More on: Too old to find design work?

I’ve received several messages so far this year that start off, “I’m 45 years old and starting over as a designer.” They usually go on to ask if I think there is a future for them in the design world.

This echoes our most commented topic in 2011 on this blog: whether “old designers” can find work, be it in a job or as a self employed creative professional.

That conversation seems to be continuing again over on the HOW forum so in case you missed it and want to contribute anything, you can find that here.


8 thoughts on “More on: Too old to find design work?

  1. Laurel Black

    Since I wrote my original post on the subject nearly a year ago, I’ve had some time to think about the situation of “older” designers. There’s no denying that age bias permeates our culture, but I think that is slowing evolving, if for no other reason that that the Boomers are such a big chunk of the population. At any phase of our development, we have always been the 700-lb. gorilla in the corner, skewing whatever was on the collective cultural plate at the time. It is no different now that we’re becoming seniors.

    I noticed that most of the comments on the HOW forum seemed to be about the difficulty of getting hired at an agency if you’re over a certain age. Readers of this blog know that an agency position is just one option for a competent designer – that’s what creative freelancing is all about.

    Since I have been self-employed for over 30 years and wish to remain that way, the problem of getting hired at an agency or an in-house department isn’t an issue for me. Self-employment is never easy, but it allows direct engagement with clients, many of whom are less likely to be fixated on the “cool” factor and more interested in results that support their business.

    As I commented on Kevin Bryce’s blog , “. . . I find myself enjoying my work in design more than ever . . . I am doing the best work of my life. Why should I stop? It’s not like it’s physically strenuous. The other cool part is, my family is grown, my husband is still working, and I can do pretty much whatever I want. I have never had so much freedom.” Who knew? Lots of us aren’t getting old as fast as our parents did, or as we assumed we would. This will also probably be true for the Millennials and the Gen-Xers.

    I seem to be getting as much work as I ever did and so far cannot point to any specific instances of age discrimination. I believe I will continue to work as long I continue to deliver value. So my message to those who think they have to stop designing and find another way to make a living once the big 5-0 hits: think again. If you are willing to do the work of learning new tools and techniques, keeping abreast of trends, and keeping your passion for design current, hang in there. And I highly recommend the adventure of self-employment. At least you know your employer won’t can you before you’re ready.

  2. Marilyn

    Amen, sister! I am approaching my 60th birthday in May and still work 40+ hrs a week Freelance Graphic Design. I was a late bloomer to the profession, moving from Textile Design into Graphics after the Textile industry moved overseas and local jobs dried up. After a stint as an in house designer, I went freelance when they closed the local mill and love it. I do have it better than most because my former employer gives me all the hours I can handle. I plan to work as long as I can see the screen!

  3. Susan

    At 57 (really? how did that happen!), I find myself busier than ever as a freelancer. I have more work than I can comfortably do. I’m blessed to have clients who sing my praises and send more work my way. However, if I were to try to get a “real job,” I’d have to expand way beyond my current skill set in (mostly) print and get up to speed on web design and graphics. Seems that employers are looking for a designer who can do it all. Other established freelancers tell me that they are focusing on the design end and outsourcing the coding work. Makes a lot of sense to me. That said, I am enrolled in a graphic design class to shore up my fundamentals, freshen my skills and make sure I’m up with current trends. I may not want to do graphic design for the rest of my life, but it’s still a good gig and I don’t sense any age discrimination from my clients — they’re all getting older at the same rate as me.

  4. Susan Davis

    You’re right, delivering value is the key! However, if you think it’s hard at 50, try being almost 60 and looking for work! I’m one of millions of Americans who lost most of their retirement money in the 2008 economic boondoggle. I’m lucky to have been a freelancer most of my career, so I’m used to the ups and downs. But it’s taken awhile to accept the fact that I’ll be lucky if I can retire before I’m 70. So I’ve just had to keep going.

    You know how it is, every once in a while you get a moment where you should be relaxing between jobs, but instead your brain tortures you with the idea that maybe no one will call. So you start looking at jobs online. Ooo there’s an interesting job, you think – so you trudge through an online job application with a ridiculously bad interface, wait a few days or weeks – only to get absolutely no response. Complete silence. Luckily, a few days later clients start calling again and you’re fine for another few months.

    But – I think to myself, this is ridiculous. Three Emmy nominations, 30 years of graphic design, worked for Lucasfilm, ABC-TV and Industrial Light + Magic and a long list of the biggest corporations in America and nobody even bothers to give you a phone interview? Wow. That’s just sad. I’ve tried eliminating jobs and awards to make myself seem less overqualified, but it doesn’t seem to help.

    So I keep my small business going. I stay on top of trends. I subscribe to and I train myself on new technology. I change the direction of my work whenever I feel as though I’m getting stale. I find niches of traditionally bad design and try to find clients who are interested in improvement. I “follow my bliss” in the words of Joseph Campbell.

    When I got interested in my own family history about 10 years ago, I joined the Association of Personal Historians and started doing books with these authors. They interview people who are interested in telling their stories, and turn the interviews into well-written tomes. I go through the client’s photo albums and homes photographing keepsakes and treasure – and in the end I design beautiful books for them to share with the world and more importantly, with their families. It’s rewarding work and once you’re good enough, it’s a live-able income. But I also still have lots of wonderful clients who keep challenging me to do more and more for them.

    Occasionally one will briefly hire another designer, attracted by their youth and ability to talk about SEO and Market Share. But they always come back. Poorer and sorry that they ever left.

    Every once in a while I still get nervous and worry about the future, but at least in the meantime I can do rewarding work and hope to be staving off Alzheimers with the constant challenge of being forced to learn new things.

  5. Kevin Barnard

    Hello World,

    I’ve been working as a freelance graphic designer since 1990, with a few full time corporate gigs thrown in every so often. I recently resigned from a staff artist position, after working 18 months at a consumer electronics company, and returned to working the freelance opportunities, as I like to call them. The main reason I resigned from that job was the Creative Services Manager told me flat out “you will never be promoted to Senior Designer or Associate Art Director.”

    So I went looking and I did not have to go far. I now have a couple of wonderful clients who love my work and keep me busier than ever. My title these days is Creative Director, and that suits me fine. I enjoy the bonus of a 50-foot commute from my bedroom to my kitchen to my home office every day. I’ve also taken on some pro-bono work helping to develop a local center for the arts, and since I’m not commuting 2-3 hours a day, I get to spend lots more time practicing my guitar and songwriting.

    I’ll be 55 on June 9 2012, and I’ve never been happier in my entire life. Quite literally, I have too much work and find myself turning down offers. I really don’t understand this popular notion of “retirement”. If that means sitting around in my robe and puttering about in the garden all day, forget it. This is an exciting time to be a visual artist / designer / musician / sage and I’m looking forward to the next 50 years of personal growth, insight and inspiration.

    Cheerio • Namasté • Peace • Blessings • Gratitude • Love

  6. Sandi Whitaker

    I’ve been a freelancer since 1980, after having been in advertising agencies for 8 years, so am over 60, but my skills and computer are very current. The last couple of years have been some of the busiest of my life, now that my daughter is grown and out of the house. I freelance for a design house, and also directly for a large company, plus smaller jobs throughout the year. One fear I have is that the people I work for will retire, or go out of business, and I am not sure I will appear marketable at my age, though as some of you have written, after losing alot of money in 2008, I am looking at not being able to retire for at least 5 more years. Several printers I have met are thankful for us older designers, as we know how to design and prepare art for print, while many younger designers aren’t interested in that, but are fixated more on web design. So keep on keeping on!

  7. Johrdan

    I love this article, and although I am 30 years of age, and with not much experience under my belt due to employers, studios and other entities, not wanting to give me a chance in increasing my skill levels thru experience, I find it hard to freelance without the skills necessary to begin my own business. I might be whining about it all to some, but the truth of the matter is, no one is listening.

    So instead of using my brain for what it is intended, I have to pay bills thru jackhammering concrete pools, when I could be using that time helping clients and businesses thrive. At age 30, without the experiences necessary for a stable future as yourselves, and the knowledge to survive, what’s the point!

    Although mark my words, I believe that these people who turn me down thru lack of experience, do not have a clue how much knowledge I have built up by teaching myself. Yes I have a degree in communications, and yes I had one semester to finish my degree in creative industries, but discontinued due to the lack of relevant content that I was been taught for my major in graphic design! I know design, and so I will conquer, and theses companies and studios who have turned me down, are gonna wish they hadn’t!

    Inspire, create, share, passion, and give a stranger a hug once in a while!!!

  8. Anna Sprague Brodsky

    You all sound so happy and optimistic! I’m 54, freelancing for the last 8 years, and facing the dilemma of having watched my client base drop from a half dozen solid regulars to just a few. One client has been keeping me very busy for a number of years, and although I knew I was putting myself in a precarious position, I just didn’t make the time to cultivate new work. That said, the true dilemma is burn out. So much of my work is simply revamping and updating old pieces. Nothing challenging, nothing interesting.

    Any suggestions on how to attract more interesting work? My background has been mostly corporate collateral, but it is not my passion. Where’s the fun design work and how do I get some?