-drawn artwork appearance that Prequel is known for to video instead of just still images. In addition, Cartoon+ creates an effect that lets the user imagine themselves as a Pixar character, within A-Ha’s famous Take On Me music video, or whatever anime they can imagine. The results are individual and stunning when combined with Prequel’s other stylistic effects.

Prequel keeps its users engaged by regularly releasing a schedule of new filters and ways to make an image look cool. Whenever new filters are added to the catalog, it causes a frenzy of downloading as users compete to be the first to create something using whatever new effects the Prequel team has come up with.

Based out of New York, Prequel’s CEO Timur Khabirov, has gone to considerable lengths to embed creativity within his team, which is made up of both Gen Z and millennials. Prequel claims it was inspired by the city, notably Bryant Park, where early meetups were held and helped embed the city’s creative spirit within the app.

Prequel says it’s now tapping into more than mere visualizations after a period of rapid global growth. It sees the app as something closer to a broader social trend for Gen Z, who have never known a life without the Internet, and the ability to manipulate images, so they more effectively project the creator’s personality and values. A personal image, in this case, is not a photo image but an identity image. It looks like we’re moving into a more visually literate age where people will express and project themselves with style-based photography that says who they are and what they value.

Pricing & Availability: The Prequel app is available for iOS and Android devices from the Apple App Store or Google Play. A three-day free trial and a full subscription costs from $4.99 for one week to $34.99 for a whole year.

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