Designers & age

6 years ago from , UX Designer

There is a thought on my head running for quite some time that is: how do designers see themselves when they get older?

Let's see it this way: when you are young (let's say 23 years old, just a reference) and you enter the job market, you can see yourself as someone who is eager to start working, explore new things.

Now, imagine yourself with 50 years old. What do you expect to do by then? Continue to be a designer and try to keep up with the latest methodologies, processes, tools, etc? If so, would a company hire you if the mindset of "hire young people and full with fresh ideas" can prevail? Or do you search for opportunities to improve your career path and evolve to a more "management" position (e.g: Phil Gilbert, Head of Design at IBM )? What if your work decisions and current experience (and market conditions) doesn't let you evolve on that way?

PS: I'm 33, just for reference.

What do you guys think about this?


  • Ken Em, 6 years ago

    I've been a designer for 30 years, and I'm pretty much done with the industry at age 51. My priorities and interests have changed, especially in the last decade. I'm still interested in design and probably always will be, but I've just grown so tired of the bullshit in this field. Too many egos and the profession at large is just not respected or valued by many. We are also dinosaurs when it comes to hiring. Companies don't want older, experienced designers. They want younger, fresh out of school people they don't have to pay a lot of money to. At this point in my life, I'd rather put my energies into a career change that will make me happier.

    65 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Can you elaborate a bit more the part of changing career when companies don't want older people? I do agree with you about old people but I'm interested to know how do you fix a career change when you reach a specific age.

      1 point
      • Ken Em, 6 years ago

        I will let you know when I figure it out! :D It's definitely a challenge when you are older to move into another field. It's essentially starting over and it doesn't happen quickly. I'm moving into land conservation which is something I'm passionate about. I've spent the last year volunteering and networking, getting to know people, and learning as much as I can about the field (pardon the pun). It's only now that some opportunities are starting to present themselves as a result of this outreach. It's definitely a slow process that comes with a lot of risk.

        14 points
    • Kevan LinKevan Lin, 6 years ago

      @Ken M - You've mentioned a few things that are deterrents and negative aspects of our industry. In the last 30 years of being a designer, what has motivated you to continue on in this field? Has it been the work? the people? the process?

      I'm curious to know your motivation, as I'm sure others are as well, so that I might be able to make that decision on whether or not to continue in this career. Everything that sparkled in the past looks dull now in comparison.


      2 points
      • Ken Em, 6 years ago

        Admittedly, I got complacent in my last full-time position and that kept me there longer than it should have. It wasn't until I left that job and moved to another state that I realized, hey, doing this other thing might be better for me.

        As far as what motivated me in the past, it was trying to deliver a clear, simple message to the user. I come from a news background, so it was important that we presented stories to readers quickly and clearly. In this particular industry, you need to work with lots of other players, so it was often a challenge to reach that goal. But when it worked, it was very satisfying.

        4 points
    • Nemanja NenadicNemanja Nenadic, 6 years ago

      I'm 30 years old (doing this since my early 20s) and I'm sick of AR's, VR's, UIs, UXes, Prototyping and other buzzwords. How you should code this/design this articles and such... WordPress ninjas, Development rock stars... So it's probably more a point of view than an "age issue".

      But I still love finding new ways to do stuff, learning new frameworks and tools that help be get s**t done.

      One thing I'm noticing is, even tough I'm Web Designer, lately, I enjoy development part of my work more than design parts.

      Maybe that's where I'm headed, maybe it's just temporary...

      2 points
      • Ken Em, 6 years ago

        Yeah, the buzzwords are a bit much. When did "ideation" and "let me show you my works" become a thing?

        2 points
      • Interested Curious, 6 years ago

        The interesting part of this is that it's a combination of things but a lot has to do with the model of workforce not adapting to how rapidly tech is cycling and how much the workplace, work force retention and workplace learning is changing. I feel like it's a complex discussion that effects a huge amount of industries especially to ones as focal to business creation as the types of design.

        Also the closer entwined you get with marketing the more floodgates for using as many acronyms as humanly possible in a single sentence becomes a thing sadly.

        0 points
      • Liam WheatonLiam Wheaton, 6 years ago

        TIL new technologies are buzzwords lmao

        3 points
        • Nemanja NenadicNemanja Nenadic, 6 years ago

          It's not about new technologies as much as overusing them. UI, UX, prototyping etc. is nothing new and we're overwhelmed by self proclaimed gurus and their medium/twitter/facebook/blog posts.

          We're in an age where people talk more about their work then they actually work.

          11 points
          • Interested Curious, 6 years ago

            Oh thats definitely always been the case, I just feel like it might be easier to share it and that people are being taught that its the only way to get hired.

            Fellow designers tend to be jaded, while the onlookers from outside may feel like "hey he's got a blog and some followers, this guy knows his stuff"

            0 points
          • Bruce Vang, 6 years ago

            I like the information sharing that we have. There's a high demand/low supply of information on new technology and tools. I don't need to learn from a PHD. If it's taught by a certified school, it's already old.

            0 points
          • Adetunji PaulAdetunji Paul, 6 years ago

            We are also in an age where it's nearly impossible for young designers to get noticed for work opportunities without being reputable online. Which as they're trying to tell us is by living two lives, one online and the other in the real. It's something like a wall I've come up against many times but it's driven by the clientside habits. When i get recommended for work, my clients Google me first, and those first 3 results are the difference between hired and pass on most days. It's just the way life is now.

            3 points
    • Interested Curious, 6 years ago

      This is super interesting (i've got to stop starting posts this way haha). I'm imagining those who are super passionate about design, especially visual and such want to become the "them" at the later points in their career. and it's understandable that everyone doesn't want that and instead may want to apply their design learning to solving other world or life problems they feel they can impact.

      2 points
  • Jon MyersJon Myers, 6 years ago

    Interesting discussion.

    45 years old here.

    I’ve been at it now for about 25 years and I’ve never had a real J O B with one exception.

    I took over as the interim CEO for a semi-public company in China earlier this year. Alas, China and working with investors in China was not for me.

    I’ve had agencies, founded some companies, raised money for one and exited, and yet, I still find myself continuing to be a designer.

    Over the last 5 years, I’ve mostly just been a lone wolf, which I love. I get to peak into businesses and see what works and what fails.

    Currently, I’ve co-founded a startup with a small 5-person team, and I have my hands in 3 different Blockchain related projects with decent potential upside.

    For myself, I could be out of the game, and I suppose I should be out of the game. Yet, I never tire of design, and I wake up more enthused than the next day to do the work.

    I find it very hard to pull myself out of the game.

    I’m a constant learner and continue to learn new tools, refine processes and apply those learnings to projects.

    Back in the day, I thought VR/ AR was right around the corner and worked tirelessly on data visualization applications for SGI machines.

    And now, that is beginning to circle back.

    I’ve never found my age to be an issue, if anything, it’s an asset.

    I find many are surprised by my age and I never shy away from it.

    Should Designers Code

    There is the ever-present debate, “should designers code” - well, of course, it doesn’t hurt and if you’re starting out, you should have a basic fluency in code. Conversely, the same way, developers should have a basic fluency in design.

    Business Acumen

    The one thing that has paid dividends over the years, which allows me to insert myself into situations where I can be tied to value, and create a lot of value and command aggressive fees - that one thing is having a strong and sharp level of business acumen.

    When I step into a project, I come in as a business analyst who happens to view my contribution through the lens of design.

    The stakeholders I collaborate with are most interested in the business contribution I will make to the project. Thus, I tend to work directly with founders, CEOs or with the presidents of a business unit and so on.

    Employee Mindset

    I have never thought of my practice of design as a career or job.

    There’s nothing wrong with being an employee, and some designers luck out and get in early as an employee on a rocket ship (unlikely for most) -

    Yet, in my personal opinion, if you’re going to stay in this game for a long time and hope to hit aggressive earnings, you will have to have a rabid passion for business and serving other people.

    More so, you’ll have to have an entrepreneurial mindset.

    Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset

    The easiest way to cultivate the mindset is to be a hunter and gatherer of information.

    I start my day skimming over 500 feeds in Feedly that cover a broad range of topics ranging from finance, crypto, mens fashion, industrial design, startups, energy, transportation, science, political news, industrial design, design, marketing, venture capital, blah, blah, blah.

    I’m hunting, gathering and triangulating to explore ideas and to identify trends and opportunities.

    What’s happening, why is it happening and is there an opportunity...

    Design is Multi-Faceted

    The last thing you want to be as a designer is a one note wonder, only thinking about design and failing to recognize and understand the business, human and financial contexts your designs live in.

    In fact, I’d say the majority of the time, my practice of design with stakeholders focuses on how it works, and how it serves users and the business case.

    We do talk about “how it looks” - yet, my process irons things out in the beginning, so we can focus on the heavy lifting.

    Of course, you have to start somewhere and it takes a while to work up to having a seat at the business table.

    However, there’s nothing stopping you from launching your own projects to accelerate your learning as well.

    Myself, I’m going to keep on keeping on. I love the game of design and business.And I love the idea of contributing to projects that serve other humans.

    21 points
  • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, 6 years ago

    This is definitely a thought provoking question and honestly something that I have been mulling over myself. I'm 33 and I have been professionally working as a designer for 12 years....but I've been looking at my career and life to figure out where I want to go in the future. There are young designers who are self taught/coming right out of school with technical chops I had develop over my career...or that I never had (and want...such as motion graphics). For me, I have been moving more towards the creative direction route with the eventual goal of moving into the C-level. I've toyed around with the idea of starting my own studio...but for me...if I am going to start a business....it'd be a brewery.

    14 points
    • Johan Horn, 6 years ago

      I'd love being a bartender. Maybe designers are drawn to alcohol...

      1 point
      • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, 6 years ago

        Well if I brew it, you can serve it. I'm a big fan of making beer and in my area there has been an explosion of craft breweries..some good, some eh. I wouldn't be surprised though as a whole that designers would be drawn to alcohol...if not for the social lubrication and relaxation....definitely the packaging and branding. I am not ashamed to say I have picked beer based on a label design.

        0 points
    • Nick MorrisonNick Morrison, 6 years ago

      My backup plan is brewing, so let me know when you start.

      1 point
  • Paul ArmstrongPaul Armstrong, 6 years ago

    I'm 45 (and been in the industry since 1995 -- 22 years?! Ugh) and my relationship with design is probably no different than anyone's trajectory within their career. The further I progress in my career, the more I manage and lead than explicitly execute.

    Your experience can't or won't always be applicable, appreciated, or needed for any given business environment. You have to find the right fit, learn and grow, and as years turn into decades, you should continually find where you are the piece that completes a businesses needs, objectives, and goals. You will have to know your strengths and weakness, so you can improve where you lack and build value where you excel.

    But the world as a whole (at least in America) does not value age and experience. It's not just specific to our industry.

    It's hard not to get cynical about the industry, considering I was "mutually let go" from a startup I cofounded not all that long ago. But that's the nature of that specific business community. It's not that way everywhere.

    One can only hope that if you're doing the above, that your career lasts. But there is no guarantee for anything, which is why I don't spend much time worrying about it.

    10 points
  • CTodd LombardoCTodd Lombardo, 6 years ago

    This is the type of thread I'd love to see more of on Designer News: Curious, insightful, and open to differing viewpoints.

    My career has been meandering and I didn't start out as a 20-something designer, I came into it "late" and while I was never a good visual designer, I wound up being pretty decent at UX, design research, and design strategy. (For those playing buzzword-bingo: You win!!)

    I'm now an early 40-something leading the product, design, and experience parts of a small but growing business. Like others mentioned I'm not responsible for pixel-level execution, and more involved with team formation and helping them make the best decisions they can, while giving them opportunities to grow outside their comfort zones and expand their skill-sets.

    In the past few years I've been adding ways to teach what I do via talks at conferences, writing books to codify it, and teaching at the university level as an adjunct at a few places. That's been really delightful and rewarding as I get older.

    7 points
  • Joel Cook, 6 years ago

    Hey Joao great question. This thought has also been running through my head lately. The couple routes I have thought of are: 1. Move into an art director or design management position. 2. Work towards opening my own studio and bringing on younger talent.

    Over the past few years I've been involved in the interviewing process at my company when bringing on new designers an I've been seeing younger designers starting to edge out older more "experienced" designers.

    It's been a tough juggling act because in some cases a designer applies and has 10-15+ years of experience but you can see in their portfolio that their design style is way behind the times and looks very outdated. While some of these younger designers come in with very "beautiful" projects but you can tell that they are just for show (aka dribbble and behance) and wouldn't actually function well in the real world.

    So do we take on the older designer and work on teaching them new programs and catch them up on modern design trends. Or do we take on the younger designer but know we'd need to really work with them on the UX side of things?

    I know my personal experience in no way represents the entire design job market but over the past 5-10 years there has been such a big software boom it seems a lot of the older designers just haven't picked up on the new tools companies are looking for.

    I'd be curious to hear other peoples experiences on this topic.

    7 points
    • michael arguello, 6 years ago

      @joelcook Your response resonates with me. I agree 100%. Speaking from experience, you must gradually move into a more directorial role in your environment. And I say environment, because the behavior should extend past "work". The way I like to think about it is, as what is your personal "brand experience" you want people to have with you? Do you want to simply stay in your lane as a designer? Or do you want to be more influential in your department? And by doing that, your performance as a designer is the expectation, so being great at it won't be enough. Its your words, your actions, your motivation, your inspiration, that you can provide to the people around you, which will help elevate you to the next level.

      0 points
  • Dean HaydenDean Hayden, 6 years ago

    I’m fast approaching my 40s (next year) and have been a designer for 21 years.

    Having been freelance, in-house and agency side then back to freelance (not in that order) I have seen a lot of changes within the design industry; some good, some bad, some meh.

    I have no real plan for the future other than to keep working and making things I’m proud of. I keep learning new tools and dabble in things that loosely relate to day to day work (After Effects, Blender). I know had I stayed in an agency or worked in-house I would of ended up managing people and as I like being hand on it definitely wouldn’t of been for me; hence going freelance again.

    I like doing and the process behind it. I enjoy meeting and working with a variety of people who work in different fields. It’s not all been perfect but the good has definitely outweighed the bad.

    Maybe in the autumnal years of my career I’ll focus on illustration or write a book (probably more pictures than words).

    Ultimately I’m a designer who loves aesthetics and regardless of medium I want to do the best I can and make things that delight, pleasing to the eye and useful.

    6 points
  • Helen . Helen . , 6 years ago

    Great question to consider,I'm not as old (lol don't know how to phrase this without sounding rude) and don't have as many years as you guys seem to have but it's something I've considered myself.

    I got into the industry really early at 18 with no formal education and just pretty threw myself into taking on side projects and things to learn. Having done this for 8 years, I do see younger and "hungrier" designers who are getting into the field through bootcamp experience and such.

    My end goal as a designer has always been to open my own agency, working with client projects to fund my own side projects. I haven't stopped freelancing and doing short-term contracts every now and then to gain the experience and network, and work on my side projects in the evenings and weekends so hopefully that allows me to get to where I want to be about 10 years or so from now.

    5 points
  • Duke CavinskiDuke Cavinski, 6 years ago

    I'd say, keep working on those leadership skills if you want to stay in the industry.

    3 points
  • Daniel ArizaDaniel Ariza, 6 years ago

    I'm 38 and coming up on 19 years in the industry. It's been a wild ride. I started with the belief that I wanted to be a jack of all trades and slowly became more and more specialized in UI and front-end. It was a natural progression and a great learning experience. I've had my own business, been a part of startups and currently work for a product in the renewable energy space.

    What I found as you get older is that you start to move away from needing to be the person who always executes the vision into a role where you can help other be successful at executing. Although design is in my blood and I don't see a day where I'm not contributing in that way. You start to collect enough experience to see the road ahead better than someone with less experience. And that can be more valuable than making pixels.

    I do worry that as I get older maybe I start to lose touch and become what my brother calls a "designasaur" but I think that is more a result of a general attitude and lack of involvement in the process.

    I try not to beat down the young guns in our industry. Sometimes they have loud misguided opinions but I know it's born out of passion and desire to better themselves and our industry. I just have a strong distaste for those that want to tear other people down publicly. This has become a lot more prevalent as we've been given more of a platform to voice our opinions.

    I've also really moved away from wanting to work on things that "don't matter". I've worked on enough peoples crazy social networking ideas for a lifetime. This is totally subjective and just personal tendency I have now.

    What's cool about our industry is that you can still create a place for yourself. Your choices may become more slim for jobs but that is because you've made yourself so valuable with all that knowledge and experience.

    2 points
  • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, 6 years ago

    I'm not worried about my age. Never have been, ever. I hated birthdays as a kid because it was a stupid thing to celebrate, from a pragmatic view. What'd you achieve in that year? Nothing? Then why celebrate? And if you did achieve a lot, then why didn't you celebrate that earlier? Once a year is too arbitrary to me.

    I love growing older though. You accumulate so much knowledge (... or here's hoping?) that you can use in all aspects of life. It's exhilarating.

    Staying modern isn't as much an issue I feel, because that's literally part of our core skill-set these days. You can only succeed if you can empathise, you can only excel if you can adapt.

    You need to stay on top of the latest tech. Know what it does, and where to apply it. It's another thing that sets apart a good designer: knowing how & when to use each tool at our disposal.

    (re:Ken M.) As for being disillusioned with the industry; I don't feel that's any different from anywhere else in life. I'm disillusioned/disappointed in so many things in life. We're all so narrow-minded. We don't care about what happens outside our own little worlds. Too often we don't bother to really touch other people's lives. To me, that's not industry-tied, even though it might be somewhat worse than elsewhere. I find this issue also very location- and company-specific. I've seen it. And I've seen it in different gradations. Only way to change that, is to own it and invoke change.

    2 points
  • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, 6 years ago

    This is an excellent question and something I've been thinking about lately. Let's just say I've been a designer and developer for a very long time and have been thinking about how to become a creative director somewhere. I've worked in small studios and freelance my entire career soI haven't made any strong networking connections with larger agencies that have more need of experienced creative directors.

    2 points
    • Darrell HanleyDarrell Hanley, 6 years ago

      I'm curious as to how you balance the two. I'm also a designer and a developer, and have grown into a rather strong web developer. I've found that as my career has progressed, my employers always push me more towards to the development side of the work, so it's been very difficult to maintain a balance as a designer and developer. I love both, I get very excited for both, and I feel at times it creates a bit of alienation between me and designers that don't have much code knowledge.

      0 points
  • Christian Krammer, 6 years ago

    Same here, 38 years. Was in web-design for over two decades, but grew more and more tired of the entire field over time. The constant pressure, the constant need to learn this, that and that (and this technique of course). Of course, you can never stop learning these days, but the web-design field is some crazy area. Sometimes I wished to be a bus driver. Just sit, brain off and drive. ;)

    Lately, I’ve had the huge opportunity to transition away from design, into a totally different field. I’m a product owner now, so basically manage people of the type I used to be before. So, like other people say, try to go into a managing role when you grow older, it’s just a natural process. Of course, it’s hard to do if you get no opportunity, but I think if you keep your eyes open for such positions there will be one sometime.

    I still believe in good Karma, and a side-project can also help. Without the many I pursued in my life I wouldn’t be where I am now.

    1 point
    • Veronika Žuvić, almost 6 years ago

      This is a very interesting topic.

      I am 45 years old and in this job immediately after I've finished a college of nice arts. I have a day job as a designer more than 20 years and I design for clients over the net for a past few years in the same time.

      I am very satisfied with my job; I have a very good boss and nice income, I bring my dog in my office - every day, I do what I love, through the years I bought my own flat, my health insurance is covered and, in fact, I work from 9 am till 2.30 pm. Sometimes I forget to be grateful on what I have.

      There is a plan that I become a boss one day, when my boss get retired, but I don't wish this to happens soon - it is much nicer to design than worry about the bills and taxes!

      Yes, sure, there are days when I complain and when I am lazy, but I suppose this is normal. But there are some changes through the years; I do have more experience, but less energy. Sometimes I don't have enthusiasm for some tasks as before. I don't learn new technical things, just when I am forced to it. I suppose I will continue to do what I do. I also don't have a feeling that I know everything. Far from that. This is a reason to go on...

      0 points
  • L Theos, 6 years ago

    Interesting question. I'm 58 years old and I'm in designing/developing sites since 1995. I run a small studio with a steady, selected clientele. I have a PhD in Architecture but my interests since my academic years were around the computer assisted design (anyone remember this?) and type design.

    As the web became a thing I gradually moved my professional interests there. I often get surprised looks when I say what my main occupation is. I'm planning to continue designing/building sites for the years to come.

    0 points
  • Scott Thigpen, 6 years ago

    44 here, was a freelance illustrator and designer for 25 years. Never once had an age issue thrown at me however what did me in was the rise of China and India competing for American clients. There was no way I could compete when I needed 500 (or 5000!) for a job and they would do it (poorly) overseas for 50 bucks, or a fiver... :/

    When I saw the writing on the wall I quickly started learning css, html and javascript. I now am at a software company doing ui/ux and a whole lot of javascript. It hurts my head however I still manage to keep on the cutting edge of things (and as long as I can see to read, I hope to always continue keeping on the cutting edge).

    Where I work it's almost all millennials with just a smattering of Gen X'ers here (me being one). I get a lot of age jokes thrown at me but still very respected none the less. When this job runs it's course, I'll probably work remotely doing code... since in Slack, no one knows your age (and doesn't care as long as you can deliver code and comps).

    0 points