Are you too old to get hired?

Judy writes, “Who woulda thought that after all these years, landing a job interview would be so difficult? Just getting in the door to show them how cool I am is hard. It’s a tough sell in the market today.

“I hate to say that I’m old school. It’s something I hear old people say. But when I look at the tools I used as I started my career — the ones that are either collecting dust or framed in my memorabilia — I realize that it might be true. My Haberule type gauge, ellipse guides, arc templates, Rapidograph pens, pica rulers, Rubylith, dividers, color guides, stat machine and dry-transfer letters are things of the past. Who knows what all the hours of smelling rubber cement has done to my brain.

“I’ve taken the years off of my resumé at someone’s suggestion. (I am, however, not dying my hair.) Filling out job applications online has taken the fun out of presenting my work in person with a portfolio. My graphic design skills are lacking web credentials. I can’t believe I’m saying this. Print is slipping away.

“The worst part is that even though I have 35+ years in the field, no one is calling me back. I mean, forget the phone call, no one is even emailing me back.

“What now?”


Hi Judy,

I’d say that print is slipping away, sort of. More like it’s morphing. The iPad, for example, is a print medium, with benefits. New Web-font technology brings the beauty and nuanced voices of print to the Web. For those of us who love type and print, this is exciting.

That said, video is hot, and it should be. It’s a more natural medium — “natural” being the way we actually experience life. Reading is the artificial thing. The surprise for me has been the speed of the advances in technology. We carry the world in our pockets now, in real time. What my iPhone will do is almost unbelievable. A short 10 years ago multimedia tied us to our desks, modems squawked, pages loaded at crawl speed and were ugly, search sucked; the whole experience was sucky.

Video is no longer a special event that requires high production values; it’s become more like chat.

Had nothing changed and print was still king, you and I would be kings, laid back, lavishly paid, dispensing with ease a lifetime of accumulated mastery, dabbling at our leisure in the new technologies. Fantasy Island.

When I was 30 and art director of the local city magazine, we hired a 50-year-old who was incredible at pencil-sketching layouts. He could whip out four pencil-sketched advertising mockups in 30 minutes, which invariably impressed clients and made our jobs easy. Problem was, this artist was stuck in the 1950s, where he had learned his skills. He’d grown inflexible, like unused muscles get. He couldn’t get his head into what we were thinking and the direction we wanted to take the design. He was of a different mind, and we eventually let him go. It didn’t help that he drank.

At the same time, we had a 70-year-old proofreader who was the opposite. Extremely skilled, curious, cooperative, fun-loving, hard-working. If we were up all night, literally around the clock, on a deadline, Stan would stay with us, proofing endless galleys of 6-pt. type (“This opening paren is five points, not six,” he said one memorable night), raising our awareness, increasing our knowledge, inspiring us with his perseverance and acceptance of only the highest standards. There’s a lot of Stan Ottowa in Before & After.

Stan didn’t have to do this. He could have accepted the world’s loosening grammatical standards and less-than-the-best craftsmanship. But he kept the bar high and in doing so called us up to it.

Anyway, all this to say that while you may lack this or that credential, you have more than the 30- (or 20-) somethings, whose experience, for all of their skills, is still thin and forming, and instead of just landing a job, you might think about how to find your “more” and then find the fit for it.

What do you know about yourself at 50 (or 60) that you didn’t know at 30? How does it apply to design, and specifically to job A, B, or C?

What’s your vision? In every life God has planted the seed of something important. By 60, many of the wishes, hopes and dreams of youth have fallen away. Yet this thing persists. You may already be living it. Or not yet. What is it?

Do you have a “bucket” list? What’s on it?

Don’t fret over who might hire you, which is to cede ownership of your life to others. Think instead about what you know and have and want, and work to that. What do you do that no one else can do? Where can you make a difference that no one else can make?

My guess is that you know.

Go for that.


Hi John,

Divine intervention has prevailed! I found out that a friend worked in the marketing department of a national company headquartered in my hometown. Of course, she would be happy to walk something in.

The resumé I had carefully prepared would not work — that letter-size piece of paper just wasn’t talking. What to do? Again, divine intervention prevailed. I found myself in the Hallmark store looking at the singing greeting cards. Surely there would be an appropriate song. “Cheers! Everyone knows your name,” sang out. It was the start of a great idea.

Like most of my discoveries in design, it’s a matter of relaxing and trusting. (My love of graphics started in first grade when the teacher asked me to design the bulletin board. I looked up and “saw” it — heading, picture, body. I’ve been doing it ever since.)

I went back to my roots. With photos and X-Acto blades, old rulers and pens, I started crafting the perfect resumé. The photo of me standing in a cornfield became “Judy Robertson is out standing in her field.” The story of how corn starts as a small seed became my career path. When I was done, the stock card had been transformed into a one-of-a-kind work of art. If this didn’t get me the job, I was going to find a new career.

The words, “You’re the one who sent in that singing resumé,” are a gift every time I hear them at my new job.


Dear readers, talk to me.

(Thanks to Lou Brooks’ great Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. Those of you of a certain age who click the link, don’t get lost on Memory Lane!)

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84 Responses to Are you too old to get hired?

  1. Jeff Walker says:

    Hi John,

    I’m 54 and have been in the communication and design field my entire career. I lost my job after 24 years working in-house for a Fortune 500 company. In my time there, I saw the design and marketing staff eliminated and new staff hired four times. When it was my time to go, I was lucky and managed to land a new job in the same field and market. It took me a year to get over the shock, get my head back in the game, and approach the job search in the same manner that I would any new ad campaign or large-scale communication project.

    In my new job there is a lot of growth, and I have hired several graphic designers. Many of the applicants were older and, like me, lost their jobs due to the economy. It broke my heart to see so many who were still traumatized, desperate and so not on their game.

    If I could give advice to this group, it would be this:

    Turn the corner as quickly as possible and embrace your situation as a new opportunity. Approach the job search as you would an exciting new design project. Think research, target, communication objectives. Look at growing industries like health care. You will find that most people are willing to overlook your age, but not old design or presentation techniques. Staying fresh, current, and strategic with your design and presentation will get you hired and keep you there.

  2. Hi John,

    A fabulous example to dispel the myth that you cannot get a job because of your age. Most folks start acting old by their early 30s. It’s cultural. We turn into bores when we do not have to. See life as an adventure, and every age becomes childhood again.

    Replace experience with enthusiasm and eccentricity. Stay as far away from the mediocre middle as possible.

    And burn your conventional résumé. Those wretched things contribute to the boredom.

    The Fearless Branding Rebel

  3. Warren Hayford says:


    Your singing card résumé is a great idea. Have you put an electronic version of your creative résumé on the web? If not, get the URL with your name, if available, and post your content there. This will allow you to showcase your digital talents too, and you won’t be limited to a single page.

    You can even use the Microsoft Tag (the square bar code with colored triangles) on your physical card with a link to your web version. This will showcase your understanding of the importance of including mobile links.

    Here’s a URL to the page explaining what you can do to customize a Tag and make it match your theme.

    Good luck!


  4. Donna Reynolds says:

    I, too, fall into the category that Dave Barry has described as “extremely advanced youth”; nevertheless, thus far my age hasn’t been a problem. My advice: Put up a good web site that showcases your work. If potential clients like your stuff, they probably won’t care that you remember when Eisenhower was president. Then toss your standard-issue résumé and design something. If you view your résumé as a portfolio piece and design it as such, it’s bound to stand out. Never, ever stop learning new stuff. And, finally, remember the P.J. O’Rourke maxim: Age and guile beat youth, innocence, and a bad haircut. All the best.

    • Pat Gill says:

      Dear Donna,

      I am also part of that club where I remember and used the old tools. Age has never been an issue for me — older, younger, it is all about the person. Unfortunately, not everyone sees past what is in front of them to see the potential and possibilities. This résumé/portfolio idea is a great idea to showcase your work and give potential employers a true picture of your skills without the wall of age in the way. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Virginia Rogers says:

    Being of the same age and in pretty much the same career predicament, I accidentally discovered skills I have, which, according to my new employer, not many younger people have (or at least display). Apparently, it is unusual to find a skilled designer who a) first reads the information to be communicated; b) has a general understanding of the information to be communicated; and c) can write, edit and proofread as well as design.

    I’ve always considered those to be part of the job. I thought everyone did that. Evidently not. Good luck.

    • George McCutcheon says:

      Hello Virginia,

      I could not agree more with your observation that a skilled designer “can write, edit and proofread as well.”

      A scan of most remarks posted here contain the same grammar goof found—and seemingly copied—from Judy’s original message to Mr. McWade.

      That would be the word resume.

      Typed as resumé is not correct. The word should be rendered résumé.

      (Apparently we all need a Stan Ottowa from time to time.)

      • John McWade says:

        George, thanks for your catch. And via the magic of find-and-replace, all instances of resume and resumé have now been corrected!

        PongoResume argues for no accents, one reason being that in cyberspace, special characters often get turned into gibberish, as in My re¿#%sume¿#% is enclosed for your review. (Thank you, Judy.)

  6. The truth is: Not your work nor your skills are important, nor should we discuss the dying print industry. I’m 52 years old now, and I can’t find a job in Germany because I am too old / too experienced (depends on the staff manager). If you are “too old” you are old fashioned, slow, and closed-minded, from their point of view. If you are “too experienced,” you are too expensive (believe it or not, this is an argument I often heard — and nowadays my income is just a quarter of the earnings 10 years ago). Most (young) designers in Germany stay for nine months (max) at an advertising agency/marketing department before they go or get sacked, because they are burnt out and useless for the agency. Is this the future of creativity?

    (P.S.: Please excuse my poor English — I hope you get the message.)

    • G Carr says:

      I will agree with Siegbert. I am of a certain age (over 60) and although I’m a young thinker (up to date with the latest design software and social media), I am still viewed as too experienced (expensive). My income has been reduced to less than a quarter of what I used to make. Not many corporations are taking on FT designers, and my client base is non-existent.

      The innovations of the latest design software are a double-edge sword for designers — our work is easier/faster, but our clientele can now do it themselves.

      There is always a future for creativity as much as new designers are developing. The question should be, “Do we have any creativity left in us to share with the world?”

  7. Maria says:

    But when I look at the tools I used as I started my career — the ones that are either collecting dust or framed in my memorabilia — I realize that it might be true. My Haberule type gauge, ellipse guides, arc templates, Rapidograph pens, pica rulers, Rubylith, dividers, color guides, stat machine and dry-transfer letters are things of the past. Who knows what all the hours of smelling rubber cement has done to my brain.

    Haha, I’ve never ever heard of any of these . . .

    • Sue Mischke says:

      What do you mean, that my Rapidographs are no good any more?

      Just kidding.

      Seriously, letting go of those was one of the hardest things I ever did. I kept thinking about what I had paid for them. I still have my dry-transfer type, patterns, colors, etc., but I’m sure they wouldn’t stick at all any more.

      The thing that brought me into the new technology was that everything was so much easier on a computer — especially correcting mistakes. I am only an amateur designer, but I have to do a lot of it in my day job (scientific research) in order to explain my results at meetings and in publications. Once you get over the initial hump of the cyber age, you will never want to go back to the old and “powerless” days of paper.

      For purely technical questions, I find that the best sources are usually high-school students. They may not have a lot of judgment or maturity as to the theory of design, but they sure know how the newest tools work!

  8. Pam says:

    Hi John, Judy, and design peeps,

    Love this conversation, because 1) now I know I’m not the only experienced designer out there looking, and 2) this is a chance to refute the idea that design is a young person’s game.

    Stan the proofreader proves that while the body inevitably ages, it is the mind that is the most important creative tool. That Stan refused to succumb to age and “what used to be” as a reason to stay entrenched in a certain skills set applies across the board and not believe that designers “of a certain age” lack ‘skillz.’

    So we love print.

    There are so many beautiful ways to transition print to digital. Investigate INDD’s E-Pub feature and challenge yourself to design a gorgeous book for iPad/Nook/Kindle. Find out about websites that convert your print pubs to digital flipbooks for free, and start your own magazine.

    And look at motion graphics. So many beautiful 2D videos produced today start with design, illustration on paper that gets scanned and moved into motion.

    Have time on your hands? If you can, consider purchasing a membership to online training for programs used for web and video.

    Also, consider offering your knowledge and skills to a design student as a mentor. Whether you are print or digital, frankly, good design is good design, and many young people hunger for guidance and the wealth of experience that you have.

    Myself, well into my forties, I’m completing a certificate in digital media, finally getting training in my secret passion, animation. And the most valuable lesson came from my 30-year-old professor — stop saying how old you are — if you’re hung up on it, others will be too. Instead, he advised, project the confidence that experience has given you. Show the skills you have, not that you are uncertain.

    And another gift I gave myself was getting a design mentor through my professional development association. I’m paired with a remarkable young person who works exclusively on the web. The value I’ve seen so far, besides a wonderful new design relationship, is really understanding the digital world instead of fretting about how far behind I might be, and a clue about where I need to work on digital skills rather than just guessing what I need to study.

    Judy, please let us know it unfolds for you! Best, Pam

    • Judy Robertson says:

      My singing résumé landed me a job at Boar’s Head. I have been there a month now and slowly melding into the culture. It’s been a great move for me . . . and I get to ride my bike to work!

  9. I have the same story and have seen the same outcome for friends around me. It seems that getting hired right now isn’t about what you know, but who you know. A singing card is brilliant, but it was divine intervention to have a friend who could “walk it in.” It seems that networking counts for as much as portfolios and résumé in this job market. While I wait for a friend of a friend to “discover” me, however, I’m taking classes and getting certificates to show proof that my already expanded skill set isn’t 20 years old.

    • Tammy says:

      Aye, there’s the rub. Any time one can bypass the soulless HR and standard-application processes, that is a huge advantage. The lesson here is to be a social animal (not necessarily a party animal) — work your contacts, but don’t be a user. Join social media sites, but not to play games; and be careful about separating what you share with family vs. what you share with professional contacts.

  10. Judy Johnson says:

    My name is Judy. What more can I say. This article is the best I’ve ever read . . . made me cry!

    Thank you.

  11. Scott says:

    Interesting. I’m a 43-year-old designer who’s been in the field since the early 80s. I freelance full-time anymore. However, during a couple of lean times over the past few years I’ve had to reevaluate my own marketability.

    I started much like Judy — X-Acto and Amber/Rubylith, spec’ing type, getting PMTs for pasteup, etc. Print was my bread and butter for the better part of the first 15 years of my career.

    Thankfully, in the late 90s I started getting interested in web design, and that’s been my saving grace, to a point. Keeping up with web trends is a job unto itself. Things are constantly changing and growing. It’s getting easier to accomplish end goals, however it requires learning new techniques weekly at a minimum.

    In my last nine-to-five position, I refused to hire anyone without at least basic HTML experience. It’s become a must-have.

    Print is still print. It’s the same today as it was five years ago.

    Quite honestly, my freelance career would die if I had to depend solely on print or solely on web design. It’s the combination of the two which has helped me somewhat flourish.

    But here’s where I begin to ponder . . .

    Occasionally I see a job posting and will apply without any real desire to gain the position. I merely wish to see if I get a call or interview. I’ll even go to an interview just for the practice/experience. I’m fortunate enough to get calls based on my résumé/web site, but the interviews are another matter.

    It’s become clear to me that age has become a factor. Seems few make any connection based on the work experience on my résumé with my age. After all, if I was working in the 80s, chances are I’m not 20 years old.

    While I may get a call — clearly indicating my résumé and web site portfolio have done their jobs — interviews are almost always short and to the point, even going so far as to ask, “How do you feel about having a boss younger than you?” Which doesn’t matter. But the questions says a great deal about the person conducting the interview or the company itself.

    There have been times where interviews go very well and age appears to be completely unimportant. I am generalizing to a degree.

    But I often wonder, how is it that designers over the age of 40 get jobs anymore. I read a statistic somewhere than 83% of all college graduates are in the visual and arts fields anymore (sorry, don’t know the actual reference, and statistics are, well, statistics). The market appears to be completely saturated with younger (cheaper) talent.

    • Phillip says:

      I have most of you beat on the age issue. I started composing out of a California Job Case (Monotype) and Ludlow. Went on from there. I have not seen a single mention of the best possibility to get back into the game.

      Non-profit organizations — many are small, few have a decent budget, but almost all are connected to power. I ended my work career 20 year ago, when I sold my company, and I have worked non-profits ever since. I have met two past state governors, three U.S. senators, numerous congressmen, CEOs, and two former U.S. presidential cabinet members. People who are higher up and decision-makers have an awareness of “causes.” When you get to control your time, you will work on those issues that matter to you. By getting yourself involved with a non-profit, you will develop connections that may really matter, and you get to work on projects that really matter to you. How many times have I wondered if the project I was on was of any value? Haven’t we all been there at some point? Now you have the chance to pick and choose what you do, and help change the world.

      I have been able to help the hungry, shelter teen moms, fund treatment for drug addicts, provide after-school activities for children, on and on. Twenty years of the most productive design years, and the busiest as well. All after my 45th birthday. Challenges abound and always bring new opportunities. We are design gurus! We are supposed to pull creative approaches out of thin air. Get creative!


      • Cat says:

        I’ve been contemplating on how to get more meaning into my career. Wondering about teaching, or finding a place with some heart and soul. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Pamela Dreyfus Smith says:

    I love this entry! Judy, your advice to relax and trust sing out to me, as does your story. You clearly have a great deal to offer.

  13. Tanya says:

    I have a Master’s degree in Media Studies and have done everything media including audio and television production (yes, when we actually had to physically splice and tape the audio tape together and had these beast video editing machines that took up an entire wall of a room). I moved to graphic design fairly early in my career simply because I couldn’t stand lugging those cameras and decks anymore, and jobs were everywhere.

    Yes, it has evolved greatly and the competition is incredible. As an “older” designer, I’ve been finding that the big businesses are hiring the younger generation (less pay, and more “moldable” is what I’ve heard from the execs I’ve kept in touch with). Last year, I was laid off from a magazine (due to the sale of it) where I was the head art director for 12 years. I couldn’t find a full-time, steady paying job to save my life (within my geographic region — couldn’t move because my child has one more year of high school!) and something that would actually pay me enough to support my family.

    So, I went for it. I started my own business and haven’t looked back. It’s not for everyone. There are a lot of hours, paperwork, organization, quoting, and being taken for granted. But, I had that when I was working in an office — so now, I can at least be taken for granted in my PJs! I hooked up with a small-business organization for good, cheap health care (thank you Obama), and I am making at least what I was at the magazine with hope for growth! Some months are great, some not so great, but I have long-term clients who never see me and my sprouting wrinkles, never ask my age, and think I’m young, hip and cool . . . HA! I don’t need to make millions, just enough to live and be happy. You learn that when you get older. So, find your niche! The nine-to-five grind with two hours of daily driving just wasn’t mine anymore, and when the people who are interviewing you look like Britney Spears to your Betty White, well, that’s depressing. It took a layoff, a lot of Zoloft, and several months of job searching hell for me to figure that one out. So glad I did!

    • Margie Segal says:

      Thank you Tanya. You made me laugh and confirmed for me what my path should be now that life as I’ve known it has taken a U-turn.

      Back to freelance!

  14. Randy Martin says:

    I got into graphic design in 1985 when I was 40. Presstype was the newest thing. I had a half-gallon can of rubber cement to refill the table bottle. I bought an electric typewriter with 10 pages of memory. In two years, I had to debate buying Mac or PC. Since I was new and Mac was 10x more expensive, I went PC. I figured I was done; I had a computer. But things changed so fast that I didn’t have time to have any “good old days.” As I get close to Stan’s age, I do find I have to push myself to keep upgrading, keep learning. Now I’m working on phone apps and videos and wondering what’s next.

    In the process of all this, I changed how I worked. I leveraged my age and experience into working for five clients, one day a week at their location. I act as their marketing department. They get the advantage of all of my experiences for the same price as someone just out of school. And I get freedom, variety, security, respect, and more pay than I could get from one job. I do have to handle my own insurance, but the way that’s going, it won’t be much different than if I worked 40+ for one firm.

    Just keep moving forward and taking the best of your experiences with you. Good design is still the same: Make it easy for them to want to read, listen, or watch.

  15. Ann Farr says:

    Brilliant. I love it. Many, many congratulations to Judy.

  16. Chris Carney says:

    After three years I’m still looking for the next opportunity. I really love what Judy did. Do you think Judy would share her singing card?

  17. Hi John!

    The world’s changed. I’m still doing the good stuff when I get a chance. I’m still doing it fast, and I’m still making clients say “Wow!” But I’m not offered the chance as often as I used to be, and I don’t understand why.

    Take yesterday. A printer client rang to say he was up against a deadline producing an art-auction catalogue. His client had put the cover with a larger agency, but could I produce artwork for the inside pages inside 24 hours? Could I? Does Santa Claus wear a red suit?

    I did; he was delighted; his client was delighted. 48 hours later the other agency still hadn’t delivered. More people, fewer pages.

    The trouble started with Wozniak and the late-lamented Jobs. I started using a Mac in newspapers back in 1989, when they were still called Apple Macs. In doing so, I was guilty of starting the trend towards putting out of work older people skilled in Linotype machines and stereo plates.

    What goes around comes around. No one needs sub-editors or designers like me anymore. Grab a template and drop something into it. Job done. Not so well as it might have been, but hey, it was cheap and it was fast, and people will rub along with second-best.

    I’m not old. I’m just a young person who’s been alive a long time. I work fast. Computers mean I can work anywhere in the English-speaking world (paradoxically, thanks to Wozniak and Jobs and Berners-Lee). I know the difference between stationery and stationary; between it’s and its, and between you’re and your. So why doesn’t my #@%*! phone ring?

    Perhaps I should go deal in antiques or become a bee farmer . . .

  18. At 82 I am so happy that I long ago realized that I have to continually reinvest in myself. My advice: Buy a 28-inch iMac with lots of RAM, Adobe InDesign (which comes with a one-month free training from, a good digital point-and-shoot camera, and possibly Photoshop Elements (which can do most of what is needed). And go digital. Maybe, investing in Adobe Dreamweaver (also with a month’s free training from will give you an extra edge. Once there, it is easy to keep up with the young fry.

    • Tia says:

      Peter, I am impressed — 82 and still keeping up with the “young fry”! You know about! I have an 80-year-old dad who can’t manage to get his negatives scanned to digital because in his mind it’s too complicated! I like your attitude.

  19. Calling says:

    This conversation was amazing! I’m touched by both responses, by Mr. McWade’s wisdom and Judy’s inspiring solution. The line that resonated with me the most was, “Don’t fret over who might hire you, which is to cede ownership of your life to others.” I’m in my late 30s, and I have fought against the throttle that my past employers have put on my work.

  20. BB says:

    I was very fortunate as a designer to have eased into digital in the late 80s and early 90s. (I already had several years of design experience.) I carried my company’s marketing from the drawing board to the Mac. I kept up with the latest technology and helped create web design, edited video and audio, and pretty much was a one-person in-house agency. In return, my company hired a web team (younger), which I was not part of. They hired a multimedia developer (younger). So even though I had a proven track record of expanding my skills to stay current with technology, it was not recognized by my employer. They preferred to keep me as a print designer. We still do a lot of print, but the hot stuff now is video and of course social media; we also hired a social media specialist (much younger).

    Staring into a computer or iPad or iPhone for pay and social interaction is not my idea of living. After 30+ years or whatever, it’s time to let the next wave of creatives get their turn. Employers want to invest their resources, training, and salaries in those who have a longer shelf life, so to speak. They will get old, too.

    I attended an AIGA conference recently. At the break I looked around at the mostly young crowd. All heads were down, fingers busy on their digital communication devices. No eye contact, no human interaction. What a shame.

  21. Nancy says:

    Wow! This is me. I’ve had to reinvent myself in the last few years, and I keep trying new things. My latest is setting up my own website, and the college kids I hang out with say, “Oh, you can do it, it’s easy.” Yeah, right. But it is getting easier. I’ve always said that if your TV was this agitating to use, no one would watch TV — so when will you be able to set up a decent site without knowing HTML? Finally, it’s getting there.

    The strangest experience I’ve had lately was when I decided to go to college (first time — at my age) and brushed up on my MS Office skills. A month later I took a temporary, six-month job at the county and had to use MS Office 2003 instead of the 2007 I had in the class (don’t tell anyone there’s 2010 out now!). My struggle to find my way around 2003 was not as comical as the look on the other people’s faces when I suggested updating it (since we often traded files). They did not want to change it.

    Oh well. Go with the flow.

  22. Nancy says:

    Also, I suddenly redesigned my résumé to look like a brochure. Not only did my design skills get sharpened, I looked at myself through new eyes and saw what all I had to offer.

    Without experience, school teaches you to crank out what you learned in school. An older person can take all that they have learned and apply it in much more creative ways . . . as long as they never stop learning.

  23. Jim Zeman says:

    I’m 70, and I have had the same problems getting work. I have been out of work for 18 months and have not been able to get past the front door.

    I think many companies are slow to use the new technology to work with creative people. Companies and agencies were slow to enter the digital age. Likewise, they are slow to work with designers on the web. I will continue to look for contract work, freelance, and full-time work.

  24. Chuck Green says:

    To me, a key thing to remember is that a graphic designer is a professional learner. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent much of your career learning about people and their businesses, exploring advantages and problems, describing and illustrating positive ideas, and packaging results in a way that attracts interest and creates revenue.

    If you have all or most of that skill set, I believe the only time you’ll be out of work is when you choose to be. Yes, you may (in some circumstances) have trouble finding a job, but a real explorer, learner, and problem solver can invent opportunities where none seem to exist.

    Anyone who gives it careful thought knows that age is a particularly poor indicator of worth. Business and industry worldwide is often lead by women and men in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. What is the common tread among such leaders? Ideas. Motivation. Passion. Above all else, I doubt many think of themselves as a statistics. If 50 percent of the print trade dies tomorrow, be one of those who produces the 50 percent that’s left. If 95 percent of the people in your situation don’t get a job, be in the five percent who do.

  25. Sharon Hill says:

    I am 53 and fighting the same battle. I went back to school in 2002 to pickup digital classes to update my skills, but it’s still hard. One great resource I found in Florida and now in Georgia is the Adobe user groups. I’ve been to InDesign groups, and it’s a great network resource. But I think the biggest problem is that people look at us and think what could we possibly know? I applied for a job recently that wants Adobe CS5 experience, and I only go up to CS3 because I haven’t been able to upgrade.

    • Nancy says:

      I went from CS3 to CS5. You’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt. It wasn’t a bad jump. My son complained about it, but he rarely uses it, so I didn’t understand the fuss.

  26. Tim says:

    If I may add . . .

    I’m 50, and my background had been all print design/production up to about three years ago when I began teaching myself web design and front-end coding (xHTML, CSS, a little Java and php). Not back-end coding — that’s still a more-specialized skill requiring a programmer. Focus on the structure of HTML and how to use CSS to make HTML look good.

    But today you absolutely need some of these skills, and I’m telling you from experience that you can pick them up, and when you do, you’ll have the advantage. The kids today have no clue about composition, typography, white space, color, or even how important cropping a photos is.

    I would recommend what someone already mentioned: get over to, get yourself a very affordable monthly membership, and start with basic HTML structure. Give yourself some time. It’s different terminology, and you’ll probably get frustrated in the beginning, but keep going. After awhile it begins to click, and then your design sense and all that experience comes into play and you’ll be fine.

    Go forward and don’t look back . . .

    • Tia says:

      Thanks Tim!

    • Irene says:

      I’m so glad I found this thread. For the past 15 years I’ve worked in newsprint for national publications, and it’s no secret which direction newspapers is going. I’ve seen my department go from 30 talented people to four in my 15-year span with the company. I’m the only production artist on staff now, which means no backup for when I want to take a day off. Of course, I can’t really complain since I’m lucky to still have the job, but it’s only a matter of time. As a result, I’ve been debating about whether or not to change careers. I’ve always been good at computers and have a fairly good eye. Though I wouldn’t call myself a graphic designer. Much of what I do currently is production work. I like putting the pieces together, if you will.

      I signed up for a free week-long trial with and found it a wonderful resource. It is a bit overwhelming at times. And as another poster commented, you really need to stick with it.

      Thank you all for your comments. It makes it all seem more manageable.

  27. Milmon says:

    Thank you Judy, John, and everyone else who commented!

    This entire conversation has really inspired me. At the age of . . . well, let’s just say “50-ish,” I find myself a student again. I’m now learning design after quite a few years in higher education. One thing that all my years of being a student, a professor, and researcher/author have taught me is how to learn. I’m so happy to know that I can still experience the thrill that comes when the light comes on and I grasp a new concept or solve a problem that I’ve been struggling with. It’s the engagement in the process that I find so very exciting as I continue to learn from brilliant instructors (some younger) and even from fellow students. We’re all learning, working, and sharing together, and it’s wonderful. I’ve also become aware of some of the ways I bring my non-design-related experience to bear in my current design study and practice. Bottom line: This new future is mine to craft, and I’m bringing my whole self and history to it.

    Honestly, the thought that I am too old to be trying to enter a new field, especially one apparently dominated by much younger people, is always at the back of my mind as a potential source of discouragement. This conversation will be something I’ll take with me as a source of encouragement as I continue to travel this path.

    Wish me luck!

  28. Jaye says:

    A person may be “too old” to get hired. However, nobody is ever too old to try to make it own their own. Traditional media is very closed and tightly controlled. The good thing is that new media is more open and accessible to all. The only limitations are a person’s own drive and desire. Moving away from the shelter of someone else’s payroll can be scary to contemplate. But in the long run that may very well be the best path to personal fulfillment. So do not despair.

  29. Doug says:

    Time to do for ourselves what we have done for others

    I am a 66-year-old software and electronic engineer. I have worked as an independent design consultant since 1981. The 1980s were great! I made much more money as a consultant than as an employee. Great clients. Worked in Silicon Valley, Calif. After the 2008 economic downturn, everything changed. I haven’t been able to get decent work from clients in nearly three years.

    So I began to rethink my position. I’d spent my career designing and developing state-of-the-art electronic devices for a broad range of clients. I had this wealth of information on how to develop products — all the way from the idea to manufacturing. Then it hit me. Why keep trying to get work from others? Why not use my experience and talents to develop electronic devices for myself to market? A year ago I started small and developed a couple of $30-$40 gadgets for electronic hobbyists. My business is still growing. I hope to reach a sustaining income this coming year. It’s been great not having to worry about getting new clients.

    Most of you on this website are graphics people. Can you apply what I did to your field and experience? How about making up a line of gift cards for sale in your local boutiques? Decorative gift bags. Look back a what you have done for your clients. Can you adapt something similar for your own products?

    Good luck to all on this site. I hope some of the ideas posted by others will help some of you.

  30. Cat says:

    Truth be told, everyone here has touched on the harsh reality of age. Technology changes the world daily, and if you don’t change with it, you will become history.

    I started design in the late 1980s, the cusp of the PC computer age. Educated with all the old design tools, I started work at a newspaper designing on computers with clip art. We still used wax paste-ups and a pica ruler for layout then. I now work at a college where everything is on computers — and that technology keeps changing. The new, younger employees knew things I didn’t. I was falling behind in the new mediums and technology. Web became the new marketing and communications tool. So I got myself a degree in web design. The new employees kept getting younger. They had updated marketing and advertising knowledge that I hadn’t learned. So I got a Masters in Communication Arts and learned about the importance of the new social mediums as the way to reach the modern generation. So now I am at least on the same playing field with this new generation. Wait — I’m above it — because I not only know their ideas and what their plans are focused on, but I have years of experience on how and why things have changed for the better. I have to admit that I had to switch gears in my career to enable myself to still exist in this department as a respected employee. The new, younger generation for the most part steers away from print, and as administrators they may not see the older generation as experienced in the new technology but more as stuck in their old ways, like roadblocks. I quickly yet reluctantly accepted a creative design coordinator position, more of an administrator or manager. I am still involved in design, but as more of an overseer or an advisor. Much focus these days is on branding, and I’ve gained a lot of experience in that. Sadly, much artwork here is templated to enable use of fewer designers (we had five, now only two). Art stock companies supply thousands of artwork options for less cost, which eliminates the need for freelance artists. My acquired communication skills help a lot with clients as well as administrators, and/or vendors. Communication skills are very much sought after these days.

    I recently sat in on an interview in our company for a web creative hire. The web administrator is young and so is his associate. They actually passed over an older, experienced, quality prospect to hire a young, inexperienced candidate, fresh out of school, yet who was close to their age. Reason for this — he is fresh and easy to train as they need. I truly believe that young administrators will want to hire their peers, those they can associate with. And I learned from this meeting that there are new technologies used in the web world that I am unaware of; I’m falling behind already, a sign that I need to update my web skills.

    I learned that portfolios aren’t just a leather case anymore. They are digital files in PDF formats. PDFs aren’t the limited read-only files they used to be. They can be very interactive. Portfolios are sent for review digitally now. It saves time and energy on the employer.

    Things to keep in mind:

    Update your skills continuously. This is not a static world. Stay on top of new technologies in your field.

    Know your audience. The upcoming generations have their attention in social mediums and new technologies. Most marketers and advertisers want that audience.

    Don’t be afraid to change. Find a way to blend your old experience with the new. Design your artwork by hand and scan it into a digital format.

    Good professional communications go a long way. Be open-minded to new ideas, and share your expertise without arrogance.

    I like Tanya’s bravery and success to start her own business. Something that I’ve been thinking of myself. Or perhaps I may go into teaching; I have a lot of experience, and I can continually learn new things. But for now, I am clinging to this position I have been in for years, if only for the security of not having to look for a new job and compete with a new, young staff. The one I’m with has grown to know me and respect my experience. It took awhile. Or is it because they are aging too?

  31. Mary Ramirez says:

    My career in print started in 1972 in the art department of a weekly newspaper. A dummy, a velox and some type from the Compugraphic system was handed to me, and they said, “this is how it’s done.” I said, “and you’re going to pay me money to do this?” Over the years I pasted my way up to a couple of major metropolitan newspapers, getting hired because I knew “cold type” as opposed to hot metal (Those were all guys anyway. Not too much respect for a twenty-something girl). Then I had the opportunity to learn the Compugraphic system, and even though I could not throw away the X-Acto blade, I learned to read those codes and lucked onto a mentor who taught me to see the elegance in any job — a six-line business card, or a 32-page, full-color booklet with bleeds and varnishes.

    My story continues through working at home while my child was young to partnering with my husband to run a trade shop making Matchprints for the press, typesetting, and file assembly. Times were tough when our major clients bought digital printers/copiers and cut us out. The last seven years we have contracted our services to a local print shop as the prepress department. Even tougher times have brought us to the brink with two choices:

    1. Let it go. Walk away. Find other work. (Right — we are nearly 60.)

    2. Acquire the digital end of the print shop and continue what we have done for our whole lives, even though the print shop was underwater with debt, and we had no capital to invest, as we had spent the last few years trying to keep all our heads afloat.

    It’s been one month as our own bosses again. Choice number two was the only choice and a hard one. Everyone (the bank, the lease people, the insurance people, etc.) wants a three- to five-year commitment, and my husband/partner said, “But we’ll be so old!” And I said, “We’ll be older no matter what, so let’s take a chance.” As chancey as this may seem, we are continuing with our careers.

    And here’s the rub: I see the craft of my profession being lost to the wonders of the technology. Am I the only one who kerns the hyphens in phone numbers?

    • Cat says:


      You brought back memories. One other piece of equipment that we used for design in newspapers is the Vic camera. And I recall my college counselor telling me that design and illustration is a hard field for women to get into. My mother told me that women didn’t need to go to college. (I would’ve been stuck in waitressing or secretarial work for life.) That newspaper I worked for merged with another paper. That newspaper went out of business a few years later. I still have my X-Acto knife, too.

      I’m so glad to hear you’re going forward. Print is still needed. Online web site is a must.

      Good quality design is an old craft. I don’t think it will go away. Just like furniture, it can be simple, cheap, and quickly manufactured. Or it can be creative, handmade with quality and detail. It’s a matter of who your client is. Target the high-end consumer.

  32. Alaina says:

    Interesting article for sure. While I am still a “spring chicken” at 30, I fear every day that I will be considered old for this industry sometime soon. The technology changes so fast. For anyone struggling with this concept, I suggest reading a short book titled, Who Moved My Cheese.

  33. Mark Tereau says:

    I also am going to join the 50+ group this year. Most people tell me they think I’m 10 years younger. I worked for three years as a typesetter, then 13 years in a small print shop creating all the artwork for print. When I was let go, I couldn’t get work. We weren’t using the latest tools. I worked for a couple years at a silkscreen sign shop for low pay, then decided to get a second college degree in graphic design. That didn’t help — couldn’t get a job in graphics for a year and a half. I ended up in tech writing. Now I can’t get a job there. I’m starting to look again at graphics, but it seems to me to be a dying field. My favorite thing to do is draw. I’d love to do illustration, but there isn’t enough of a market for that and waaaay too many illustrators without work already.
    Anyone have some tips or some hope they can give me?

    • Cat says:

      In the job market I often see requirements for web technology knowledge, communications-writing, and design knowledge. Looks like you have three of them. Learn web marketing/advertising and you may find something.

  34. Bari Tarmon says:

    I believe that what has changed from years past regarding the job-search process has made it not only difficult to find a job, but has placed virtual walls between talent and employer. We used to reply to want ads and receive replies to some, culminating in face-to-face interviews, at which time we could present our portfolio and get to know the potential employer as they got to know us. The anonymous and impersonal web-based system of posting job openings through agencies or other venues that hide the company name and info, completely eliminates the human side of us on both ends. How can a company decide to bring in a potential talent to an interview if they haven’t even spoken to them initially to hear if they can even articulate a sentence? I have applied to many postings through a talent agency, complete with a nice, short cover letter, samples of work, and a link to my online portfolio, and have yet to hear from a single employer.

    Which brings me to the second issue. Have you ever seen an electrician carry every tool in his/her trade as well as tools and materials used by other trades? Every trade carries the things they need. A general handyman may have a selection of tools from several trades, but they generally aren’t experts or experienced in all trades, so they are limited.

    And yet most of the posts for graphic design jobs ask for knowledge and experience in just about every facet of design, print, web, multimedia — and to be superb in all areas. I would imagine that someone who is an expert and experienced in everything would command a salary no one could afford. So why are we being asked to be masters in everything? Is it that companies are trying to be cost efficient and want to hire just one designer who can do it all instead of three who are experts in a few related disciplines? Are they willing to pay that one designer a salary of three? How about a two-person salary?

    And then there is the age thing. There are age discrimination laws, but they are pretty unenforceable in this application, since hiring companies can always come up with reasons they didn’t hire you on professional grounds, that you lacked certain skills they required.

    I’m not sure age has to do much with the difficulty of hiring. Perhaps it’s just the perception that if you’re old, you must be stuck in the lead-type days.

    Since so many designers work from remote locations these days, I think age has less to do with not being hired, and more with the somewhat high and unreasonable expectations of what a designer should be able to do.

    Reminds me of the early days of PCs, when execs thought that if they purchased for their secretaries computers to replace their typewriters, the work would be done instantly with the push of a key!

    Good luck to us all.

  35. Lori Starr says:

    GOOD post! I’m 52 going through the same thing!

    I did get a job with a much younger company but felt out of place, because it was very unstructured (playing ping-pong in the open area, not telling me how to keep track of my time). I guess I’m used to a more-professional environment. Found out later that they hesitated to hire me because I was 50. It wasn’t a good fit.

    Also had the same experience trying to get an interview, that I made too much money with my previous job. Even told them I was willing to take a pay cut.

    Now they not only want designers, but web (HTML), photography and illustration expertise, for one-third the pay I made as an art director. Times have changed.

  36. I have made a living in graphic design by freelancing. This is my advice to anyone over 40. Don’t wait to be employed by juniors. Buy your own software and get working directly for the customer. If you can’t join them, set up your own business and compete with them.

    BTW: Easier than ever today . . . Use Blogger as your web site, and get onto LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., as your marketing tools, as well as printing up an old-fashioned flyer. (P.S.: Don’t use 99designs; it’s an online rip-off for designers.)

    • Lori Starr says:

      What’s Blogger? I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, no Twitter. Did you print flyers about your business and distribute them? Where did you place them?

      Thanks — this is interesting and inspiring and really positive. Please tell me more.

      • I had about 500 cards printed up by a local cheap printer, and I paid the local post office to put them in the business P.O. boxes. All up, it cost a few hundred dollars. I said that I could do advertising and brochures. I received about four good enquiries, and a few more months later! (People had kept the flyer!) These few customers have kept me busy for years! When you work for yourself, you don’t need too many customers. Another place to leave the flyers is with local printers. Get friendly with them, and offer a good rate, and they will refer potential customers to you, in return for you using them for print.

        Blogger is It’s so easy. Just start clicking the buttons, and it will lead you though the process of setting up a blog, which can be made into a web site. Use the side panel to put small samples of your work, and add pages to hold galleries of samples.

        You can remove the “date posted” stuff, so that it looks like a real web site.

        Good luck!

  37. Forgotten Art Supplies? I still have most, if not ALL of those supplies in boxes in my storage unit. Wow. Memory Lane? I loved those tools and still do. It’s fun to sit down and just use them from time to time and then scan the results into a job and hear, “Wow. Great effect. How’d you do that?” Maybe there’s a niche for nostalgia — Mad Men sure seems to be an indicator there is!

  38. Edward says:

    It’s kinda strange in a way because some of the older values and know-how are still the best. Take the older ad-copy pros who knew that it is a story that sells, not the artwork. This is even more so on the web, as content experts are telling us to use stories.

    Today the tools and subject matter have changed to match the times, but the basic, dependable skills are still the most important parts of any design. If a company doesn’t understand this, then you will not be happy working for them.

    So, what to do?

    As I read through these posts I thought to myself, “There’s a lot of talent available. Imagine if the right mix got together and started their own collective organization.”

    Anything you need to do can be done in a home office, and collaboration takes place on the internet. Call it a co-operative, and open up horizons where you can take on any graphic design or advertisement project because of the various skills within the co-op.

    It would start by talking and sharing ideas.

    Co-operatives work by membership that buy in as a share-purchase. There are housing co-ops, auto co-ops, farm co-ops, so why couldn’t there be a “Design & Marketing co-op?”

    Do you think that would solve a few problems around income and validation of skills?

    • Cat says:

      I love it!

    • Cat says:

      One more thought: Is AIGA much like this? I was a member years ago, but only for a year. They offered group insurance and a job database for its members. They offered support forums, and legal advice.

      • Edward says:


        There would be a lot to consider in setting up a business co-op. It would take dedicated people to get it off the ground. And it should not be limited to the artists alone, as it would touch every aspect of doing business.

        For many people it won’t work because of the time, effort, and dedication required long before a paying project arrives. In fact, there would be legal issues to sort out first. Any retired corporate lawyers around?

        The good thing, and the most stimulating, would be the sharing and division of labour. It would be like old times when people came together for a barn raising. (Are we that old?)

  39. Debbie says:

    Great great discussion. I’ve been in many of your shoes. Wish I had the big bucks — I’d invite you all over to my house for cheese and wine discussions face to face! I turn 56 next week and have been a bit blue, but reading your comments has been a blessing.

    I was in the health field when my legs were crushed in a car accident 10 years ago. Luckily I was a computer nerd with quite a bit of Photoshop and Illustrator background for developing health brochures and (at the time so new, so innovative!) interactive prevention programs on the web. I was unable to go back to work, but as health permits, I am able to do photography, illustration, and web-related work.

    I embraced the internet since day one when only colleges had access. However, I have to say and agree with some of you that the past two years have exploded beyond anything imaginable. I don’t know how even those with super web skills can keep up, regardless of age. However, I try and I’ve always taught my students to embrace technology. Look at your kids; they click their phones, computers, and iPads without thinking or analyzing: they just dive in with joy!

    Think of it as a swimming pool — if you worry you might drown, you will never get into the pool, and if you don’t know how to swim, well then, just take the classes.

    With regard to age — aargh! What can I say? I’m 56 living in what feels like an 80-year-old battered body, with two hip replacements, and I empathize with those of you who are older. I just try one day at a time . . . thanks for that tag site . . . will read up on it later.

    One thing I don’t understand is the hangup with keeping gray hair gray. All of us are in a creative field; we splash color on paper; play with the Kuler color wheel (at least I do); keep our lovely, metallic-colored cars washed and shiny; paint the rooms in our homes with the latest, Home Depot paints; paint our decks yearly (aargh); yet dying our hair is equal to the devil’s work! What’s with that? The hair-coloring business has also kept up-to-date, and coloring in the 21st century is super-easy and leaves hair even more conditioned than a 20-something’s glossy mane.

    Is it a cultural thing? I’m half-Hispanic. My mom, Hispanic, has dyed her hair since the first gray appeared. She is 85 and passes for 60.

    Anyway, something my physical therapist grilled into me to combat my disability and the attached depression, always get out of bed, get dressed, a bit of make-up, off with the gray, even when at home. It really helps keep the spirits up — and isn’t a positive attitude half the battle in this era of poor economy and lack of jobs?

  40. sari sherwin says:

    As Phillip said, try approaching not-for-profits. I finished my Communication Design degree nine years ago as a mature-age student, and have worked for not-for-profit organisations since then. The work is extremely varied; I get to do web, print, in-house-printed materials, annual reports, newsletter design and editing, as well as researching and writing and editing articles, writing funding submissions, collating and analysing statistics, and running a craft group for disadvantaged women. I have also developed a billboard campaign about domestic violence and been outsourced to other not-for-profit agencies to design materials for them. All these use all of the training I have and often mean I have to extend my knowledge and keep learning. It is a rich and very rewarding working life, and I feel I receive so much more from it than just my paycheque. The work I do adds meaning and richness to my life on the spiritual level. (I don’t think I ever would have made a good job of selling Coco Pops.)

    Phillip is right; in this job I have met politicians, participated in reviews on human-rights policies, and had other experiences that I couldn’t have in a design agency, and the best part of the job is that I have enormous creative freedom. My responsibility is to keep my skills fresh and up to date in order to keep effectively communicating the message of the organisation, which is why I keep connected to Before & After.

  41. Skip Savage says:

    Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world. — Helen Keller

    I am 52 years old. Six years ago I quit my job in investment management to follow my love for design. I started over in online publishing. The first thing I did was devote months of study (with DVDs from Total Training) to learn Adobe CSx.

    The succeeding years of practice have made me an extremely advanced hack with a great appreciation for those who know more than I do.

    When the publishing venture failed to succeed on time, I applied for investment jobs here and there, by mail and online. But I got no response at all.

    I should have known better. When I had a corporate job, hundreds of résumés came my way. They all looked the same. And the emailed ones got barely a glance. I think there is a black hole into which all such applications go to be ignored for eternity, also known as “kept on file for six months.”

    So I did what I should have done in the first place. I heeded the wise counsel of Nick Corcodilos and stopped sending out summaries of my work history to faceless drones. I started talking to people I knew about work they needed done.

    And I found out that so many of my contacts need help with their websites and literature, it’s daunting.

    Even simple HTML email communications and list management is beyond the ability of many small outfits to manage on their own.

    Some of the younger people I know are talented souls. They will do well in time. But my clients seem to prefer working with people their own age, which is perfectly natural, as long as there is no compromise in the output.

    I also believe for the 40+ crowd there is a fine line between trying too hard to look young, and not trying hard enough to be stylish. Spend some design time on your look, because you will be judged by it.

    And be nice to deal with. Nothing matters as much, in my experience, in promoting career longevity.

  42. JAE says:

    Dear Judy,

    I am what you might call old, old, old school. Before the days of Letraset. I might well be the oldest person to respond to your plight. At the age of 75 — 76 coming up — I am still working. Not because I have to, because I want to.

    I have come full circle, back to where I started. As a designer, my first love. Having been a finished artist, a lettering artist, art director, a creative director, a managing director, and finally put out to pasture as the chairman. All the time employed in the agency world.

    Modern tech is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s given me a new lease on life.

    When I left advertising there were no computers. If I remember rightly, the media department were making noises about one.

    So I had to learn about computers the hard way. Not in a studio where you can seek advice about a problem from other designers, but on my own, from tutorials. I realise now that I am a slow learner. Oh, how I wish YouTube had been around in those days.

    I am still not expert like the younger people in the ways of Ilustrator, InDesign or Photoshop, but I can teach them a thing or two about design and layout. I don’t know a thing about coding. But I know about Adobe Muse (we designers salute you).

    So what I am saying, Judy, is, don’t give up. If you are passionate about your chosen career, learn the new ways.

    Remember “painting by numbers” — there are still very good artists out there working.

  43. I think when young people tell older people that they are “too experienced,” they are really talking about power. The employer does not want employees who won’t be told. If you have 30 years’ experience, the young guns will think you will “boss” them around.

    I don’t think there is a solution to this.

    My suggestion is to start freelancing. Then approach the same people as an outside provider, and they will welcome your experience with open arms.

  44. Richard Springsteed says:

    Wow! What an outpouring! Shows you just how much talent there really is out there. For anyone in the job-search game, there’s a lot of great advice in these responses. I, for one, have never turned in a résumé (spelled it right!) until after I’ve interviewed and been hired. And that’s ever since I was 20! And if they didn’t hire me, they didn’t deserve my résumé. (That’s two right!) My dad did posters for MGM in the 30s, with Louis Mayer looking over his shoulder now and then. Then, after 30 more years of teaching high school art and mechanical drafting (I was his student, too, and yeah, I know all those museum tools!), he just wasn’t up to speed, but his quick wit was as sharp as ever; it was just a lack of familiarity with the new methods. Some younger designers would do well to consult the older majority on what gets our attention when you’re trying to sell us a product. And, as one note above remarks, we can learn some new technical tricks from the younger guys. Well done on this post, John!

  45. Antonio E. says:

    Youth is overrated. Knowledge and experience are being considered old-fashioned. Neither youth nor old are accurately considered.

  46. Valerie says:

    Oh my gosh, John McWade . . . you hit the jackpot with your article! Look how many of us need each other’s encouragement and inspiration at this stage of life. I feel like I found a home with you all. (Family who understand where I’ve been and what I’m currently going through.) SOMEONE SHOULD START A FORUM GROUP FOR US TO CONTINUE THIS!

  47. Jim Stafford says:

    Been there. I’m 67 now and fortunate to have a PT job with a local monthly newspaper doing production, design, and photography.

    Had a great job in the marketing department of major construction company in Boston for seven+ years until big layoffs in 11/08. I was lucky to have been hired at 57 years of age in 2001 after a loooooong career as freelancer.

    Bottom line: When you’re being interviewed by HR people younger than your children, it ain’t gonna happen. Sorry.

    • Judy Robertson says:

      Jim . . . I am 58-3/4. I went through a three-hour interview. One hour with the existing art department, one hour with the marketing department. I could have been their mother . . . they were young (as I once was), they had lots of questions. Most of the answers I gave leaned in the direction of, “my job is to make you guys look great,” and, “I haven’t met a marketing person who has gotten the best of me,” and then a quick interview with the director. It did happen for me. It was a long, drawn-out process, but I hung in there. I found a great fit for my skills, and I love working with the enthusiasm of youth.

  48. OK, John . . . how about a forum?

  49. Joan says:

    I’m in the 50-something group, trying to move from being employed to being a freelancer. Because I’d like to work for a long time — I think that it is more rewarding to do something I love than to stop working. I think I will do better working for myself than trying to weed through all the businesses that are biased against someone my age (because of incorrect concepts about my skills, ability to be part of a group, insurance costs, etc.). If I’m successful, I’ll have a business that hires people who are less welcome elsewhere. :-)

  50. Kim France says:

    John —

    Thanks for the inspiration! This kind of wisdom/inspiration only comes with age and experience:

    “What do you know about yourself at 50 (or 60) that you didn’t know at 30? How does it apply to design, and specifically to job A, B, or C?

    What’s your vision? In every life God has planted the seed of something important. By 60, many of the wishes, hopes and dreams of youth have fallen away. Yet this thing persists. You may already be living it. Or not yet. What is it?

    Do you have a “bucket” list? What’s on it?

    Don’t fret over who might hire you, which is to cede ownership of your life to others. Think instead about what you know and have and want, and work to that. What do you do that no one else can do? Where can you make a difference that no one else can make?

    My guess is that you know.

    Go for that.”

  51. I’m way on the other end of this age thing. I am in the 50+ group and I find myself DRAGGING the kids into new technologies. While it’s true they are more adept users of tech, their skills in manipulating the medium is woefully lacking much of the time. They know the “default” settings and are perfectly content with them — until they see what a little tweak here or a little tweak there can do. Then, they get hungry for more, which keeps me in demand.

    When I was in my early 40s, I got an opportunity to work at the Dayton Daily News as an artist in Newspapers in Education. This typically was staffed by some 20-something fresh out of art school who didn’t get paid all that much. But I really, really wanted to work at a newspaper at some point in my life and this was my chance. My other option was to go to J-school. They didn’t think I was a fit because of my résumé. I had things on there like VP-Human Resources, Training Director, Regional Manager, etc., but I had also sold exercise bikes to paralyzed people (true!) so these folks could not match me for salesmanship. Long story short, I got that job. It paid crap, but I was working at a newspaper!

    I spent about 20% of my time there actually doing the job they hired me for.. (apparently the 20-somethings needed 40+ hours a week to do what I could do in 10) and spent the rest of my time learning journalism and everything about writing and designing for a newspaper. (I could also afford to take a pay cut because I had silent partnerships in several companies…) When 9/11 happened, I was the only one in the entire building who knew how to write AP Style, copyedit, color-correct photos and tag HTML. The PUBLISHER came down to the NIE floor and asked if I could staff the website desk for the day. (I had no idea he even knew who I was!) I promised the DDN 2 years and gave them 4 1/2.

    It was an incredible experience that I never would have had if I had not remained curious about a whole range of skills and interests. My jumping-off base was an English degree, Linguistics minor and a few post-baccalaureate classes in Education. (I’ll get that Masters eventually when life slows down enough.) I also had some practical skills with design, software, type and video editing I picked up along the way in various positions.

    I think it is easy to get caught up in the age issue, but if you are a really talented designer who is also an accomplished salesman for yourself, once you start talking, most people will forget how old you are. (How many people see John McWade as an old geezer? Exactly!) Stay curious, stay skilled at whatever is happening today but also on the next thing coming up. I’m not sure why, but most people quit learning in their mid to late 20s. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

    And quit repairing typewriters. :-)

  52. Pingback: Don Draper was a poser and so can you. The myth of graphic design | DogWalkBlog

  53. John says:

    Hello everyone! I’m enjoying this topic and reading everyone’s responses and stories. I have long had a desire to move forward with my career and would love to work in an environment where I can expand and grow. Unfortunately, I have been trapped in my current workplace for a long time, and in this economy with limited employment opportunities in design in central Georgia, it is a struggle to free myself. My current job is dead-end, with absolutely no opportunity to move forward, and no opportunity to grow and learn. Taking initiative is reprimanded as “being rebellious” or “doing my own thing” thus removing any incentive to expand and grow, and to think outside the box and push the envelope. To give you an idea of my work environment, I have to punch a time clock (not 1 second late), and a bell rings every 2 hours for a 10-minute break or lunch.

    Not only am I now 48 years old, but the second strike against me is that I do not have a degree in graphic design (it is an A.B.A. in information systems). So not only is age becoming a factor, but getting past screeners in Human Resources who are conditioned to only look at minimum qualifications is bordering on impossible. Trying to get my name out and break into the local clique of advertising agencies and marketing professionals has also been daunting. At an ad club banquet, a gentleman asked me where I received my design training. When I responded I was self-taught, he actually turned and walked away in mid-conversation.

    I love to design. I don’t see a blank piece of paper. I see a canvas. I see possibilities and the opportunity to make something beautiful. I believe that separates me from those who do not see design as an important part of their bottom line, and an integral part of their overall business strategy. It separates me from “Joe’s sister’s cousin who has Publisher or something and they can do it.”

    I’ve tried to stay current with trends. Of course, I use CS5.5 and have all of the bells and whistles. I’ve taught myself publishing for the iPad and enjoy that tremendously. The world of print is transforming before our very eyes. I may be older now, and not formally educated in the field, but my 20 years of experience has taught me more than I could ever learn in design school. I still have much to offer, if someone will give me the opportunity.

  54. Laurel Black says:

    I received a link to this thread from my friend Dan Loon of Design Corps. He sent it to me because I had been the recipient of over 100 responses to my guest post about designers and the age issue a year ago on the Creative Freelancer blog:

    I am not surprised to see a similar number of posts here. There are apparently thousands of us “older” designers willing and able to continue our careers, and very few examples of those who have managed to do so. I guess we are going to go first, especially since I have yet to meet any young designers who plan to stick their heads in an oven when they turn 50. Hats off to the responders who are 70+ — you give the rest of us hope. As do Warren Buffet and Paul McCartney, subjects of an article in a recent Newsweek about Never-tirees. McCartney was quoted as saying that if the kids want his job, they’ll have to take it from him by being better. I couldn’t help but notice that both Buffet and McCartney are self-employed, and that they work constantly to be at the top of their game. No reason why we can’t as well.

  55. Judy Robertson says:

    John — just a followup: I have been at my new job for four months now. In the midst of a very young marketing department (who always seem a bit timid with their ideas), I have found my place. They asked for my advice! My white hair gives me wisdom without ever opening my mouth. I stay current with my ideas, fashion and tennis shoes. As they slave over their desks at lunch, I go for walks in beautiful Florida knowing that without a doubt, I can trust the design process. After 35+ years, creativity has never failed me.

  56. Mary Baum says:

    Two quick things, because everything’s pretty much been covered:

    Be a constant, compulsive learner. I think feeling as if you need a degree for every new discipline is a trap, because it takes a lot of time, and what you learn in a school setting is often already out of date. Read Andy Rutledge for more on that.

    Be visible. Show your work online, maintain a website (of your own), and be active on LinkedIn and Twitter. Those, imho, are the only two social media that are mandatory unless you launch a product line. Then you need customers, and they’re on Facebook.

    (Gotta find time to learn Facebook iframes instead of just thinking about them . . .)

    Hey, John — wanna cover those in a post?

    Mary Baum, a business site for potential clients (note there’s not much talk about design) (portfolio site) (videos by monthly package. Needs more promotion.)

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