Graphic Design is unique among the professions in many ways, and one of the most striking is the lack of gravitas accrued by practitioners as they gain experience. With lawyers and accountants, for example, their perceived value increases in relation to their years of practice. In the field of design, however, it is well understood that if you are much over 40 or 50, the likelihood of being hired by an marketing or advertising agency is remote. One could almost say it is inversely proportionate to the number of years one gets beyond the magic four-o.
Even though the legendary Paul Rand was productive up to the year he passed away (age 82 in 1996), and Milton Glaser continues to work into his 80’s, the rest of us seem to be struggling against a cultural perception that after a certain age, designers can no longer keep up or remain relevant. This is ironic because we are the generation that invented the youth cult in the 60’s, and now it is coming home to haunt us like the Ghost of Woodstock Past.
As I embark on my sixties, I find myself enjoying my work in design more than ever. The tools now available to designers are amazing, my abilities have had time to grow and mature, my curiosity is even sharper than it was 30 years ago, and I can hardly wait each morning to get down to the studio. I am doing the best work of my life. Why should I stop? It’s not like it’s physically strenuous. The other cool part is, my family is grown, my husband is still working, and I can do pretty much whatever I want. I have never had so much freedom. What a lovely surprise at this point in my life.
Since I have been self-employed for over 30 years and wish to remain that way, the problem of getting hired isn’t an issue for me. But I worry about how these perceptions influence our culture in general, and whether they’ll hurt my ability to get new clients. The answer seems to be to push back against age stereotypes by proving them wrong: do the work of learning new tools and techniques, keeping abreast of trends, and keeping my passion for design current. And it is well to remember that the insidious nature of complacency can be as much of a pitfall as the incorrect assumptions made by others.
I intend to keep working until my hands can no longer curl around a mouse or a pencil. And I intend to continue with the dedication and discipline that it takes to stay in the game.
Laurel Black is the owner of Laurel Black Design located on the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle, Washington. Laurel holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Oregon. In addition to her accomplishments in design she is also a writer, blogger, illustrator, consultant and humorist.
Laurel’s blog site is: http://laurelsdesigndeli.blogspot.com