Too old to be a designer?

Laurel BlackI’ve been a freelancer for 31 years and while it’s great to be in business this long, there may be a downside.

The design profession seems to have a youth bias that is not working in my favor. Whereas other professions (medicine, law, etc.) value experience, the design and marketing fields seem to think that if you no longer fall into the coveted 18-34 demographic, you are too old to be relevant or useful. Experience is often seen as a sign of being “out of it.”

This is a bit scary for me because I am 61 and I have no intention of retiring. Let’s face it, design isn’t strenuous and after 30 years of working hard to get better, it’s more fun than ever. Milton Glaser is 81 and still works, so why not the rest of us?

The problem is, I know of no precedent for this. Mr. Glaser is a rock star genius. I am merely very good. Big difference when it comes to convincing prospects that they should hire me. He has fame and prestige to offset his age – I don’t. I am sure there are many designers who are in the same boat, but no one talks about it.

I googled “Old graphic designers” and didn’t get much. In addition to us boomers, there are a lot of freelancers coming up behind us who will face the same dilemma. I have been told that if you are over 40, no agency will hire you. If that’s true, what happens to all these people when they get laid off?

I am not worried for the immediate future. My niche has turned out to be the community I’ve lived in and served for three decades. I know how to communicate and sell here, and so far that has been acknowledged by a steady stream of projects. It has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I am pretty sure that if I stay visible, available and consistent, I will have a good shot at whatever’s out there.

I don’t count on that lasting forever, though. At some point some new person, undoubtedly younger than me, will decide that this would be the perfect place to establish a design practice, and will aggressively go after my market share. He/she will probably try to marginalize me by portraying me as too old to do a good job any more. This is what keeps me up at night. It’s also why I am trying to figure out how to get good projects online, but that’s another story.

Do any of you have thoughts about this? What strategies have you identified for being able to work as long as you want to?


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144 thoughts on “Too old to be a designer?

  1. Yvette

    My father and his father were both technical illustrators, designers, painters, and I am a designer, creative director. It’s in the blood. They both remained relevant as long as they could physically work by really focusing on their strengths.

    My father, in his younger days, owned a design studio. He focused on skateboard logos, T-shirt designs and the like. He drew all these by hand, which, as you know, requires excellent hand skills and steadiness. As he got older, he learned to use the computer and learned proprietary software for companies like HP where he was a technical illustrator. He won many awards for his work. Other companies, knowing his expertise in this niche hired him to do the same for them.

    My grandfather worked for Rockwell International as a technical illustrator (BTW, so did my father). When he decided he wanted to “retire,” he set up a studio in his home outside of the Palm Springs area and painted. When he wanted more to do, he taught painting.

    Both of them were able to grow in their areas of strength, find a niche and work comfortably within that niche for many years. One went in-house, the other went out on his own.

    I worked for studios, agencies and corporations for over 20 years. I also maintained my design business knowing that, at some point, I may want or need to jump ship. I decided to take that leap last year and have not regretted it. I intend to work in this business, grow in my areas of strength, learn new software and keep going as long as I want to.

    Best of luck to you. I’m sure you’ll have the same fortune as Milton if that’s what you desire.

    1. Steven Jackson

      I am 54, and I am trying to enter the graphic design field. I am still in the learning process. I need a mentor, someone who can help me figure out which way to go. which direction to go. Any takers?

      1. Kim Bliss

        This is very interesting. I am 52 year old graphic design student. I have about one more year to go to earn my Bachelors. I am afraid that people won’t hire me because of my age. My design style … though I try … is not as “youthful” as some of the other [younger] students. My ultimate goal is to freelance, and I’m not looking to be a famous designer, or work in a prestigious agency. I’ve been thinking about finding a unique niche, which is proving to be very difficult. I do calligraphy and I love photography and creating digital collages. Any ideas on how I will fit into the industry once I graduate?
        Thanks!

        1. Lynda Colon

          Dear Kim and Laurel:

          I am a fellow freelancer – and no spring chicken either. My business is called FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGN & MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS. I am on Facebook and LinkedIn as well. Please contact me through my website. I’d like to learn more about you – I’m building a network of freelancers and may be able to assist. I’d like to tell you more about my business. (www.hirelynda.webs.com)

          1. Elaine Eichner

            I looked at your site and will be in touch! I am in school also and would appreciate any help earning a living using my creative skills!

          2. sandy

            Thanks for this discussion! First off, there are 6 ‘Lynda Colon’ people I found through facebook: how do we know which one is you?

            I am a web designer in my 50s (I also do graphic design) and face many of the same frustrations. Web design technologies seem to always be changing so rapidly, so it is not just a matter of having great design skills, but also, constantly keeping up with the new technologies. I would say, even more than graphic design, the web design field very much favours youth and has a bias against older people. Also, I strive to have a balanced life: although I love looking at good design, I also like to do other things in my off-work hours (yoga, drumming, jug band, etc.). But I find many young web designers are such keeners, that they spend a huge amount of time in their off-work hours on going to Flash groups and further developing their Flash expertise, developing Flash programs or sites, podcasts, learning Ajax, creating gaming sites… just for fun. And that is hard to compete with.

            I upgraded my new media skills some 8 years ago in my mid 40s (the oldest student in the class, by far) at a community college, but found it very difficult with expectations that, of course, we would sometimes/often pull overnighters to get projects done, and often work until 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning, but not miss school the next day. I just don’t have the same energy level as I had when I was in my 20s, although I think I have very good energy for my age. But I cannot pull an overnighter and not suffer severe consequences, and I cannot do that on a regular basis. The school response was that this was the ‘real world’ in graphic design, and if we cannot keep up to that, then we can’t make it in the ‘real world’ of graphic and new media design.

        2. Paula

          my style has always been old even though i’m not, i tend toward the classics. my advice is…do your own thing, don’t try to make your style youthful! it never worked for me :)

        1. Michelle

          Groan. I know you are right Julia, but I am loathe to jump into this with both feet. It is too left-brain for me. I could do it though, if, say, I was trying to avoid a root canal or something. ; )

        2. Steve

          Julia, I’ve known web design since HTML v1.0. I have certificates and bonafides for Flash and Dreamweaver (not to mention Cold Fusion, blah blah technology names that come and go), not to mention my print book which is very good. And I’ve been told to my face that I’m too old to know about these internety things.

          Really? Let me explain in excruciating detail how packets, the TCP/IP stack basic quanta, are specified, formed and work.

          This last job search, being a designer over 40 was hell. I’m told there are markets that prize older designers who know the industry and grok brand. I haven’t found them, yet.

  2. Derek Oscarson

    My thoughts would be just to make sure that you are up to date on the technical side as best you can, and try to stay young at heart and in sensibility. Your experience and established name is not something they can take away from you as long as you can stay up to date with all the technical tumult.

    For the most part if you don’t live in an area with lots of creative talent around, they’re probably not going to invade your market share. Also working in your favor is networking and referrals – younger creatives are going to utilize social media and tech well to find business but most young creatives have no business acumen at all. I certainly didn’t.

    Also try not to confuse general prejudice towards older workers in these times with a bias specific to the design field. Don’t get too down, I think the breakneck pace of change in tech and how it affects industry is going to level off soon.

  3. Susan

    I started my own “agency of one” this past year because of the same fears that keep you up at night. At 45, I could feel my worth and value diminishing within the design agency environment. No one wants to pay for design experience, especially when there are so many twenty-somethings out there that are willing to work on the cheap. And very few regard design experience as relevant because there is so much hype and interest invested in the latest trends. But that’s exactly what they are: trends. They come and go and they leave a lot of inexperienced designers in their wake. I suspect that just as there are many new design graduates entering into the profession each year, there are equally as many leaving, too.

    Like you, I can’t imagine myself ever retiring. While so many of my friends and colleagues are counting the years until they can stop working, I am investing in ways to keep myself in the game for as long as I can. I am mindful of the trends, yet I remain faithful to what I know as good design. I keep up with technology. I contribute to my community and network with like-minded individuals who value what I do. Most importantly, I offer more than my design skills — I present my commitment, knowledge, experience and maturity as factors that differentiate me from the competition. Keep in mind, young designers have their own set of worries, and most of those concerns are centered around their lack of everything we have gained over the years through experience.

  4. Sharon

    I think about this from time to time as well. I’m 55 and have had my own small design firm for 33 years (minus four years when I temporarily jumped over to head a corporate in-house design dept. about 16 yrs ago). Since I’m a “geek” at heart I’ve always kept up with technology and software, but my design style doesn’t have that MTV-type cutting edge look that I always assumed clients were looking for. But I have more confidence now in myself and my abilities than I ever had when I was younger and lately this seems to be translating into more work because I’m focusing on relationships and not just getting projects. I’m anticipating I’ll be doing this for a long time to come. My oldest son is just starting college in the Fall and my youngest won’t graduate from college until I’m 63 … so retirement is not in the near future!

  5. Doug C.

    Well, Laurel, as one of the “old graphic designers” I can relate to what you said. I lost my job of eight years back in November of 2008, could never find another one, and then my unemployment ran out six months ago. Since I already had a computer and all the time in the world I started focusing on my talent as an illustrator. It seemed the only recourse I had, and it has kept me in this apartment with bills paid and food on the table.

    But, it has been scary. When you have a regular 40-hour gig you can be assured a paycheck each week, but once you go freelance you have to find your own work or you starve and become homeless. I thank God for keeping me afloat, of course, and for directing me to network and reach out with “cold call” emails, which have actually been quite fruitful in bringing in new clients.

    You have found your niche and that’s one of the biggest struggles for any freelancer. In networking I found my own niche — coupon mommy bloggers. It was not a demographic I even considered before, but it’s becoming a big thing now. Also, I have discovered that being active on LinkedIn can get you some attention as well. Just need to find groups in your field and post about yourself, your work, and participate in the conversations.

    Networking is the thing. I never thought this was important before, and I’m not a very social person, but you sometimes have to do unpleasant things in order to survive.

    1. Lisa K

      I am 41, a print designer, and also laid off in 2008. In San Francisco. I have wound up contracting for both my former employer and other companies as an on-site print designer. I make more money now and work less. Young designers are putting in 6o hour weeks for chicken scratch. Feeling pretty good about where I am. Also finding more work that includes illustration and older print techniques. I too worry about the future, but think working for ourselves either solo or as a principal is the answer to not being pushed out of the running.

      I think all the things that make you a good designer now are the ones that will continue to bring you work as you get older.
      - Stay fresh and informed on current waves, but don’t cave to trends, then your work will never look dated. Also remember that knowing why something was hot the first time it came around gives you authenticity when it makes a rebound.
      - Do your research about your client to bring the most meaningful results.
      - So many of the younger designers aren’t being taught good drawing and drafting skills, so their work has an uninformed quality that can’t be overcome by zippy new technology.
      - Don’t try to be everything. I do print and illustration. I’m not touching web or mobile. Leave that struggle to the youngsters who think nothing of spending their entire weekend learning some new flash gizmo.
      - Remember that not every client is the right fit for you, let go those who are looking for young hip trendy. Align yourself with clients who care about good design not trends.
      - Stay inspired. Go to lectures, museums, take ceramics classes. Work on your garden and your house. Hone your personal style. You’ll find you meet people who hire you because of the well rounded complex interesting person you’ve become!

      1. Michelle

        Well said Lisa!

        I am 43 and have always worked mostly in print and would prefer it stay that way, but I know I will have to bend a bit to survive. I loved everything you wrote and will paste it to my forehead, as I am struggling through a mid-life crisis and am not sure what direction to go for the second half of my career. I think you gave me a well-directed push though about staying inspired. Thank you.

  6. Laurel Black

    Thanks so much for the great responses! I was a bit nervous about outing myself as a geezer, but your ideas and thoughts are really useful.

    @ Edward: I appreciate the encouragement! I am aware of many of these firms and it would be useful to see how they have evolved and whether they have addressed this issue. Do you know of any small ones who aren’t world-famous? That’s an edge I don’t expect to have any time soon.
    @ Yvette: How wonderful that you have such great role models so close at hand! The idea of focusing on strengths is very helpful.
    @Derek: Yes, staying on top of technical developments is a must (and also tumultuous, as you suggest). As for other creative talent not invading my little market area, for a long time that was true. With this recession, that has changed. There are tons of designers in the Seattle/Tacoma area three hours away, and I recently lost a local proposal to one of them that I would probably have gotten in years past. When one’s fishing hole starts drying up, the little puddle down the road starts to look pretty good.
    @Susan: Your approach is similar to mine – I too volunteer locally, keep up with the tech stuff (well, I try), network regularly, and keep seeking a balance between staying current on trends and being true to who I am as a designer. I appreciate your reminder that knowledge, experience and maturity (and business know-how, as Derek points out) are important benefits to offer clients, and often not available from younger designers. I have had a couple of experiences, however, that showed that some people discount these qualities as less important than being cutting-edge. This makes me nervous, but perhaps I should just shrug and conclude that these folks are not my clients.
    @Sharon: Wow, 33 years! That’s great! I hear you about the college thing – I got my daughter through that right before the recession started. I think you really hit on something when you brought up confidence. It is very easy, especially when one is professionally isolated, to harbor doubts about one’s worth (one of the reasons this forum is such a boon for me). I tell my clients that when they connect and present to new prospects, these prospects unconsciously expect them to show what to think of them. They do that by exuding confidence and a positive vibe when they proudly hand over their card. Perhaps I should take my own advice.
    @Doug: You really landed on your feet! Good for you that you had the fortitude to find a solution and make it work. Even though it has been over 30 years since I had a regular paycheck, I sometimes get all misty-eyed about the good ol’ days mostly when my receivables bin is full of slow-pays. You’re right about networking – Ilise has pointed out many times that it should include both off- and on-line. I really need to work on the latter. Good tip about LinkedIn! I hope that networking becomes less painful – it sounds like you are getting pretty good at it.

  7. gerry suchy

    Laurel,
    Congratulations on initiating such a great discussion. From one outed geezer to another, let me be very trite and cliched, it just improves with age. When I gave up on my first career as a Social Worker (19 years) I was pretty clueless about how to parlay my hobby with Adobe apps into a new career. With luck, a lot of continuing education and ball busting hard work I managed to do it. I would echo everyone that has commented above, especially the point made about keeping current. When a potential client asks me have you heard about “X,Y,Z.” If I haven’t, I’m toast, because they already have. That’s just a time commitment and a learning curve. The other thing that has worked for me is to hold myself out as, “all things to all people.” Most importantly, I play to my strengths. With age comes wisdom, with experience comes, lessons learned. I’ll close this with a recent personal example. I have an occasional client in Chicago who has a friend that recently graduated from business school and took over the family real estate business. A very sharp and savvy 20 something woman. My friend says I should call her. So I do and we end up doing a single tabloid brochure for a high end condo she is selling. Easy work, quick turn around and a good discount from my printer. She loves it. We then start to have more conversation about how she had been looking for freelance designers in Chicago and was very put off by the, “young snot noses who thought their few years in the business made them hot shit.” Her words exactly, which was stunning to hear her bad mouth her peer group. She is quite clear that my age equals experience, maturity and a work ethic that is hard to find in some quarters. To end this little vignette, I an now on retainer and will more than likely be visiting Chicago on per diem to do her condo photos as well. Her photographer is also a snot nose, who is so bad at composing a photo that she has a reflection of herself in a mirror. So rock on Laurel Black.

  8. Olivia L. Enriquez

    I am one of the “old graphic designers”, too! My husband and I migrated to the US two years ago. We used to run a successful design company in the Philippines which we had to give up in favor of family reunification and our son’s future. In short, I and my husband have been displaced, career-wise. For the past years, I had been practicing as an independent working 0n the residual projects coming from there, and I find myself, at some point, trying out in the job market. I haven’t been lucky yet! I had hoped to push my reset button here, joined the AIGA Las Vegas, but I soon found out that there seems to be a bias, one, that my portfolio consisted of my work in my home country, and then, my age. Meanwhile, I have been volunteering to showcase my skill and talent, but I strongly feel that this lady with an extensive background in branding and package design could do much more and better work, only if I am given that chance. So guys out there, GIVE ME A BREAK!

    1. D. Jones

      I think you’re swimming upstream coming from another culture. I recently relocated for family reasons to Japan, but my portfolio is very American and in the English-language. Although I can speak Japanese, my portfolio just doesn’t resonate with Japanese (not enough pastels or smiley character icons?), but I have found that I can build a clientele among the expats who are more comfortable communicating with someone from the same culture. I wonder if you can find clients of your culture in the LV area? If not, expand your search to LA or SF? You can also offer a potential cross-cultural service for organizations wanting to reach the Phillipino communities, assuming you can also translate English to Tagalog.

      I wish you luck!

  9. Jody Shyllberg

    Another “geezer” designer here at 56 with my own business for 26 years. I also have had these same thoughts, but I think that it’s less about age than about the willingness to keep learning and adapting to changing times and changing tools and media. The only “old” designers I know who are no longer in the business are the ones who refused to do that.

    There will always be competition for your clients- always has been. If you’ve been successful at attracting them and keeping them happy now, I have no doubt you will continue to do so. There are many reasons clients decide to work with a particular designer, and it’s not always for the cutting-edge design. Frankly, there are a lot of excellent designers out there! Relationships, the ease of working together, integrity, honesty, humor…these can be the deciding factors in why they choose YOU to work with.

    1. Rik

      I totally agree with this post. Keeping up is critical. S

      So is taste, there is still not a ton of it out there. Hacks are everywhere–they always were.

      I’m 66 now, work part time, had a small agency in NY for 25 years. It’s a challenge these days to stay totally current since stuff changes so fast, but you have to try.

      One thing that worked for me was concentrating on pitching businesses that were either doing awful stuff that I could improve on immeasurably for the same dough, or companies that were in odd niches. I got recurring business from them that, while not what I would have been overjoyed about when I was 28, paid the bills and let me semi-retire.

  10. Jean Feingold

    I am a freelance writer, rather than a designer, but I’ve found my age (which is not too different from Laurel’s) is not an issue. Why not? Because my clients never ask and since most of my work is done by email or phone, they don’t see me. If they did, they would think I was much younger, but that’s a story for a different blog.

    Laurel, it’s all about results. Isn’t that what matters? If you provide the desired work on budget and on deadline (or better yet, early), people will hire you over and over. Your age will not be a concern.

  11. Carol

    Hi Laurel, thanks for the article. I’m a transitioning worker and studying graphic design at 40. Most of my classmates appear to be in their mid 20s to early 30s. Part of me wondered/wonders how much age matters for being a successful designer but I also came up with these counter arguments. 1. Like Derek said, the business skills are pretty critical to building/maintaining clientele; 2. My instructors stressed that you cannot assume that you are your target market (altho maybe if you’re focusing on industries like surfing, certain styles of music, teen clothing, etc. it helps to somehow relate to those cultures); 3. I would like to think as one matures, there’s less need to work driven by ego and a greater likelihood to do work as a service; 4. All things considered, I also believe culture is moving faster now and informed from more sources than in the past. In fields like design and technology, it helps to acknowledge the confidence you’ve gained from your achievements but remain a student.

  12. Laurel Black

    More great responses! Thanks to all of you for sharing your intelligence and insights. I will attempt a summary:

    “Although it seems that many in the business world don’t want to pay for experience or view it as relevant, trends are temporary. We will remain relevant as long as we play to our strengths and continue learning. Keep a youthful outlook and remember that younger competitors haven’t developed vital business skills yet, which is an older designer’s edge – along with experience, an established name, and willingness to network offline.

    “Remember that commitment, knowledge, experience and maturity can be competitive edges. Have confidence in yourself and focus on relationships and your niche. Exploit opportunities like LinkedIn. Use volunteering as a way to demonstrate your strengths. Be willing to adapt and don’t underestimate the value of being easy to work with, utterly reliable and honest. Remember that all that really matters is results. Acknowledge your accomplishments but remain a student.”

    Or to paraphrase Nike, just keep doing it (well). Very logical, makes perfect sense, and I have been doing most of this for some time. But there’s another aspect to this issue: logic doesn’t always drive purchasing decisions. As David Sandler says, we buy on emotion and justify with logic.

    I think that designers are often selected for their ability to embody how the client wishes to view him/herself, rather than for straight-up design competency. If the client wishes to feel hip, cool, cutting-edge, etc. and associates those attributes with youth, the client will justify this unconscious criteria by citing all the reasons why geezers can’t cut it in youth-oriented markets. Never mind that the bulk of buying power rests with boomers. (This whole issue is a bit ironic since the youth cult started with us and now we are reaping its results.)

    So here’s my question to all of you: how do we counter these unconscious purchasing criteria when they occur? Or do we? Is it best to just shrug and figure that you aren’t going to sell everyone you pitch for a variety of reasons? What’s your take?

  13. Ilise Benun

    Thanks, Laurel and everyone for this excellent and, I think, very important discussion. It is clearly ripe for other incarnations, such as an article that Laurel has already drafted here. (Let’s see where we can get that published!)

    It’s also a perfect topic for a Breakfast Roundtable that Laurel could lead at the Creative Freelancer Conference (http://www.creativefreelancerconference.com) in exactly 2 months in Chicago (Gerry, is that when you’ll be there visiting your new client?).

    What do you say, Laurel?

  14. Laurel Black

    Sure thing – I’d be happy to lead a roundtable! I hope all the responders will be there and add their great insights as they have here. And Gerry, I hope your meeting with your Chicago client coincides with CFC so you can hang out with us.

  15. Joan

    What a great article. I too have been in this field all my life and am fast approaching 60. I feel my work is now better than ever and have no desire to hang up my mouse. I have kept up with the industry, upgrading software until just last year. Had my own “2 person agency” and then lost my writer who was my business partner.

    Not finishing college and being without a degree never hampered me since I have the portfolio and that used to be enough. But I haven’t been able to even get an interview for the last two years whereas I used to always get the interview AND the job! Well I am feeling too old to complete 18 months of college now.

    Could it be that agencies are hesitant to hire those who have been on their own for fear of stealing clients? Though I would never do that, it might be one more reason for being passed over.

    Thanks for the great discussion.

    1. Barbara Olsher

      I had to jump in here! Joan, I graduated with a BFA degree in 2004. I started college (in Elementary Education and then in Business) in 1959! It took me 45 years but I now relish my degree in something I consider fun — Visual Communications/Digital Design! I had been creative in my 45-year career, but never had the credentials. My biggest thrill is when, on a form, I can check that I’ve completed four years of college! So here I am, almost 70 years old, busier than I ever was before, doing exactly what I love to do — create! I do keep up as best I can with the daily changes in the field of Graphic Design. It not only keeps me up to date, but at my age, it keeps my brain working!! So go for it — go back to school (online or otherwise) and get your degree. You’ll never regret it!

      1. Joan

        @Barbara, thanks so much for the encouragement! I might reconsider. I just bought a new Mac today, so why not get some use out of it. Now to scrounge up some funding. You are amazing!

    2. Jay Febish

      Joan, I have run into the same problem of an educational bias. I think that HR people are trained to automatically discount applicants without degrees. I quit college in my sophomore year because I felt I was just paying for a degree. I was learning much more at my job as an art director for a television station. I started working there afternoons after high school classes and went full-time after graduation. I was allowed to work flex-time around my classes at the university. At 18, I was probably the youngest art director for an NBC affiliate in the country. I haven’t figured out a way to say on my resume that my “education” was learned on the job and by trial and error.

      Another problem I keep running into is because of having to compete with a very large number of recent grads. Sarasota, Florida, where I live, is the location of one of the top art schools in the country, the Ringling College of Art and Design. It amazes me how cheaply these students are willing to work. Of course, many don’t have mortgages to pay and their children’s college education to worry about.

      1. Trisha

        I have noticed a huge increase in the Boston area of design firms searching for more “interns”. Almost half of the jobs on my former college’s job bank is for internships with the best companies. One company was interviewing for inters for the Summer/Fall postions. I’m all for internships, but it’s so obvious that in these economic struggles, many jobs are offered to students. Unpaid, or paid internships outnumber real competitive jobs right now. This is frustrating.

        1. Jade

          I have seen thru my association with art schools in Nashville that when the design community actively embraces students, we encourage them to charge fair wages for their work, and we teach them good business practices. This makes the interns happier (since they make more and feel more secure) and the experienced designers see less undercutting (though, of course, there will always be some!). Young people don’t intentionally cut off our livelihood, they are often just afraid to say no or ask for more without support from peers and mentors.

      2. Joan

        @Jay, Yes I know, I’ve SEEN employers do this, degree resume in this pile, resume with no degree in the other pile. With no more review than that. Just lumped them all together and start with the degree pile. So that is the reality we are up against.

  16. Dara

    I’m so glad I found this discussion! Like Carol, I’m 40 years old and just graduating from my BFA program after pursuing a science-related field and then staying home to raise kids. Even while working on my BFA, the class projects seemed to target mainly the late teen and 20-something crowd. It seems like all the hotshots are in their 20s out there, but I’m trying to keep positive and build up a network. I’ve been very inspired by Ilise’s marketing advice and basically working on my skills and keeping a positive outlook. I know my niche is out there! I’ve just go to find it.

  17. Laurel Black

    @Joan – I think things have gotten more competitive for all of us for a variety of reasons. I too have experienced more proposals being turned down than what used to the case, and it’s hard to pinpoint the reasons. I make it a practice to follow up after not getting a project, but I am often stymied with cant phrases such as “We decided to go in a different direction.” I would almost prefer a straight-up “Your work sucks” so I could find out how to do better next time.
    @ Dara – Congratulations! Yes, forge ahead and know that you can bring attributes to the table that just aren’t possible until a certain number of years have been logged. IMO one of the best places you can find good advice and support is on this blog!

  18. Doug C.

    Wow, you really started something Laurel. Great discussion. I also follow up if I don’t receive a reply from possible clients, but if I were to get a response like “We decided to go in a different direction” then I figure it’s their loss not mine.

    Age really doesn’t have anything to do with all this, because if you have a talent and are capable of working then there’s nothing that can stop you—except yourself. Sure there’s tons of young wannabes out there, but do they posses the insight and wisdom that comes from years of hands-on experience? Probably not.

    Besides, I look at it this way…nine times out of ten my clients never see me so what does my age matter? What’s important is the work I produce. To paraphrase Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years, dollface, it’s the mileage.”

  19. glenn rummler

    After 20 years working as a designer, creative director, production designer & small design shop owner I’m back at school so I can become a professor of design to help shape the future of the creative industries that have been so good to me. I’ve found that mentoring and teaching the next generation is very helpful for them and satisfying for me.
    I still work on select, contract projects but focus more on areas of specialty so my experience can really shine. I have more opportunities to make a positive impact on the success of businesses or organizations in ways that add real value for those clients. The confidence of all those years of being a creative problem solver really pays off when speaking to a business owner who is trying to stay competitive.

  20. Laurel Black

    More great responses – it just keeps getting better!
    So @Doug and Glenn: Of course it doesn’t have anything to do with age – WE know that. The question is, how many clients believe that? In my market area, I do meet face to face a lot, and I sometimes wonder if I still look like my profile photo. I really think Glenn nails it when he says that the confidence that comes from all the years of being a problem solver really pays off. And so does Doug in emphasizing that the important thing is the work we produce. Now, how to convince prospective clients?

  21. Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

    Great article, Laurel – leading to a great discussion. I intended to respond to your post when I first read it last week. However, a big new brand roll-out for a client got in the way. Soon to be 55, I am a design-o-saur who has worked professionally as a designer for 32 years and I seriously doubt I will ever officially retire.

    I’ve yet to experience any ageism in this professional, myself. Instead, I seem to be considered an “expert” or “seasoned professional,” with a book of work that speaks for itself. Recently I’ve noticed a number of clients expressing appreciation of my pre-computer skills in the creation of their projects; having had negative experiences with “designers” not having a similar history. Of course, many potential clients may not even be aware of my age.

    Since 1998, when my first web page went live, most of my work has been done via email and phone at a long distance; meeting few clients in person. In fact. most work for local clients is done without physical meetings. I’ve worked with one local client for six years now and we’ve only met in person twice in the last three years. I guess few people have the opportunity to see how truly “old and tired” I may appear on a given day.

    I’ve seen many excellent “geezer” designers have careers stall, simply because they have not been willing to keep up with the latest in technology. Some 20 years after a computer first appeared on my desk, some industry peers I know still struggle with the computer as a design tool. Others have failed to adjust portfolio or marketing techniques with the changing times. What’s with designers that yet to have a web presence? It also seems that failing to make use of the social media/networking options of today, as a [free] marketing tool, is simply foolish. In addition, I’ve run into many designers of my age who are afraid of too much success if they take advantage of all the Internet has to offer in promoting their design efforts.

    In 30 years, I’ve never marketed myself as a freelancer. Instead, I’ve always projected an image of having my own design firm. I recently tweeted: “‘Freelancer’ can convey a psychological thing to potential clients that a designer is willing to work ‘free’ or too cheap……is not skilled enough to get a ‘real’ job, or is simply working ‘freelance’ until the right job comes along.” I think this has been even more so with designers of “our age” who have been laid off in the economy of recent years. Those opting to work independently often put the “freelancer” label on themselves; rather than translating the years of experience and skillset into the more impressive position of “design firm owner.”

    Age should not be a negative to those seeking traditional job situations. Many employers with whom I come in contact appreciate what a design-o-saur may have to offer over a younger job applicant. A great work ethic, years of experience, pre-computer design skills, a true understanding of printers and the print process, typography expertise (rather than computer type manipulation), a written and oral communication skillset, and so much more are benefits often mentioned when discussing possible design employees “of a certain age.” “Older” designers should not be afraid of bluntness in telling others they can still kick ass in comparison to younger industry professionals.

    I suppose I’ve also been able to remain relevant and useful, within the industry, by putting myself out there as a writer, speaker and teacher. Sharing your knowledge and experiences (as you are doing with this article) is a great method of reminding others you exist and bringing continued work your way.

    Thanks for starting this discussion.

  22. Laurel Black

    @Jeff: Darn how those pesky brand roll-outs cut into our posting time! Thanks for your thoughtful response. The main take-away I got was a sense of your confidence, an attribute mentioned by others as a key determinant in how one’s worth is perceived. You say that most of your work occurs online and that many of your clients may not even be aware of your age. And as others have, you make the point that we absolutely have to keep up with technology, unlike many otherwise great designers you have known who have no web site (are you KIDDING??!!) and don’t use social networking. Summing up, it sounds like you believe design-o-saurs’ ability to keep working is directly equivalent to how much effort they are willing to make to stay competitive in the real world, and how assertive they are in showing that they still kick ass on a level playing field. In your case you go the extra mile by putting yourself out there with writing, speaking and teaching.

    My concern is with the level playing field. Up until recently, this wasn’t an issue for me. But with the continued bad economy and greater competition, it has become apparent that the playing field may be changing in ominous ways. I would like to stay ahead of that. Today Seth Grodin had an excellent post about the alignment of relationships, and one of the examples he used was, “The hip designer relationship: I want the new thing no one else has yet. You want to be around for years.” That’s what we’re dealing with. We can all assert till we’re blue in the face that age should have nothing to do with how we’re judged as designers. The fact remains that we are. Otherwise, over-40s would get hired as much as any other age group, and according to several who have commented here, they aren’t. So the real question is not whether judgments based on age are okay or if they happen, but what can we do about it?

    You are absolutely right that we have to make our own effort to stay in the game, and to have confidence in ourselves and our work. That is certainly our responsibility and I would guess that’s 80% of the answer. I would like some help with the other 20%.

  23. A. Sparks

    Here’s a positive note… At forty it is finally time to climb the ranks to art director or creative director where experience and age is a benefit. These titles aren’t as easily available to younger creatives. In this circumstance a more seasoned age gives the advantage.

  24. Guy Smalley

    You know I have been doing my thing for 39 years, I do nothing local. 40% of my work is overseas in many countries. I found my experience is a plus. But if I do say anything they wouldn,t know my age as my concepts & illustrations are young.

  25. Helen Grimm Leger

    I LOVE this discussion, it really nails down how I feel. I’m 52, and I don’t consider myself a “freelancer” but as a business owner with myself as basically the only employee. Adding to my problem of being perceived as “too old” to design, I also have been fighting a neurological disease, so face-to-face meetings are much more difficult than even 2 years ago. I’ve worked for some major companies, but do you think anyone is going to hire you after the age of 45+? Not only do you have the perception that you’re not “with it”, but it will cost the employer more to pay you, and MUCH more to insure you. And you probably won’t work 90 hours a week for them on a salary basis anymore either. (Which we all know is technically illegal, but everyone does it anyway).

    I love the few clients I work with on an ongoing basis, but find myself too busy to reach out and cultivate new clients when I know I need to be doing that. I don’t intend to retire as I look forward to sitting down at my computer and creating something. And I also have 3 kids 17 and under to put through college myself and the scholarships that they’ll hopefully get! I’m going to keep following this discussion. And I love the term “design-o-saurs”, I think you should use that for a group forum!

  26. D. Jones

    Evolve, add-value, repackage and make the gray work for you with a higher level of management that is likely to be your age or older. The higher-level projects only go to those that they feel they can trust, and youth isn’t always trusted.

  27. Joe

    This is a great article Laurel… the comments equally great. On August 27… I’ll hit that magic number of 50. Am I concerned? Not in the least. One thing that no one seems to have touched on (unless I missed… I don’t have my old man glasses on), is the fact that people who need our “creative experience” have been, in one way, shape or form had a run in with a know-it-all, over-inflated ego yielding young designer that left a terrible taste in their mouth. It seems that every new client I meet tells me that and how refreshing it is for them to work with a designer that actually cares about what they, the client, needs and not what the designer wants to do. I’ve always put listening to my clients first. I’m a listener first, designer second. Many young, and not so young, designers can’t seem to do that but really should.

    I too am a geek, so I stay in tune with all things related to what we do on a daily basis. New technology, new techniques… on and on. I walk into meetings like I really know my sh!t which is confidence, not ego… huge difference. I think as long as you stay up to date with things going on around you, age has nothing to do with anything.

    I love what I do and dare any diaper-wearing, youngin to try and take me on. There are many, many designers out there better than I, but my experience will trump their talents… especially during these times when watching the bottom line is crucial.

    1. Jay Febish

      Joe, you’ve touched on something that can help us geezers or hurt us. And that is attitude. I’m sure at one time or another, we’ve all run across designers who are prima donnas. It’s one thing to have confidence in one’s own ability, and another to have an inflated ego. I’ve run across egotistic designers my entire career. Some clients will buy into the bullshit and likely be disappointed with the results. Others will see through it and hire competent designers with positive results.

      As for staying in tune with technology and techniques, I believe Tom Petty (& the Heartbreakers) said it well in a song… “I don’t know, but I’ve been told, you never slow down, you never get old.”

  28. Todd

    Just turned 42 this year but feel like I’m hitting my prime!!! At the same time though I try to keep atop of new color schemes and design trends, not in just graphic design but in all design: fashion, interior, web, industrial, product, current music. The world is so cross-marketed you have to keep you eyes open! Never think to yourself “I couldn’t never try that!” Go out there and do it. Youth is a mindset so set your mind to keep relevant!

  29. Susan Meredith

    Learn, learn, learn. I have been a graphic designer for 29 years and am now just tackling my bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and I am still learning new things, techniques, etc. Next step, educator degree then on to professor. Us “old graphic designers” have experiences that the new “youngins” will never experience…the invention of the Mac; the development of graphic design software – and beta testing it to make it better; traditional pasteup and layout (but I sure don’t miss the wax); traditional stripping; traditional prepress; even running a press! These are crafts that are no longer a necessity for a designed job to go on press, but these are skills that are invaluable. Every step we have each taken in our careers has brought us all to this point in the graphic industry. As the “elders” it is extremely important to never forget where it all came from in the first place…and we got to live it and it’s up to us to share it!

    If you can, and I do this often, talk in general to a younger designer about a project – get their input. It makes your mind race and new ideas come fluttering in. It’s merely another point of view.

    Joe is right…our skill set tops any graphic designer graduating with a degree but has not one hour of practical design time. Old-timers are more important than ever.

  30. Benett Gewirtz

    Laurel

    Amazing article. I, too, have thought about writing about the angst I have been feeling regarding our profession. I have been a graphic designer for over 30 years with the past 26 years as the owner of my own design firm. I have been successful because of staying with and becoming proficient in the niche(s) that I worked in. Unfortunately, one particular niche has changed radically and has brought most of the work in house, hiring young designers through creative agencies. I always prized myself on my social skills and in building strong relationships with my clients and it has worked well with me. Many of those clients have retired or left the business and the new impersonal way of doing business does not play in to my style. So I am in the process of reinventing (a word I hear a lot people my age using) myself and repositioning my business. It is not that easy but I am not ready to give up either. Your article and many of the responses are very encouraging. It is nice to know I am not alone. Please keep the dialog going. Thanks.

  31. Matt

    Thanks for the blog! The discussion is great. I’m 40 and just now deciding that I want to get a degree in design after somewhat of a hard time in life, not having a degree yet and struggling through various work in sales and marketing. It’s what I really enjoy doing and learning about. These positive comments have helped a great deal. I’d love to get in touch with some of you if you are willing. My e-mail is mattsmanchester@hotmail.com. :)

  32. Rick

    Love the article and the insight from all the designers, but as inspirational as I find this discussion, I still am not sure how I can even get started as an “old” designer, let alone make it. I have a military background then spent years in several technology based professions designing and re-designing our training material before eventually pursuing a design degree. I’ve now been out of school for a year and haven’t had a single job offer regardless of the reams of resumes I’ve sent and follow-up telephone calls made. The thing I’m really afraid of is that while I have years of self-taught experience, I have zero formal, so my design skill level is that of a recent graduate. Trying to “find a niche” and establish a client base without that experience seems incredibly daunting. Any advice?

  33. Angela Jackson

    Thank you for starting this discussion. I think age has always been a consideration
    in hiring. It maybe illegal, but it is there. I have been on interview committees where
    the conversation or unwritten statements were to hire a younger male designer. My past boss who was in her 50′s said that a younger male designer would not call in sick as often as a woman who usually responsible for the children. And a younger designer would have more youthful ideas. I was about 32 years old back then and had not called in sick in over 4 years, but females employee were often sick. The portfolios of these applicants were not any more impressive than some the current employees.

    Now at 48 years old, I see more younger designers or people with a lot less experience
    as more desirable to employers because they are more willing to work for lower wages and are not a threat to a younger less experienced boss or employee. I applied for two positions, where the interviewer told me that they did not feel comfortable hiring me because I seemed over qualified. Employers seem to want or prefer an employee with less experience which claims to know a little of everything (print, web design, animation, social media, video, etc…). I think experience and skill level is still valuable, but I think networking is even more critical to finding work. The best opportunities are not always advertised, and if you are referred I think you have a better chance in spite of your age. I am always looking myself. Good karma to everyone.
    Thank you, Angela

  34. Melanie

    I was drawn to read this entire discussion as I, too, have been feeling like an “over the hill” designer! It’s not that I’m not current with the tech- I was an early adopter (1987 for my first Mac and Illustrator 1) and still consider myself up to date and very tech savvy- and I love it. I do fb, Linked In, Twitter (although I don’t enough, I guess). I’ve had my own design firm for 30 years, started at age 32, with a staff of 4-5. Networking and relationships have always been the basis for getting projects. Now, it seems, most people I pitch to are slightly older than the my kids’ age and just don’t relate to me. I could be wrong, but it’s very different than the working relationships I’ve had in the past where I felt clients were more like peers.
    I also find that the projects I bid on now are often managed by non-marketing or inexperienced younger people who know little about strategic marketing, nothing at all about printing, and cannot articulate creative direction. “I don’t know what I want but I’ll know it when I see it.” syndrome. If I want the project to keep my staff employed and our doors open, I am then in the position of educating the client while designing a solution. Not a very collaborative experience, and it usually never turns out well. It seems to be happening more now than ever.
    I am still hopeful, but I must confess that our fees are about the same as they were maybe 25 years ago, (our rent and health insurance certainly is not) and with the current recession we’ve cut our salaries in half, so I now earn what I did when I was 30! I’m not “famous” but am well-known among my age group in the NYC area, was involved in the early AIGA local chapter startup, and before kids, was very involved in the NYC design community. As a small firm it seems like we cannot compete for the larger projects that Pentagram, et al, can win, although I feel our talents and abilities are on par with that caliber of work. We do lots of pro bono work for causes we like in our local area, and we get loads of recognition and kudos. It doesn’t pay the bills, though.
    Aside from the financial frustrations, as a designer I find it really boring to work on small projects for clients who have no idea what the value of the design thinking is and are completely bottom line oriented. I’m used to bigger, long term work for smart communication directors. Just venting here!
    Having said all this, I still love the business and get as excited as ever when we can work on interesting projects. Getting paid enough so you can keep working is the hard part these days.

    1. Benett Gewirtz

      Melanie

      You make a very good point about how we charge the same amount for our work as we did 20 years ago. I did not mention in my response about how I do not think the argument is all about age as much as it is about how the design services we offer are not valued as much as they used to be. This problem is not only the effect of many young people entering the field but of the many companies that are only interested in spending as little as possible on any given project. Quality and experience do not seem to be as important as cost. There is still work out there. It is just harder to find and maybe not quite as lucrative. Hope you all funded your retirement accounts when the going was good.

  35. Jane

    This has been wonderful! I am going to read the comments frequently for pep talk! Sooo many good ideas, the idea of self improvement, keeping up confidence because, after all, there is a whole body of good work we all have done, that have made changes, made our clients successful.

    @ Laurel: “So the real question is not whether judgments based on age are okay or if they happen, but what can we do about it?”

    Sometimes one has to work with things as they are, but…maybe get loud? You have outed us, that is a start! Getting loud is something I don’t do as much, especially as I “mellow” but sometimes only the loud people are heard. If that is the client you are after.

    LOVE — the humor. I think that works well too. I think I might put “It’s not the years, dollface, it’s the mileage.” on my homepage or business cards!

    Thanks for a good discussion.

  36. Mark Lanford

    So 1st thing – I am 34 and have been doing graphic design for the last 14 years – and shortly after beginning my career i found that it is in best interest for all graphic designers to incorporate themselves so that at least your hardware, software and some of your other bills can be tax writeoff as most of what we do on a day to day is focused in and around our graphic design careers.

    2ndly. By doing this you can at least begin turning your freelance into business development and also begin increasing your portfolio with relevant projects which new potential clients will be able to see how you can provide realistic design services for their needs. After all is said and done the real deal is all about being a good sales person and communicator.

    Do i worry about getting “old” in design – not really – why? Because in the end you are either a good at what you do or you are not. I think the perception that design is for the younger folks is based solely on how design is being mass marketed and also how available our software is to the public – if you told anyone in 1996 that you use photoshop they would look at you as if you were crazy, today, photoshop is a verb (which really pisses me off).

    So im not sure if this helps – i think you should always be working to better increase your design skills as an artist get in touch with your core, you are not your title – at the end of the day you are hopefully an artist and you appreciate art at all levels and that will be how you can gauge the level of your success.

  37. Karen Schmedeke

    Great discussion! I’m so glad I found you all! At 58, I’m right in there with you all. I had a business associate, a small business administration loan administrator, give me some great advice a few weeks ago. This is the story he told me.

    A large cathedral had been having trouble with their enormous pipe organ and it stopped working. The priest was recommended to an elderly man who had been fixing organs for many years. The repairman came into the cathedral and looked the organ over. After a few minutes, he reached up and tapped on a small section of pipe. Suddenly the organ came to life and beautiful music issued forth. The priest turned to the repairman and asked how much he owed him. The repairman looked him in the eye and answered “$10,000″. “$10,000″, shouted the priest in reply! It only took you five minutes! “Yes”, said the repairman. “That’s $1,000 for tapping the pipe and $9,000 for knowing where to tap”.

    The obvious point it, the more years you have in this business, the less likely you are to make the mistakes all newbies make and they are paying you for all the time you save them by knowing what you’re doing. I made me realize that I am definitely worth what I charge!
    Karen Schmedeke

  38. chrisCHRISchris Decatur

    Great Post, Great Question!

    As a “young” designer, I will say that I never thought of the “old dog” perspective. I was so [selfishly] focused on how hard it was to find work as a youngster with just a mere, eh hem, TEN years experience I never thought what it would be like to have the other.

    My advice would be an amalgam of all of the above – Know your SH**, keep up on the new technology and design directions and you’ll be fine. These days you can just go on a few Design Inspiration websites and see where the world o’ design is heading and mimic that with your flair.

    …Besides… Seems like design is heading back into this retro-style right now. So, maybe you won’t even have to try hard to make things look good! Ha! …That sounded mean, but I was making a joke.

    Worry not. The internet doesn’t care how old you are. Just be good! And it sounds like you are.

    Hearts & Ponies,
    chrisCHRISchris

  39. Lesley

    I think part of the problem is that there are caps on job salaries. The perception of those with experience, it that they will be more expensive and perhaps stuck in old trends. I started freelancing when I was 31 years old and have been doing so for 15 years. I could have grown my company, but I am not the executive type. I’m just a good designer. Also, I love that it affords me to be at home and with my family. But with this career comes the ups and downs of market, skill, and work flow. It’s a hard balancing act. After 15 years, I still can only control my schedule so much.

    But, whether you decide to work for someone or yourself, you have to recognize your ability to make them notice. I have found that honest discussion that involves listening, spontaneous creative back and forth, and how you relate to a topic at hand, is the best way to prove how your experience is of value. Also, at some point leadership skills are needed in those positions that delegate more than prove creativity with hands-on skills. It’s hard for us artists to let-go of control over the details, but we have to remember that ideas come in way of creative thought and leadership. This is something that only experience can successfully yield.

    Whatever your choices may be, always remember that you have something to offer, keep learning, and if you believe your worth, others will too.

    Good luck,
    Lesley

  40. Terry

    One tip to not being too old to be a designer— stop thinking of yourself as old.
    I’m 56, look 45 and rarely does my age cross my mind or my affect my behavior. It’s just irrelevant. Based upon what I can see in your ½” high photo with my failing eyesight, you, Laurel, don’t show your age either.

    With experience, I have become hyper-competent (However, the universe regularly puts me in my place to keep me humble). Being experienced, I am not a one-trick pony. I can bring several solutions to bear on solving any problem. I have more than just the latest software plug-in to bring to the party.

    I’m a motion graphic designer and that market is indeed the home of the “strap the viewer’s head in a paint shaker and show them images” school of “sizzle.” There will always be a market for the latest visual craze and plenty of youngins to practice it. What the majority of younger designers can’t do is communicate effectively. Neither with their art nor their language.

    One of the selling points that experienced, good designers have is understanding the meaning of the images that they create. I am constantly amused at seeing commercials, corporate communications and graphic communications that communicate the opposite of what their creators intended (hence the popularity of things like Leno’s “Headlines” segment).

    Corporate clients need to communicate clearly to an audience that doesn’t care about the company and probably doesn’t much trust them. My knowledge of how to juxtapose images and words to achieve a clear, credible and effective communication has a direct and immediate impact on their investment. ROI is a value proposition that can be measured, documented and sold!

    So, it doesn’t get any easier with age to beat the pavement for the next gig. But, I don’t see a lot of younger competitors who are willing to put in two or three years of networking per client to land a job. Our experience, work ethic and persistence are valuable qualities that the younger folks don’t tend to have. Smart clients will patronize professionals with these qualities, others will not.

    Choose the smart clients.

  41. Eric Knudtson

    This is a great post. Thank you for sharing.
    There are definitely trends in design valuation that work against more experienced designers. As you point out among them are the youth-oriented culture of advertising and new product design, the downward pressure on salaries and spending on design, as well as others. There are also trends that are working in favor of more experienced designers; among them being a more generally understood and accepted position of design within business and in our culture generally. I myself am most curious about what type of cross-pollination and collaborative work designers can accomplish working with others in related and dissimilar fields. For example: working with computer programmers and data visualization experts, a graphic designer’s impact can greatly expand.

    If I were to observe some key aspects of successful long-term designers it would be:
    1. Have a personality and opinion. ( Don’t just copy the latest trends. )
    2. Find a team and collaborate as much as possible.
    3. Try new things while also gaining deep specialization in one niche.

    Eric Knudtson

  42. Kristin Maija Peterson

    Laurel ~ First of all, you don’t look like 61. But I’m so glad you wrote about the older designer. I don’t normally brag about it, but I have been designing before there were Macs.

    I just hit the 5-0 mark this year and have been designing for 20+ years, most of them as an independent. Thoughts of becoming irrelevant started creeping into my brain around 45, but what has saved me is getting to know people younger who are connected to the creative world. That’s helped kept me up to date with current social, graphic and communication trends. The interesting thing I’ve discovered is that I’m valued for my experience and lately been hired for project work by people 15 – 20 years younger than myself.

    The best thing about being an older designer is the confidence. There were things I would totally freak out about when I was younger: dealing with clients, just getting clients, getting paid and “I sure hope this prints well” dreaded feeling.

    The downside: Trying to keep up with the technology. I know how to design and develop a custom website, but I know I need to adapt and learn something more robust, like WordPress. That takes time. And where to find that time is a struggle.
    But I have my younger colleagues encouraging me just the same.

  43. Mary Bieniak

    Laurel,

    I have shared your concerns. Five years ago, I left the security of a small established design studio in Illinois at which I worked for 16 years. I was not the owner, but I was one of 3 designers supporting the company. At 40 I was thrown back into the job world when my husband was transferred to Texas. I was scared to death, and spent many a night fretting over my huge portfolio trying to ween it down to what I thought would be current and trendy.

    To my surprise and relief, I was able to find a position as Senior designer in a corporate marketing department working with designers much younger than myself and I have been able to hold my own. Experience is important in the design field because so much of the old school knowledge is still used just modified for the computer.

    I began my professional design career at the beginning of the computer desktop publishing transformation in Chicago. I had friends working for companies recreating the Letracet typefaces in illustrator so vector art would be available for the new digital age. This meant that the bulk of my formal education was fine art, technical illustration and design concept. My first experience on an Apple was my senior year in college. This meant that my professional career has been spent in sink or swim scenarios cranking out design on the computer, learning as I go. The talent for art/design is something you are born with. If you have the passion for it, that is what will keep you thriving – no matter what the current tool is. A sad thing that I have noticed, is the skills I have acquired with a traditional art background, are no longer being taught to the younger computer generation and I feel it shows in their designs. This could be the design trend we fear. In my opinion, the computer has allowed a sloppiness to develop in the younger generation. It is up to us – the old folks – to keep that in check.

    Stay positive, trust in your gift, hold true to your vision. Trends come and go, but a positive attitude and the love of what you do keeps the clients and the trust that you have built in your relationships.

  44. Janice

    As a graphic designer in business for 30 years, I have appreciated reading this discussion. Several contributors have mentioned they feel they are doing their best work, and that makes sense — the longer in the business, the more one brings to the table. Substitute “graphic designer” for “architect” in the following article, and I think you’ve got it about right. Now we just need to own it!

    Arrol Gellner, San Antonio Express-News, December 20, 2009:
    “‘The four stages of man,’ Art Linkletter once observed, ‘are infancy, childhood, adolescence and obsolescence.’ While this bromide may well describe the lives of media stars and child prodigies, I’m happy to report that it seldom applies to architects. While many may grow old, few, it seems, grow irrelevant. In fact, most great architects hadn’t even hit their stride until midlife, and many kept going strong into their 90s.”

    http://www.mysanantonio.com/default/article/Arrol-Gellner-Saving-the-best-designs-for-last-627185.php

  45. D.W. Smith

    This article caught my eye as i am 51 and have been freelancing a long time. I have been in a youth oriented market for a while. I may be different in that I think and feel like a 35 year old. Just ask my wife (she might say i act like a 12 year old). I have embraced the newest things in design, software and trends. I have found my greatest success in providing my clients with design above and beyond what they are used to. There are no young designers capable of providing this level of design to them. I have even sent clients who had budget complaints to younger, less experienced designers. They always call back wanting my services because the younger designer could not provide the level of design they realized they needed. I also have made many connections with younger designers. I use them for projects when appropriate and we pick each others brains for information. I think that as long as you love what you do, you will be able to do it as long as you want.

  46. Joanne Sharp

    What a fabulous discussion! after reading all these posts, I wondered what I might be able to add to what already has been said. I, too, predate the computer era, receiving my BA in Art and Graphic Design in 1961, and I will turn 72 this year. I think the computer is the most incredible design tool ever, and sure don’t miss the days of type speccing line by line and waiting for the proofs to come back from the typesetter, then proofing, etc., etc. I have done just about everything in the art world over the years, but first and foremost consider myself to be a designer.

    Here’s my tip: check out your local non-profits. I live in a small affluent town near a large university, and just our little town has 13 of them. Non-profits usually do not have a big budget for design work, but they all need it, and the decision makers are generally an older demographic that can identify with you and respect your experience. Non-profits are also looking for volunteers, and it’s a great way to establish a relationship and also to build an understanding of their mission and needs. I look at every client and job, no matter how problematic, as an opportunity to use my skills to listen to the client and bring the project to a successful solution. I love it.

    Although I no longer live under the pressure of needing my work to pay all the bills, I will keep on because there is always something new to create or to learn.

    To all of you out there; Keep going!

    Joanne Sharp

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  48. diane

    Getting old sucks but if you find a niche online no one really knows how old you are. I am only 59 and have discovered the internet as a way to practice design as a freelance writer and designer. My experience and work ethics are what make me valuable to clients but they never need to know that the experience and work ethics come from age.

  49. Carolyn Brajkovich

    I stumbled onto this recent blog topic about work force age just a few moments ago, and boy was I glad to read this. While I’m a bit younger than you (mid-40s), I also feel trepidation when observing the current marketing policies chased by businesses. I’m a technical communicator who’s always been involved in heavy technical documentation contracts that somehow led to permanent positions which sucked the creativity from me. While my husband and I are currently running a technical consultancy in die bonding and technical communications, I’ve been trying to get my own side of the business to flourish despite limited resources and contacts. As I’m the classic introverted writer, it’s sometimes very painful for me to escape my comfort zone in order to network for success.

    The one thing that I can say is that inner strength and continued honing of your abilities to keep up with the leading edge of your field (and business) will be the saving grace. I’ve always felt that the current corporate structures and processes are a dying breed because they chase instantaneous trends without factoring the human psyche that truly drives the market. I’m reviewing people like David Meerman Scott to understand social networking so that I can use my strength with computers to get out into the world and tap into the capabilities and opportunities offered by the internet.
    I really wish that there were some strong agencies that catered to those of us who are more comfortable with telecommuting and passionately choose the freelance world. I’ve always produced more in my own work area than if I’m in a corporate setting. This has led to full-term employment opportunities that I do not want. I want diverse projects that make me stay at the top of my game. Have you thought of teaming up with many people like me to make the type of agency that will give us expanded opportunities along with a great support network for those introverted types?

    I love to learn so I have a broad base of skills that has served our business well. I’ve become a one-stop shop out of necessity. But, my predicament is that I have so much to cover that I don’t have time to concentrate on selling myself to others. I think that I could be an asset to companies because I can conceptualize, produce, and manage technical documentation jobs without being a long-term drain on the corporate finances. Plus I like the control that freelancing offers.

    I plan to archive and PDF this blog so that I can read each and every answer. There are so many people who are doing what I want to do, so I KNOW that I’ll find the answer that’ll suit my situation. Please don’t get hung up on age because talent always manages to find ultimate solutions that the customer wants. The youth market is so transitional that their talent seems to make them short-term wonders. Being young is about trying to find yourself. Once you find yourself, then the work is no longer work because it’s what you love to do! That’s what age will bring to the customer. Passion, talent, and commitment always gets the job done.

  50. Stephen Jacobs

    Your forgetting those youngest are designing mostly dream porject….ones that aren’t real but look good in a portfolio. Most of them couldn’t design a brochure for the cardiac unit of a hospital, but that are great at designing rock band posters and game design. A phase.

  51. Stone

    “So the real question is not whether judgments based on age are okay or if they happen, but what can we do about it?”
    I, too, would like someone to give an answer to this question as opposed to ways to market yourself. It seems we’ve all got the self-marketing part down.
    How to change the opinions of young entrepreneurs is what needs to be addressed. We can resonant all the confidence in the world, but until the beliefs of those hiring are changed, no amount of excellent work/confidence/experience is going to matter.
    I’m 37 and to many of you that may not seem old, but believe me, it is considered old. “Old” is getting younger and younger every year.
    I do hold out some hope that the younger designers/business people will realize that maybe us “older” people are right about some things: I read complaint after complaint about the unbelievable low rates that can be offered by designers overseas; the shoddy design; the unbelievable turn-around times expected by hiring companies for projects that even the younger designers can’t do. They are really bothered! I hold out the hope that the ideas of good design, design knowledge, and self-worth become “hip” again.

  52. Melissa Balkon

    It is so ironic that I just came across this post. Although I am only 31, I was just considering the other day whether I will ever become too old to be a relevant designer. I really appreciated this post and all of the conversation that is happening here because it gives me confidence that I really can extend this career as long as I choose to. Thanks for posting this Laurel, and thanks to all of you seasoned pros who have taught me so much (and will teach me more, I assume) throughout my career!

  53. Laurel Black

    Hi folks – I’m back after a few days out of town, and seeing more great input from all of you – thanks! Several good suggestions were made:

    • Go after higher-level projects that require a level of experience and insight that younger designers can’t really bring.
    • Rely on our more highly developed listening skills.
    • Cultivate a positive attitude and remember our advantages.
    • Project confidence, and know the difference between that and arrogance.
    • Keep up with trends in all forms of design (not just our own).
    • Value our history, experiences and hard-won skills.
    • Volunteer as a great way to build up a portfolio and experience.

    Angela’s description of interviewing processes she has been in on was sobering. Melanie and Benett describe disturbing changes in the way business and relationships are being developed. Terry brings meaning, persistence and a work ethic to the table, not just flashy imagery. Kristin suggests connecting with younger people for the cross-pollination benefits to both sides of the interchange. Mary holds her own with the younger designers in her department, perhaps because she has “old-school” art skills that aren’t being taught much anymore. Joanne has a great point about approaching non-profits. Carolyn wants to know if any of us have considered teaming up to form a virtual agency, and asserts that passion, talent and commitment will prevail. Stone reiterates my question of how best to deal with the situation – he also says he is considered old at 37 (yikes!), which isn’t making me feel any better. He holds out hope for good design and ideas becoming “hip” again. And of course hi to Melissa, who at 31 is soaking all this up for when she is in our shoes, hopefully along with early funding of her IRA.

    Some ideas come to mind. One is, there seems to be a LOT of us “old” designers still active and planning to remain so indefinitely. That probably wasn’t the case 20-30 years ago, so we are ironically a new trend. The fact that there are so many of us indicates that our sheer numbers may make us seem less out of it or anachronistic as time passes. We may just need to keep showing up and speaking up.

    Two, we may need to adjust how we present ourselves as businesses and be more conscious of emphasizing the strengths that our experience brings and that are important to our clients’ business goals. (It’s always about the clients and not us, right? So Mr. Client, do you want to be hip or do you want make money?) We can’t expect clients to just magically know the advantages of hiring a seasoned designer. We will have to take the initiative of assertively telling our story when we have the opportunity. These strengths can include the ability to listen productively, to incorporate meaning into imagery, to understand the nature of business and how to conduct it, and to approach problem solving from the vantage point of the client, not just copying the latest trend to jazz up our portfolios.

    Which brings up client education: A few of the responders mentioned that the need to educate clients seems to be on the rise and they aren’t happy about it. I find this surprising. That has always been part of what I have had to do to get jobs. When I started my business in this little community, no one had ever heard of marketing, and graphic design meant little clip art pictures that gussied up business cards. There were no corporate clients who already “got it,” so over the years I have learned how to make the business case for design.

    I have explained this over and over to skeptical prospects who want to know why they shouldn’t just go out and buy Corel Draw and do it themselves. Even so, this week I lost a great project I’ve been doing annually for the last ten years because they want to take it in house, having recently acquired InDesign and an intern who would just LOVE to learn how to use it. No amount of explaining why this is a bad decision is going to change their minds. Which shows that sometimes you just don’t get the job. At least it had nothing to do with my age or my abilities.

    I also have some ideas about using volunteering to cultivate relationships and projects, but this post is getting really long and it’s really a different subject. If anyone wants to hear about that, let me know.

    1. Benett Gewirtz

      Laurel

      As I revisit this blog today, I am discouraged by your loss of that project you had for the past ten years. It reinforces my (unfortunately negative) assumption that it is all about the money and less experience is just less expensive.

    2. Mary

      Laurel –
      Sometimes it takes funding a learning curve to really drive home how cost effective experience is. Please, make sure you are not the go-to for advise when the trainee needs help – not unless you are being paid for the consultation.

      My intuition tells me they will be back.

  54. Walter Zekanoski

    Great blog Laurel. I just entered my 50′s. After 12 years running my own studio I had to take a job designing for a university because the economy collapsed my business. I know I am very fortunate to have a steady job. But I want to return to working for myself when the economy picks up. However, I worry because I am not technically savy. My brain leans very far to the creative side but not at all to the technical side. I love designing for print and feel I am in my prime after many years of learning how to be the designer I have become. But for those technology-challenged creatives like myself, I wonder if there is going to be work continuing into the future.

  55. Doug C.

    When it comes to young wannabes and shoddy designers I am reminded of something Remy the Rat said (from Ratatouille), “Yeah, anyone can cook. That doesn’t mean that anyone should.”

    I say we leave cyberspace behind and all head over to Laurel’s place.

    1. Mari Carmen Nuño

      Laurel:
      As a 56 year old designer who has been working for more than 30 years in México, in and out of design studios and finally for several years as a free lancer, I too am a design-saur from the bC era (before the Computer). I think we have an advantage over the younger designers who were born with a chip in their heads and a mouse in their hands that has to do not so much with experience but with the fact that we learned to design without a computer. We are used to think before sitting in front of a computer. For us concepts are as important as designing something that looks fine. Younger designers have forgotten, or maybe they just don’t know, that good design is about visual communication, not just making things that look nice. Of course there are exceptions. Unfortunately many clients not being able to see the difference –once again there are exceptions– are driven by all the meaningless technological excesses that are so common in many of our younger colleagues work not to mention to the lower rates they are willing to accept.

  56. Laurel Black

    @Walt – good for you for being able to get such a great job! As for being technology-challenged, I think it’s been made pretty clear here that it’s absolutely mandatory to keep up with new stuff. Perhaps while you’re at the university, you can sit in on some tech classes so you will be prepared when you go back to freelancing.
    @Doug – Loved that movie! Remy is my hero. And you’re all invited to my place after I get about 100 more chairs.
    @Mari – Good one about the BC era! — About the current inability of younger designers to generate meaningful concepts before turning on the computer: I have read similar complaints in many design mags and blogs. I am sure it is not true of all young designers, and there are probably many older designers who aren’t conceptually with it, but I do think the ability to get up close and personal with a pencil is a big edge, and one found more commonly among seasoned designers. And not to harp on my previous post, but it is our job to educate our clients as to the true purpose and value of what they are buying from us. They won’t completely understand if we don’t tell them. When we do, it is much more likely that we will be paid fairly.

  57. Elaine Eichner

    I too am a design student and over 50 (53 to be exact); I have always been interested in the field (did some layout work for screenprinting and some print work way back when), since I was laid off in 2008 (for the 2nd time in 4 years) I had the time; so I applied for, and got financial aid; and went back to school, first I did a Web Design certificate program at a local tech school; this did not really cover the “graphic design” side and so I started working on an A.S. in Graphic Design-Interactive this January; I already have a few web clients, and have started my own business; am working on being “the go-to-person” for my clients, whether the need be print or web and also doing the hosting and maintenance for them; I feel this way I can eventually build a client base and have monthly income and still be open to “one time” jobs periodically; for now I am trying to concentrate on school and live on student loans, a grant, and some client work. I do some networking and have had some referrals from friends and clients; I am trying to put all my creative, as well as all my business skills, that I have learned over time, to good use for myself and my clients. It is very scary, but very rewarding! I am enjoying being in school and am finding it easier, in some ways, that I probably would have had I been able to go(and finish) when I was right out of high school. All in all I look forward to not working for a company, unless I do some freelance work for them; my clients can/do appreciate ALL my skills/experience, most companies would not. So, good luck and enjoy this time in your life, all the “youngsters” still have a lot to go through to get where we are and they may not have as much fun as we did!

  58. Ricardo Meier

    Hey you, do not be afraid of the age, this is a huge background. Be afraid of the lack of ideas, of freedom to propose no strings attached. I have 66 I started with pen and drawing pen, then take letraset and then the PC and continue to learn, to teach and growing. Adelante! I´m spanish one sorry my english

  59. Laurel Black

    @Elaine – Thanks for the encouragement! Sounds like you have clear education and work plans – going back to school seems like a huge affirmation of optimism, and that’s a good thing.
    @Ricardo – Gracias! I too started with pen and ink and Letraset, and like you, am finding I have more freedom at this time of life than I’ve ever had. All the more reason to keep doing what I love. And believe me, your English is way better than my Spanish.
    @Benett – don’t be discouraged. This sort of thing has happened occasionally the whole time I’ve been in business. I especially remember when “desktop publishing” was the hot new thing in the early 90′s. Several clients bailed because they figured they could buy programs and do it themsleves. Eventually most of them came back. One of them actually said, “So I bought PageMaker and I tried doing my own design, and you know what? This stuff is HARD!” (Note to self: bite tongue real hard and try not to look like you’re thinking “No shit, Sherlock.”) In my current case, the client is a cash-strapped non-profit and the staff may be trying very hard not to get laid off. I have since gotten other work and can afford to feel sympathetic. A little.
    @Mary – Too true. And they will be funding a learning curve in more ways than one. I doubt if this is the highest use of their staff time. I have no intention of providing free hand-holding if they find themselves in a panic at crunch time. (I don’t think they’d ask – they’ve always been pretty respectful.) In any case, one of the good things that come with age is perspective. I have several good clients who went away for a while for different reasons and then came back. The important thing is to not burn bridges.

  60. Melissa Klein

    I’m in my early-40′s and am starting to wonder the same question. But what I do know has been a turn off for me in my “younger days” was when an “older” person would trumpet their “years of experience” when frankly – I didn’t see anything more that they had to recommend themselves than “their years of experience” and that didn’t impress me. And sometimes they really talked down to me like I was an idiot just because I was young. Not cool. To me that’s equally unimpressive to the “I’m young and hip, hire me because I’m kool.” I think that people appreciate quality more than anything.

    I’m listening to an audiobook/book that is called “The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain” by Barbara Strauch. There’s alot of encouraging evidence out there and quite a few challenges for the assumptions we make about age – for all age ranges. And in spite of the glamour of the “young genius” historically, many artists have done their best work in their middle and later years. Scientifically, studies are emerging that show that while older learners, learn somewhat slower, once they learn the material, they often perform as well or better than their younger counterparts.

    I believe that my best work is yet to come. I’ve learned so much technical expertise over the years, and the work gets richer and deeper with meaning.

  61. gerry suchy

    Laurel,
    This is post from the blog of Jonathan Fields. http://tinyurl.com/3enuzcm. The author, Anne Wayman, is a Freelance ghost writer and blogger. WhenGrandmotherSpeaks.com. and AboutFreelanceWriting.com. I wanted to share this with your readers in this particular comments section as a practical example of age (see Anne’s photo in the Jonathan Fields link) having nothing to do with one’s engagement with their community of readers/clients.

    Take Care
    Gerry

  62. Laurel Black

    @Melissa – You make a very valid point: ageism can work in both directions. Those of us who wish to stay in the game and continue working regardless of age should practice what we preach and be careful not to dis others based on their age. Don’t want to start a generational war here. The Strauch book sounds like it may contain some useful insights into the subject of this post. (Another book I think sheds some light on the positive side of experience is Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.) And I too feel/hope that my best work is still ahead of me.
    @Gerry – Thanks for contributing the link to the article about Anne Wayman. What an amazing woman! She is truly a role model. And her take on elevator speeches is great. I am now less worried that mine may not be so hot. Anne says, “I suggest instead of an elevator pitch you start with ‘hello.’ Then listen and see where the conversation naturally goes.” I do much better at conversation.

  63. Ann

    Great discussion! I just happened upon this thread yesterday and I’m slowly reading through all the comments.

    I’m 50 and have been working in the field since 40 or so. I have some anxiety about age, too.

    Because it’s weird – ageism is really everywhere, all the time. When I turned 50 I started to notice it and it’s startling. People will blatantly make rude assumptions about over-40s that they would never, ever make about African-Americans or Latinos or other groups of people.

    The graphic design profession takes its tone from this youth culture (so does fashion design, the culinary arts and pop music). I’ve been around this rodeo long enough to see that the cool kids are are under 35.

    But the people who need graphic design services have different values. In fact, I think there are lots of niches where skinny pants and a huge, trendy beard would work against you. Currently, I’m working on getting more work from professional groups: attorneys, engineers, etc. I think my maturity will help me among those clients.

    Right now, I have almost as much work as I can handle and a part-time job teaching web design that I love. I’m not too scared about my future. But I am a little.

    1. Hilary Mosberg

      I think Steve Jobs would take umbrage at not being considered one of the “cool kids” how about Stephan Sagmeister, Maira Kalman, Louise Fili….

  64. Rob San Diego

    I am 41, been a designer since before there were computers on a desk, I was one of the first designers in my town to apply for a Desktop Publishing position and I was the only one that showed up so I go the job. No one else knew what that was.

    Now I do both web and print I am moving into web based applications and have been without full time job since april 2008, scary. I have earned some money but it seems there are so many younger and cheaper out there that I really don’t know where this can head to. I have to keep reinventing myself, and wondering even then if its enough. I keep telling myself its this economy, but I am starting to wonder if its my age and the perception that an older designer is just that.

    I see there are others who wonder and are also searching and I hope we all find what we are looking for.

  65. Lynda Stewart

    I have been a freelancer for 5 years now, I’m 35. Never did this kind of age issue cross my mind.

    Prior to freelancing I worked for 10 years in a marketing & advertising agency. One of my co-workers was a fellow that was 20 years older than me. Never once did I see him as old or felt that he was irrelevant because of his age. On the contrary, I welcomed every opportunity I had to work with him on projects because I wanted to absorb every bit of knowledge and experience I could get. He knew his stuff, did great work, and was someone I could look up to.

    I think all designers have a place in the market, and the key is to just find where you belong. If someone won’t hire you because of your age, regardless of what you can do, then do you really want to work with them anyway? Go where your skills and experience will be appreciated and you will be okay.

  66. sophie

    I’m 52 and often feel somewhat a fish out of water. I’ve been in the design industry for 17 years, so relative to my age I’m a bit of a newcomer. I’ve been self-employed for five, so once again, a bit of a newcomer. Because I started later, I’ve often felt this self-induced rush to get my business ducks in a row. Whereas, if I were younger, maybe I would let things like my target market and business personality evolve at a more natural pace.

    On the other hand, I love what I’m doing, I continually get better and better (I firmly believe well-rounded knowledge and life experience are major contributors to good design) and I keep up on the latest trends and technology.

    I regularly go back to school, taking a class here and there –I love the collegiate atmosphere! To my old fart peers, don’t worry, classes are much more diverse than when we originally got our degrees:-) And that’s what I think is most beneficial. It’s fun to hang out with young kids for an open mind. It’s good to be with your peers for the camaraderie.

    I think Ann, above, hit it right when she targets a more professional group. There is no way a 50-yr.old is going to get the trendy fashion industry job over a hot 30-yr. old Nubbytwiglet.com. Yet there are many, many businesses that require the more mature style of design we can offer.

    I tell potential clients I know social media like a 20-year-old and the proven marketing theories of someone… well, more classic and experienced.

    1. Hilary Mosberg

      I agree with much of your comment and I am well aware that youth is a drug that commerce is addicted to but I think that we are overlooking the fact that many people our age are the definers and drivers of what “youth culture” buys and becomes in the marketplace – think Steve Jobs, Anna Wintour, Mickey Drexler and other conceptual, retail and editorial arbiters of style – which brings me to http://www.nubbytwiglet.com who you mention. I find a lot of useful information about current trends in presentation, portfolios and a great assortment of design and web links on her blog. I am inspired by the way she has branded herself and is continuing the evolution of her brand as her career grows in both a public and professional way. Instead of thinking of her as competition I think there is a lot to learn from her site about how to remain current and in a state of continual evolution from her for us “designers of a certain age”.

  67. Laurel Black

    @Ann –I have not had “rude assumptions” in reference to my age made directly in my face so far, but I suppose the day is coming. Friend Ellen (designer in NY) has observed her very sharp 90-year-old mother being spoken to either in the third person or as though she was a deaf toddler. Glad to know that you have plenty of work – your point about targeting professional groups is a great idea! And I am especially glad to know that skinny pants aren’t required. Neither those nor the bushy beard are things I can pull off.

    @Rob SD –Hang in there! Ageism and a bad economy is a terrible combination, but the economy will eventually get better, and there are many good ideas on this blog thread about how age could be made an asset.

    @Lynda – And I bet the guy you worked with at the agency appreciated your fresh perspective. Perhaps teaming across generational divides is another way to deal with the age thing. As to whether I would want to work with someone who rejects me because of my age, probably not, but I would at least like a shot at showing them why they should reconsider. Losing work based on stereotypes with no recourse is tough.

    @Sophie – Yes, Ann has it right. Graphic design is one of the few professional services where experience isn’t always highly sought after or a client priority. I think that we need to start making that case for ourselves the same way we help make the marketing case for our clients. And your observation further underscores the idea of teaming across age groups.

  68. Charlie Cisneros

    I am 46, last year I won the Umbro and Soccer design contest for the Usa vs. England match. Old to be a designer? LOL. Just try to enjoy everything you do and enjoy everything you see. Try to see more than you can read. Try to discover how you can change all the thing you have around. Try to see all the things a common people can not. Image is all in.

  69. Dennis Salvatier

    Establishing yourself as a consultant or a business has its advantages. Referring to yourself as a freelancer can hurt, but in your case it hasn’t but for a new designer I think this is the way to go. Another thing is using the Madonna method, which is to reinvent yourself.

  70. Jess

    Maybe hire an intern to be the ‘young’ face, but then just get them to make copy and do filing. :P

    It is unfortunate. I’m finding the same thing in Marketing, and I’m only in my mid 30s!

  71. Yani Roumeliotis

    I was communicating with a freelancer a couple of weeks back, to have them upload some old files we needed for editing a current publication. He was having some initial problems with our FTP service, so in frustration, we decided to meet and do a hand-over of files on DVD.

    When I fist saw the gentleman, his maturity struck me as I was prejudiced having the evaluated his work from someone much younger. It turned out in our further communication that he was a young 86! Still hustling as a freelancer and delivering jobs.

    Two things came to mind. You can still be 86 doing the things you love and feeling young, and then again freelancing doesn’t help with retirement if you still need to work at 86!

    God bless the freelancers, who slog it out day in, day out!

  72. Primary Digital

    I have been in the graphic design business for 27 years and have been freelancing for the past 12 in print and web. Things lately are of concern to me. I am finding my age is a deterrent to being considered seriously for new projects AND that truly original and creative design is impinged by the “CMS wagon” and the “push-button mentality” that seems to have infected the industry. I say to my peers, let’s hold on, keeping growing with new technology and hold out for good solid design creativity. Experience and wisdom always serve better in the long run.

  73. Girl Friday Ink

    Too old???? Here’s a novel idea: Be a good designer. Better yet, be a great designer.

    Nothing–and I repeat, nothing–is a substitute for great design work, a strong work ethic and the ability to give the client what they need/want. Period. Not youth. Not age (youthful or otherwise). Nothing! Remember, just because you have age on your (for the youngin’s), that doesn’t make you talented. It makes you talentless – and young. Period.

    So, if you are an older designer, who happens to be talented, you’re ahead of the game. Oh, and you can tell an old designer, without even seeing a pic or knowing their age. How? Their portfolio, of course. So, don’t go and say that they won’t hire you because you’re not young, or you’re too old. No. Stop that craziness. They didn’t hire you because your portfolio sucks–it reeks of old, stale design. That has nothing to do with your age, or with you as a person, but it has everything to do with a business decision that they chose to make based on YOUR portfolio.

    So, what’s an old designer to do? Well, start looking at what great designers are doing–and this is the hard part–and assess where your skills are and upgrade them, if necessary. When you look at a really good designers portfolio–in a wide range of styles and mediums–does yours compare? Here’s where honesty is the best policy.

    It’s so easy to lie to ourselves and say that it’s an age-ism thing, when it’s really a your portfolio sucks-ism thing. If you’re good. And, I mean really good, you will get work. Period. If you’re not, you will complain about how the young people are getting all the work. Really?

    You, and you alone, have the power to create your destiny–and age has nothing to do with it, so stop that already.

    1. anonymous

      Thank you for saying this.

      I’ve been looking at the personal sites of people posting as I am reading the posts/rants, and all the work except for one person looks old, dated and out of touch.

      I too am an old designer and I think about agism all the time, but I’m also a creative director and I wouldn’t hire most of the people here whose work I looked at because the work looks so outdated.

      I’m not being mean, just some tough love. The visual world has changed in the last 5, 10, 15 years, pick up a new design annual and see what is going on.

      If you truly love design, you will be excited and jealous at what other people are doing, young and old, and you would want to be a part of it.

      Now make you work rock!

      Sorry about the anonymous post but I’m 48 and everyone at work assumes I’m in my 30s and I want to keep it that way.

      1. Laurel Black

        It’s true, many of us need a kick in the butt about staying current, and not just in the design field. Programmers who are stuck on C++ and not interested in learning ROR and other languages will be left by the wayside. Whether our work remains relevant has mostly to do with the effort we’re willing to make to stay current.

        Beyond that, however, getting ADs to look past our graduation dates sounds like a major roadblock to many of the posters on this forum. You yourself don’t want your cohorts at work to know your true age, even though you undoubtedly produce “work that rocks.” If that was truly all that mattered, you wouldn’t care who knew how old you are. That you do indicates that you are afraid that you and/or your work will be viewed negatively.

  74. Scott

    I’m a self taught, 40 year old freelancer in Denver. I’ve been designing for about 5 years now professionally but on the side of my other career. I make more money with design work than with my main vocation. I have found that finding small retainer jobs that pay so much each month works great for me. I have found that I meet a need in a field that I know and am passionate about and have enough work for a lifetime. The secret for me was to stop taking projects and only accept regular paying jobs.

  75. Hilary Mosberg

    Interesting discussion. As a designer “of a certain age” I am puzzled by the fact that no one has suggested that strong, appropriate, contemporary, timeless, beautiful work never goes out of style. It is often disconcerting to see the looks on the faces of colleagues much younger than me when they meet me for the first time, but they called me based on the strength of my work and being open and having a sense of humor and the absurd always soothes that initial moment of awkwardness.

  76. Deb Budd

    Hi all – great discussion! In my work with Second Wind (a national association of smaller ad agencies, design studios and marketing firms), we’re seeing a trend toward agencies becoming smaller, with far more use of freelance and contract design people than traditional, full-time personnel. Work your contacts at agencies and design studios. You may find there are increasing opportunities to become regular contractors with these firms. (I am a 55+ designer who now writes web content.)

  77. Louise

    I am personally getting out of design because the trend I am noticing is: companies lay off all of their designers and then rehire them as freelancers. This is just making it MUCH harder to get new clients when they are using their old employees. I have never had a problem getting clients until the last two years. I don’t believe it is my age….I just think the market is glutted.

    But I think older designers are not discriminated against in corporate work, academic or any kind of design that does not need to be fashion driven.

  78. Rod Edwards

    Wow. Great article and comments, what a nerve that’s been touched by this subject and also a great inspiration to see the responses concerning this issue. I’m actually about to turn 50 and my dilemna has been not only my age but also being a minority in a midsize Midwestern city and market. I’m an AA male to be exact and for me to freelance or to obtain gainful employment after pursuing multimedia design and production later in my life has been frustrating to say the least. I stay current on software, techniques, trends, go to conferences and workshops and in addition I do a ton of pro bono work to build my portfolio, being ready to jump when that small window gets around to me. I’m a firefighter/paramedic so design is not only a pursuit of a vocation that I have great passion for but also a completely different world that I escape to, getting away from the stress of what I do as “my day job”, which I am really good at but have come to the conclusion that I will gladly make room for the “young guns” and would really love to move on to something I see as a new frontier and adventure, the world of design!

  79. Christine Rains

    Yowza, I’ve been so busy the past couple of weeks I’m just now catching up on my networking/marketing/blogging (I never catch up on that; that one really eludes me and if anybody has any tips on how to find time to blog, I’m all ears).

    Thank you Laurel. I thought I was the only 60-year-old freelancer left in the world. It is comforting to hear from so many others! I too have worried about ageism and have even taken to showing fewer years of experience, lest potential hires think I am too old. I am not going to do that again. Twenty six years of freelance design experience should be respected – and prized.

    I’d like to reiterate this basic truth: clients hire people they want to work with. In my business I’ve worked hard to nurture long-term connections and have several clients I can count on … and who know they can count on me. I’ve found that being dependable and reliable goes much further than being “cutting-edge.” Bottom line: many clients wouldn’t know cutting edge if they saw it and are just happy to get an honest, clean design that effectively communicates their goals, and is done on time.

    That said, after reading all these responses I feel motivated to work more on networking, not only amongst potential clients but also amongst other designers. I love working solo but it can be a bit of a vacuum. Heck, I’m even considering attending the Creative Freelance Conference in Chicago just to meet some of you!

    P.S. Laurel I’d be interested in hearing more about your take on volunteering to cultivate relationships and projects … your ideas are spot on.

  80. jack h.

    design is visual. doesn’t matter how old you are – if you’re good, you’re good. it’s the results that matter. when someone sees good design do you think they care about the age of the designer? concentrate on great results and you’ll be busy.

  81. Michelle

    Well, isn’t this thread just the cat’s meow?!

    I’m 43 and have been an agency of one for 11 years. For ten of those years, I survived quite well on one round of promotion I did at the beginning. Should I have kept that going? Of course I should have. I didn’t because my eggs were all in one basket, and I’d developed a chronic illness, and I was over-run with work at the same time. Oh and I had an infant at home with me 24/7. So I liked my basket just fine. Now with the recession and my client trying to avoid bankruptcy, most of my work went to India even though my client fought to keep me. (A third party made the decision.)

    On the other hand, I could say that my promotion must have worked very well to sustain me for so long. It’s good to focus on the positive, right?

    I find myself at a mid-life crossroads. My heart is in print work and I can happily do it almost blindfolded, but our industry seems to think print work is an afterthought. Prospective clients or employers say we must know ______ (insert anything web-related here) but my guess is that the job only uses like 4% of that new application that we do not yet know. That’s how it was when I worked for a university in 1995. I never did have to use the new app they insisted on, which then was Excel. Ironically, I got that job simply because I told them I bought “Excel for Dummies” and when I perused it, I realized I already knew how a spreadsheet app worked and this was no different. That impressed them more than my portfolio, which was more than adequate. Sigh.

    I am dying to say to someone “well, the smart thing to do here would simply be for me to sub out that 4% of work even if I have to do it out of my own pocket, whatcha say?”

    I agree with many of the others that it’s very important to stay informed and have an open attitude and make staying inspired a priority.

    My main issue is that if I DO want to learn more, which direction do I choose? Which niche? Which apps do I train on? There are endless choices!

  82. Laurel Black

    Another avalanche of great responses! This blog is attracting some really smart people. Here goes:

    @Charlie – Why no link to your site so we could see your soccer design? And yes, staying engaged with life and the world is job one.

    @Dennis – Good point about how we refer to ourselves. I read your blog post on that subject and recommend it: http://blog.salvatierstudios.com/ I especially like the way you differentiated between selling a product and selling VALUE. Yay!

    @Jess – So are you available? (Kidding!)

    @Yani –I thought I had hit the upper limit on age when I found that Milton Glaser is 81. Your 86-year-old is an inspiration. Beyond making a living, most of us have a passion for what we do. The thought of not being able to do it at some point is depressing, so hearing about Mr. Super Senior is cheering.

    @Primary Digital & Jack H. – See response to Girl Friday Ink below:

    @GFI – Whew! Tell us how you really feel! OF COURSE there is no substitute for good design and talent. OF COURSE if your work sucks, you aren’t going to be hired. OF COURSE age should have nothing to do with whether one is hired or not. If you’ve read the posts from the beginning, it should be obvious that we know these things. The issue, which I have pointed out more than once, is not whether we know it – it’s whether the client knows or believes it.

    It is certainly true that blaming a lack of jobs on age can be a cop-out. And it is true that it is our responsibility to make honesty a daily practice in being tough on our own work. It is also true that it can be very difficult to understand the reason for not getting a job when clients refuse to share the reasons for their choices, even when asked directly. To assume that I didn’t get a job because my work stinks can be just as much an assumption, as to think I didn’t get a job because the client thought I was too old. We are in a bad economy right now. So if I don’t get a job, is it because of that? I am looking to actively manage as many of these extrinsic factors as I can so I can keep working. Hence my original question.

    Your take on the age issue is simplistic and a little too blame-the-victim. I don’t think the people who have responded to this conversation are a bunch of cry-babies. There are many things that affect our destinies that are not subject to our direct control. To imply that a) age has no bearing on being hired, and b) anyone who says so is lying to themselves grossly over-simplifies a complex situation. It is helpful, however, to be reminded (forcefully!) that whining about stuff is far less productive than figuring out a useful response. So thank you for bringing a dose of Social Darwinism to this discussion.

    @Scott – Small retainer jobs sound great. Are they related to your other vocation? Is that how you got them?

    @Hilary – I think that has been suggested several times in this thread. Your main point for me is that when colleagues see your work before meeting you, they are often surprised. This underscores the importance of having the strongest possible portfolio (like housework, they are never done) and keeping it out in the world and available.

    @Deb – That trend can only bode well for us solopreneurs. Do you still do design as well as write web content? What was your impetus for adding writing?

    @Louise – And that trend does NOT bode well for us. Crowdsourcing makes commoditization and a glutted market inevitable. That is hard on all designers, and all the more reason to market our thinking and not just our products.

    @Rod – Have you connected with Rdqlus http://www.rdqlus.com/ ? He is an AA male designer based in Omaha (I think) and he seems to be extremely successful. He is presenting at next month’s Creative Freelancer Conference. He may have some insights into your particular situation. For myself, I used to wonder if being female was affecting my ability to get work. I don’t think it does, but now I wonder if age might at some point. I know for sure the economy isn’t helping. I certainly hope the quality of my work is working for me and not against me. And BTW, thanks for your public service.

    @Christine – You are so not alone. Thanks for the reminder that clients hire people they want to work with. That’s a knife that cuts both ways. But I too have several ongoing faithful (so far) clients who have been with me for some time. Building these relationships requires effort, time and skill, and the results are so worth it. As to my take on volunteering, that is a fantastic way to build these relationships. I have written an article about it that will be appearing somewhere soon.

    @Michelle – You raise questions that we all have to answer for ourselves based on our strengths and preferences. Beyond that, I ask the rest of you: what would you say to Michelle?

    1. Girl Friday Ink

      @Laurel – we all need a kick in the butt sometimes, don’t we? Most of what I wrote, I have had to say to myself at some point or another. Simplistic. Really? Maybe, maybe not.

      I guess I’m an optimist. I believe when a door closes, it wasn’t meant for me and a bigger, better and more profitable opportunity awaits me. And guess what? I’m usually right.

      If you walk around the world expecting the worse, you will get it. If you walk around the world expecting the best, you will get it. So, why why not ask for what you really want, what you really deserve: the best the universe has to offer.

      Weak people bitch, complain, whine and moan. Strong people overcome by any means necessary. So whatchu gonna do?

  83. Ilise Benun

    Thanks again to everyone who has contributed such thoughtful comments here. I have read the entire thread again today with an eye toward how I (and the Creative Freelancer Community) can begin to address the needs expressed.

    I’m glad the issue is out in the open. I like the idea of “getting loud” about it but we need to take it beyond our own community of creatives because, I agree with Laurel, the message has to be communicated to the markets that are open to hearing it. And that, I think, can happen through marketing.

    You may have noticed the mention of Laurel’s Breakfast Roundtable on this topic at CFC on Friday, June 24. If you haven’t registered yet, I offer up the Marketing Mentor discount ($50 off with promo code: CMM11) so you can be there and be part of the real time discussion. http://creativefreelancerconference.com/
    BTW: I’ll turn the big 5-0 at CFC. Come celebrate with me.

    Next, I am developing a group program (like the Marketing Groups I run) to bring a bunch of you together in real time (if not in real space) to discuss and work on these issues. So if you want to be part of that pilot program, send me a message: ilise@marketing-mentor.com and I’ll provide details as soon as I have them ready.

    And keep the conversation going…

  84. Adam Martin

    Hey y’all, I just turned 28, live in Kentucky (not the biggest hotbed for creativity), have a wife and son (and a baby on the way), and am a freelance print designer moving more towards web and mobile. I’ve been freelancing successfully full-time since I left my first job out of college in 2006.

    Being a traditional print designer, I started hanging out with some local web developer friends and began to pick up things just through conversations. I also started going to start-up entrepreneurial events. That inspired me to learn more about coding (i.e. xhtml, css) so I can launch my own projects (i.e. tailgatethesec.com). My humble advice (and trust me, it’s not what I wanted to hear) is to begin learning to code. There are some great tutorials online (i.e. lynda.com; codeschool.com; and hourschool.com) and HTML and CSS are actually easier IMO to learn than learning the bloated Dreamweaver software.

    Designers that learn programming can be very dangerous and I’ve found that there are some overlaps such as creative problem-solving (except you’re doing it via code) and clean code can be viewed as clean typography. Doing small, personal experiments has been the best learning experience for me. I wish all of you luck. Us young guys need your expertise and knowledge.

  85. Traci

    I’ve been freelancing for 14 years now. I don’t keep up with trends, and I DON’T do web development at all (never will). I do design sites, but then hand off psd files. I’m no programming expert, and I don’t claim or want to be, so I make it clear to my clients that I have a development team (outsourcing) – and that their money is better spent on people that can do it well.

    I’ve also never changed my style and keep it consistent for the most part. If you stand your ground and feel confident in what you do and what you have to offer then I think the work will come. Over the years I have received more compliments on my typography skills, which is a dying art apparently. It’s the simple things that make us experts, not necessarily being able to do it all.

  86. Joan

    Well I upgraded to a brand new iMac and have to make a new website for myself now. Not sure where this is going but I have to give a try. Still haven’t upgraded to CS5, still on CS3 (but honestly, I think for my print work I could still get by with my good old Quark 4.1.11 and Photoshop 5 ;) ). The only thing my CS3 has done for my workflow is keep up with the printing industry. I have always designed websites in Photoshop and hand off my files to builders as well, but it is getting harder to find someone that wants to build for me. So with the help of some very generous genius’ and many sites, I have been trying to learn code. Trying being the operative word, it just isn’t me. But I will keep trying. I like all the encouragement here.

  87. Laurel Black

    Thanks again for everyone’s contributions to a growing body of commentary. Time for responses to responses:

    @ Girl Friday Ink – Yes, kicks in the butt hurt in the short term and help in the long term. I have had my share. And optimism is much more attractive for getting business than a negative attitude. That being said, optimism is just the beginning. A clear-eyed evaluation of the challenges and a strategy for moving forward comes next, hence all this discussion. Defining the problem is not the same as complaining, although it can certainly morph into that. Thanks for reminding us to ask for what we want.

    @Adam – Congrats on the baby and condolences on your future sleep deprivation. Regardless of our ages, we all have to go with the times and keep up on technology. I’m going the DreamWeaver route myself – good luck to us all.

    @Traci and Joan – Staying in the game has as much to do with leveraging professional/personal strengths as it does with keeping up with technology. A plus of years of experience is that we come to understand what our strengths are (hopefully) and how best to take advantage of them.

  88. Jim K

    Judging by the nine mile list of comments, there are so many freelance designers out there, it’s to the point the we are “a dime a dozon” and to be frank about the question, the only people in my graduating class I’ve heard of who did any actual work, they all were doing it for “pennys”, with few exception of averinging $10 an hour, which by any standard in 2011 is poverty. Let’s face the facts, graphic design is the most flooded market for talent in the world. We have nearly 5 designers for every single job. Yet, every school offers the program & there are countless good online schools to boot.

  89. Laurel Black

    @Jim – Don’t despair. All creatives are being challenged these days. Be glad you’re not starting out as a photographer; I think they have it even worse (not that that’s any comfort).

    Good, dedicated designers are not a “dime a dozen.” However, there are many mediocre, under-trained, under-motivated wannabees in every profession, and sometimes their sheer numbers can make quality practitioners feel crowded out. Plus, coming out of school into the working world is often a shock. But don’t think eLance is taking over the design universe. Your challenge now is to understand the competitive environment online and offline, make sure that your work and your approach are as close to flawless as they can be, and then hang in there and work your stuff. I posted a response to your query on the volunteering article with some suggestions that I hope may be of use.

    All designers are challenged now in various ways – my original motivation for starting this string was the issue of getting work as an older designer. What the “nine-mile list” of comments has taught me is that there are some really smart people pondering the same issues I worry about, and I have learned a lot from them. So keep reading this blog – it will keep you from feeling isolated and give you the opportunity to share as well as learn.

  90. Diane

    Wow, there are more of us than you think. Thanks for your insights and comments. We need to form an alliance and make experience count more today and command the respect due us. When i was younger i valued the older designers comments and knowledge and was like a sponge in their presence. Today, we are
    treated like old farts without a clue. I am 56 and have been in the design field since 1980, i can’t retire till age 70 at least, its funny to think about how i will look still doing comps at 70! Thanks for putting it out there.

  91. Shannon

    I’m so happy I discovered this article and blog. I think all the comments are helpful. At 45, I went back to school and found my true passion: graphic design (certificate from San Diego City College; also, have a degree in marketing). After that, I went back to learn multimedia (Dreamweaver, Flash, HTML, HTML5, CSS3, Joomla, Drupal) and more. I have interviewed and been told I don’t have enough team experience. I have sent out numerous resumes for internships and regular gigs and no one responds. I am youthful (http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=22531334&trk=tab_pro), continue to be in school around 18-22 male/female student population. I understand fashion, music, skateboarding industry, surfing and more. I have my finger on the pulse of the 15-25 year old market, and I see the trends. What I see for this age group is they don’t have any worries, they don’t question their abilities, they just do it. They expect success, and it comes (mostly for young males). They don’t gnaw over their work or critique it. I know a kid (student friend of mine), who was 18 (was a professional gamer) when I met him (20 now). He respects my opinion, and I told him to study typography, that his work was rough and he needed to learn design principles. Recently, he contacted me to tell me he started a skateboard t-shirt company. The Facebook page already has 500 likes. He’s always promoting. Doesn’t think twice that his design isn’t the most attractive. Likes promoting himself. That’s what I notice about the under 25ers. They post all their work on Facebook, tell all their business. They say, “Look at me, how great I am (everyone says, I love your work, whether it’s good or not). That’s because of our generation. We raised our children differently than we were raised. My mother never helped me with my homework, and I didn’t receive constant praise and a standing ovation for a mediocre existence and just for living. If I had straight A’s, I was told that I better keep it up, or else. Now, everyone gets a prize and a present whether they do well or not. It’s called, “entitlement.” The under 25ers were raised to believe they could do anything. I love being around them, hearing their views. They don’t seem to treat older students, differently, at least not me. I learn so much from them and I think they learn from me. But the people I truly admire are great designers, people who went to good schools and participated in rigorous design programs. Laurel, I am envious of you and I admire you.

    Another thing I discovered about the design world (even among older designers 45+) is that not only is there a bit of ageism, but there is sexism. Yes, there is Paula Scher, but there are more design icons that are male. I have a male techie friend who is 45 (Drupal expert and other programs). People are always engaging his services for the following reasons: 1) because he is Asian-American, and 2) because he’s a male. Somehow, our skewed world view seems to think that Asian males are tech-savvy experts. So, now we have to compete with the under 25ers, males and Asian males. From my experiences, in science areas (biotech, nanotech, medical, legal, etc.) and areas that are male-dominated, they won’t say it, but they want to hire a male. They cannot visualize a woman as a technology expert. I know this from talking to friends in these industries. In their minds, women are good with kids, fashion and industries considered feminine. I find this insulting, as I am well-read, highly-intelligent, do tons of research, know more than most people and could design for any industry, even the male-dominated world of motorcycles, vintage cars, and any form of science/technology.

    Thanks for letting me share my insights, as it has certainly been a learning process. I’m the queen of networking, have a blog http://decarospot.blogspot.com/, know SEO/Social Media. Still, I can’t seem to generate enough work to pay my rent. I don’t have a BFA or MFA like Laurel. I went to San Diego City College and studied with Candice Lopez who is an amazing design instructor. Most of her students go on to Art Center with scholarships. I’m sure Laurel’s work is also amazing. Don’t worry, Laurel, no young designer will compete with you, not with your credentials. Long Beach State has one of the best design programs in California.

    I will continue to believe that we are vital at any age. It’s a state of mind. I do freelance work and will continue to promote and have faith that all will turn out well. I will get more clients and pay my rent on time. Thanks for your wonderful article, Laurel.

  92. Pingback: Where old graphic designers go to die « Ingenuity Lab

  93. Alana Jelinek

    Wow! This is indeed a hot topic. When I was a young award-winning art director in New York in the early 70s, my peers and I would look around and wonder where people over 35 went. It was a little scary that everyone was so young. At 50, I went out on my own and luckily had a great network and was busy all the time. A few years ago. I moved to the country and the clients did not come with me. So, at 60, I decided to enroll in the Green MBA program at Dominican University in San Rafael, CA. I’m now a designer and a GreenMBA. The critical thinking skills and learning the language of clients have been incredibly valuable. I recently joined the management team of a wonderful fair trade textile company where I am using all of my skills at once. It’s incredibly exciting and fulfilling. At 65, I can’t wait to get to work (in my home office) every morning and look forward to seeing this startup bloom.

    So, my point is that a refresh to your skills and learning new things can be very valuable for the next how many years. At b-school, I not only got the learning. One of the best things was working with millenials doing collaborative projects, bringing me up to date on things like skype, google docs, screen-sharing, etc etc. A danger of working on your own is falling behind on technology without being in an environment with a staff IT person.

    May you stay forever young…. or refreshed… or at least happy doing what you love to do.

    1. Ilise Benun

      Wow, Alana, that sounds excellent and I think would make a great blog post of its own (instead of a just a comment) if you’re interested in elaborating. I think people would especially love to know more about the GreenMBA process.

  94. Laurel Black

    @Shannon – I’m long overdue for responding, so my apologies. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your experiences. The courage and energy you showed in going back to school and embarking on a freelance career are undoubtedly two of your greatest assets. They are what will carry you through this difficult time in our economy. There are many pressures on independent designers in addition to ageism, and it is a wonderful boon to be able to take advantage of the forum provided here. I hope you will read Alana’s post for more encouragement and insights into the possibilities.

    @Alana – Thanks for your post – what an inspiring story! I agree with Ilise: do another post about your journey so we can understand how you got from Point A to Point B. I’m sure we would all benefit from it.

  95. Kelly

    This isn’t an issue of age but rather experience. Those of us who have been around for a while require higher salaries than those fresh out of college. I think many employers higher younger under the guise of looking for “fresh new talent” and while I think that can be a legitimate argument in some cases, I think ultimately they are looking at the bottom line. If they can save $20K+ a year or $25/hr+ on someone young, they will take the chance. Besides, I think the young ones seem more disposable. At least this seems to be what I have witnessed in the field.

  96. Laurel Black

    @ Kelly – I’m sure $$$ has a major influence on the issue. But going by most of the comments posted here, it sounds like even if the money part was taken out of the mix, there would still be a noticable skewing toward younger designers at agencies. So I’m glad I’m an independent working directly with clients, but sad to hear that younger designers may be perceived as more “disposable.” Having to start out in this economy must be brutal.
    @ Nancy – Wow, another lifer! And your advice is absolutely right.
    @ LeAnn – Can you give us an example?

  97. Stephanie

    I am turning 50 and find I am too old to get design jobs and have to work freelance. I live in Vancouver where it is very competitive, and you have to be a genius or have rewards or be young and cool to get hired by agencies. There is a huge age bias to get hired for jobs, so I have given up.

    There are few art director and manager jobs but at this age it’s more realistic to get hired as account manager.

    Aside from having to be a PHP and coding guru, I find there is less design work out there and more and more work for back end coders. Alot of design work offered is for students, interns and really really low wages. What with odesk and elance, and competing with a global workforce that doesn’t mind being paid under 5 dollars an hour, I find there is little hope for this career. I will be retiring soon! Sooner than I thought, but for what they are paying designers out here and the fact that it’s so hard to get hired, I work on my own, but find that is a constant hustle for work. I can make just as much money being hired as an admin assistant. Graphic design, wish I never went into it and got a real career, however it put food on my table for over 20 years.

  98. Jane Sickon

    I am really late to this really important and helpful forum for those of us who have been in graphics a long time–42 years in my case. I’m now 61 and will work until I die.

    I’m not a great designer. As a production manager and art director (for corporate marketing departments more recently and large printers during the paste-up years), I consider myself only a mid-level corporate designer, which isn’t a bad thing considering a customer’s budget and needs. Occasionally, I even do really good design.

    My real strengths are as a layout artist and production artist for designers who rather design or don’t want to deal with prepress problems. I can crank really good variations of a theme and large jobs, without problems at the printer like nobody’s business. I was also an offset stripper and digital prepress specialist. My husband is a printer and while not in prepress anymore, I’m still tied into those who are and hear of the most recent problems they face.

    My specialties are large projects–large catalogs, book interiors, newsletters (both print and e-), projects that need strong project management, knowledge of streamlining, detail to editing, Photoshop, that sort of thing. I can turn these kinds of projects quickly, efficiently and in detail.

    I was trained by hot metal master craftsmen typesetters. My college education was in Journalism, before Mass Communications. My guru professor taught Ben Bradlee when he was a cub reporter at the rural Florida paper for which my professor was managing editor. My writing and editorial skills give a production artist a new level of skills.

    I’ve been an award winning newspaper reporter, launched an award winning 48-page home and garden magazine for a newspaper for which I wrote and photographed most of the articles, turned 250-500 pgs. of newspaper special sections a month with just one assistant, worked in corporate communication departments as a writer /or graphic designer/production artist. I have come from copyfitting typewriter manuscripts within 1/1oth of an inch to being fully functional in CS5.5, including Dreamweaver, e-Newsletters and e-Mail blasts. Yet I cannot find a full-job.

    I remember when working at the Times-Dispatch in the early 1970s with post-union workers, how they were bemoaning how the art of typesetting/production was going to be lost with phototypesetting. I now feel I’m in their same boat. Design is going through the same takeover of technology, the same youth taking over from the masters without having learned the craft. How many designers/production artists now work only in inches, not picas and points? Who cares about extra, unused colors, RGB colors when what you are doing is print; CMYK when you’re working on the web? Adobe says you can use .PSD files but how many times do they end up putting bounding boxes into your project. Doesn’t always happen but does often enough to be a problem. Why not be safe? I see so much of this, but I still can’t get a full-time job.

    I went gray at 40. When I looking for work, I never get a second interview until I dye my hair. Then I meet with the 20-30-year-olds, and I never hear back why I didn’t get the job–too old or no degree.

    Having read these posts, and thinking about adding a page to my website “Because no one has asked”, adding new designs for all those projects I haven’t been asked to do in years, I will contact local services who cannot afford a designer and can use a downloadable fillable form (Word), PDF or eBook, etc.

    There is a lot of useable ideas in this link, and I thank you for your ideas. If anyone needs a lot of production, contact me.

    Laurel, if they ask, please forward.

    Thanks.

    Jane

    1. Laurel Black

      Hi Jane –
      I’m glad you found this forum and that it was helpful and interesting. It has been pretty amazing to see all the experiences of people in our age bracket. It’s pretty clear that the combination of age and the economy isn’t doing us any favors. I continue to believe that our best shot is self-employment. According to the Freelancers Union site (http://www.freelancersunion.org/about/index.html), nearly one in three Americans in the labor force is an independent worker. The feds only recently started counting us, which may partly explain why the unemployment numbers continue to be dismal. (It’s like if you don’t have a job, you don’t exist.)

      You sound as if you are more than qualified/skilled/experienced enough to have your own business. I went to your site, and reading about all the things you’ve done was a bit overwhelming. I am sure that if you reach out to companies as you described in your post, that you will find some that can really use what you have to offer. I will certainly forward your name/url if I run into anyone who needs production. Good luck!

      - Laurel

  99. Eve

    What would you say to a 35 year old who is considering Portfolio School since its a 1 year plunge. I have been surrounded by design my whole life so I’m no rookie. I haven’t taken the plunge because of health insurance. Fortunately my job is very heavy in UX which is somewhat interesting . I just don’t have the pro. Über training and skills yet. People think I’m crazy to leave an interesting job that pays great with an agency to go back to schooling, go into debt,risk losing insurance and earn 40% less. My biggest concern is insurance and will any hire a 35 yr. old? Thanks all!!

    1. Laurel Black

      Hi Eve -
      I am not familiar with “Portfolio Schools,” so I don’t know what is involved in attending one. My first reaction is, why do you have to choose between working and school? It’s been common for a long time to do both part-time. Personally, I would never give up the type of good working situation you describe for an alternative that has some serious downsides. A school that requires you to give up your means of livelihood sounds a bit weird to me. And you DO NOT want to be without health insurance if you can avoid it. You also don’t describe why you want to go back to school. If you are taking a 40% drop in pay (assuming you get a job at the end), giving up health insurance and wondering if anyone would hire a 35-year-old (seriously?), there had better be some major pay-off for you.

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  101. Rosemary Peppercorn

    Eve, don’t do it! Just don’t do it! Simple as that. Not in this economy.

    You’ll regret it the rest of your life. Do it part-time.

    This whole thread has depressed me. I was wondering why all recruiters start talking about their mothers during interviews.

    Age discrimination is alive and well. I think salary has little to do with it. If a job is available, they should offer what they’re paying. We can take it or leave it. But they don’t even give us an opportunity to decline it.

    It’s time we sued a few people. That’s the main reason companies started hiring minorities — fear of lawsuits.

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  103. john smith

    Never give up on your dream. If you’re good enough and passionate enough then work will come to you. I’m 39, a serving Police Officer and i was made redundant as a designer for a new media arm of a large London advertising agency back in 2000. The market couldn’t recover in time and my savings were running out. I joined the Police to survive. I’m now 10 years in and have spent the last 2 years re-training myself from scratch in dreaweaver, html, css, flash animation, photoshop, illustrator, premier pro and now cinema 4d. I’m about to finish my portfolio site and go public. I think freelance is my only option as i’m too expensive no doubt as i have a mortgage etc. It’s surprising how fast you can pick things up again and tap into current design trends if need be. It takes hours of grafting and learning but if design is your passion then it almost ceases to be work. Believe in yourself, get opinions from people doing the job that you want to do. Never give up…One example of my work to date: http://www.infomaticfilms.com/jack/infomatics/html/index.htm

  104. darcyferris

    I have been working as a freelancer with safefreelancer from couple of years. I have spent 20 years of my life in this profession and it feels good to work as a freelancer because in this type of work I do not have to report anyone like boss or any another person. In this job every person knows that he can earn according to his work and I am very much happy by choosing this job. here is my site and previously work done details : http://www.safefreelancer.com/.

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