What's it like to be a graphic/web designer at 40+?
August 18, 2011 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I've been on the graphic/web design path for the last 10 years. I am burnt out. When I look into the future of my field, it's dreary due to outsourcing and automation. It also seems like older designers are almost non-existent (except for the very accomplished, established ones) and that it's more the younger generation's game.

I'm not sure if I'm burnt out because of the field, or if because I've been at my job too long. I'm not particularly proud of my work, though I know I have a problem with perfectionistic tendencies.

I've been toying with the idea of going to school for an MS or BS (2nd bachelor's) in informatics, part of which is in human-computer interaction. The idea of usability seems to have exploded the last several years, but it's one that I've been interested in a long time. I'm not sure if this is a wise choice now, or if by the time I get my degree, the field will be bloated with human factor experts. I'm ambivalent about the idea of going to school, and my hunch is to go out there and just get another job instead of going to school. The good thing is, my work will pay 2/3 of the tuition, but the bad thing is, I have to stay at my job all that while which does not appeal to me. And the workload will be exceedingly difficult, with a full time job. At this point, I'm not sure if I should just get out of my job, come what may, and wing it, work harder toward a more concrete path. And at age 34, time seems to be running out on making the best choices. Can you help?

I can't stay at my state of indecision. If anyone out there could share their insights to a graphic/web design career as they get older, I would very much appreciate it, as it could cement my choices instead of living in mental limbo. I've been at my job for 6+ years, for what it's worth. I haven't enjoyed it all that much.

If you'd rather email, my throwaway addy is: xanonxthrowawayx@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, I'm nowhere near 40, but just as a contrasting data-point: I've been working as a graphic designer for about 6 years too, and I love my job and the list of new things I want to learn just keeps growing. I'm not even sure what you're talking about with the "outsourcing and automation" hurting your future prospects - I feel like the average person is much more aware and appreciative of good design now than ever before.

It sounds like the biggest problem is that you're bored with your job. Boredom can sometimes sap your creativity and desire to learn faster than anything else. In your position, I would start looking for another job rather than jumping back into school. Being stuck there for several more years isn't going to do you any favors, and another position might help you get "unstuck" without taking on the expense of further education (which you don't even sound that excited about).
posted by ella wren at 8:44 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

At 56+ it's still happening. Although I'm moving towards managing other people to do the work on projects that come my way.
posted by rmmcclay at 10:12 PM on August 18, 2011

My best friend at my last job was called Steve, and he was in his 50s. He had started out as a type-setter, went on to work in publishing, and ended up doing web design.

The thing he did which I see so many of my peers neglecting, was that he was always learning. Last I heard from him, he was taking a self-funded course in Flash. He wasn't hyper-intelligent (sorry steve, no offence intended!) and he wasn't a super-geek, he just knew that to keep having a good career, in all senses, you HAVE to keep learning.

So I can't give you any specific advice, but I would say, look ahead and find something you can't do now, and get on a course for it. Get as much knowledge as you can, and then see where it takes you - away from your current job at the very least, and perhaps into a totally new career path!
posted by greenish at 4:01 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm in my 50's and definitely hit the wall with design several years ago. It's just not fun or interesting anymore. And, honestly, I find web design a complete bore. I don't live in an area where web work is divided between the designer and the coder. In my neck of the woods, a web designer is expected to know code, too. And, frankly, doing code takes any enjoyment I may have had for design and crushes it, sets fire to it, and then pees on the smoldering embers.

Honestly, I find the mantra of "always learning" can really be re-stated as "always playing catch-up". It's exhausting, time-consuming and I find one never really catches-up. Or, when you feel like you do catch-up, everything changes to the new bright and shiny toy and you start over at the bottom again.

If you're burnt-out now, and can't manage to completely re-set your head and manage to somehow permanently ignore the aspects of the job that have burnt you, it's not going to get any better. My advice is to get out now and find something else. You're still young and marketable. There isn't much of a market out there for 50+ year old designers looking to change careers.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:56 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Because you're already working on web sites and have a background in design, please do not waste your time getting an HCI degree. There does not exist an HCI program that is at all contemporary with how usability work is done.

If there are UX or usability people in your company now, work with your manager on how to start 'interning' with them. Explain that you want to make the switch.

If there are no UX or usability people in your current company, it's time to move to another company where they exist. UX is extremely in demand now (and has been for the last few years), so expressing an interest in wanting to learn and/or become a hybrid designer should be welcomed by a smart company.

Feel free to MeMail me for more idea bouncing.
posted by gsh at 6:30 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

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