Are You Ever Too Old To Become a Designer?

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Often I encounter the question: “Am I too old to become a graphic designer?”

There are many people with the talent, the passion and the ambition to pursue a career in graphic design, but feel they may have missed the boat. Usually this is because they chose what they assumed to be a more stable or traditional career path earlier in their life. Maybe this describes you if you’re reading this post.

If you have a true passion for design, you’ll likely always find your way back to it at some point. You may have your doubts as to whether you have the time and energy to invest in developing your design skills and embarking on this career path, but that needn’t stop you from pursuing your passion.

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Age Doesn’t Have to Be a Factor. Results Matter More.

People often make the mistake of equating age or years within a profession to experience. Results are what really matter. Typically more years in the industry or being older means you’ve had more time and more opportunities to execute and produce results.

However, this is not always the case. If someone has been in the industry for 10 years but has only worked with 20 clients and produced 30 projects, but you’ve worked with over 50 clients in the last 3 years and produced 100 projects, which of you has more experience?

You can leverage your seniority while not having the number of years in the industry of your younger counterparts by playing to your strengths. Use your years of experience to cut the learning curve and negotiate more firmly than someone who may be more design-savvy or technically skilled while lacking life and work experience by comparison.

Succeeding in creative services is about controlling perception and positioning yourself for the outcomes you want. This doesn’t just apply to work you do with clients, but also to your own career as well. You can leverage your experience in another industry and your overall experience in life as an advantage. Counter your lack of “design-specific” experience by emphasizing  your technical skills and your overall creative style through your portfolio.

Your body of work and your ability to present it well trump everything else. Dictate the narrative that is in your favor, rather than one that leans on conventional wisdom.

You’re Never Too Old To Learn

The task of learning new skills can either be a daunting challenge or an exciting opportunity. It is all a matter of your point of view. You can consider going back to school to learn these skills, or, if that is impractical and you have the self discipline, online learning is another avenue that will allow you to learn at your own pace.

There are several forms of online learning within the graphic design field that range from free to paid options. You can also learn about the industry itself and gain perspective from the articles here on HOW Design and via Print Magazine.

Here are some options for online Design Education:

  • Udemy offers free and paid graphic design e-courses
  • HOW University offers online courses and workshops
  • Skillshare offers free and paid graphic design e-courses
  • YouTube offers free graphic design tutorials and advice from industry experts
  • Lynda.com offers a monthly subscription for online leanring
  • Creative Live offers live streaming and paid replays of workshops from industry experts

Overcoming the Competition in Interviews

Marketing your strengths rather than your weaknesses is essential. If you don’t have a degree in graphic design, don’t bring it up or try to gloss over it. Instead, focus on your advantages, such as your other experiences, your dedication and your enthusiasm.

Don’t make the assumption that your age disqualifies you. Many employers and clients prefer working with someone who they feel may be more stable, focused and mature. Use this as leverage to make yourself a lead candidate.

If you’re concerned that they will assume you are outdated and non-tech-savvy, squash those assumptions as early as possible in the way you present yourself and communicate.

Position the conversation to show that you’re not a risk but that you might bring something unique to the table. Shift the focus to the quality of the work you’ve done rather than the time you’ve put in. Highlight your past experience but frame it in a way that is relevant to the goals of the employer or the client. Your task is to make them as comfortable as possible, more comfortable than they would be working with someone else.

Presenting Yourself as a Skilled Designer:

  • Create an online portfolio, ideally with 20-30 pieces of quality work or more.
  • Your online portfolio should be well designed and meet current standards.
  • Ensure that you have a professional domain name and email address; avoid free web hosting and email.
  • Curate a print portfolio that demonstrates your best work and an understanding of presentation skills and layouts.
  • Craft a resume that highlights your strongest skills and relevant accomplishments only.
  • Be prepared to send a PDF version of your portfolio and resume upon request.
  • Be confident when you present each piece in your portfolio, but also have a text blurb explaining the more relevant information about what you worked on and what tools you used.
  • Include some self-initiated work that reflects your own creativity and style.
  • Know what you want to ask for and what your employer’s and clients’ expectations are.
  • Be prepared to explain your established process for how you execute your work.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate your skills at a moment’s notice.
  • Don’t pretend to know things that you don’t. Answer questions honestly and clearly.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

What ultimately stops people from pursuing a design career later in life is fear. They feel they will be rejected in favor of youth or that they can’t learn everything they need to. If you have confidence in your abilities and have a true love for design and a desire to make it in the industry, you can’t be afraid of the work it will take or the potential for rejection.

Like anything many things in life, you have to consider this as an investment and decide if it is one you are ready to commit to and feel is truly worthwhile.


Don’t miss Roberto Blake at HOW Design Live 2016 in Atlanta! HOW offers the creative inspiration to refuel your passion for your work combined with the practical knowledge you need to achieve and advance in your career. And it’s no surprise that at the largest gathering of creative professionals and designers, you will also have ample opportunity to network with the best and brightest speakers, industry-leading companies and your peers.

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