How does one 40+ yrs transition from web design into something adjacent?
July 31, 2019 7:35 PM   Subscribe

I've designed websites for 20 years — but I think I'm starting to stink at it. And I'm surrounded by people much younger who are definitely better. How do I transition into something adjecent to tech products and design where I'm not necessarily pushing pixels all day?

I did marketing & brochureware type design mockups successfully from 2001-2010 including WordPress and other CMSs as well as building front end code, CSS, etc. For awhile I was really good at it, moved around, got bigger and better jobs, begun to be more recognized for it, all seemed well...

However - I'm now 44 now I and sometimes feel like I'm drowning in the new technologies and keeping up with it or, frankly, caring about every new thing. I look at my own designs and those of younger folks, and... I see my own weaknesses. I don't make UI decisions as confidently as I used to. And I think my design has moved far away from anything artistic so doing marketing design again is probably not an option. I might also feel weird being a design manager and giving design advice to people better than me. Though I know it happens all the time.

For the last few years I've worked at a tiny startup as the sole designer, pushing pixels all day and designing features on a daily basis on deadlines that are always tight. I'm exhausted.

Beyond design skills — I feel like I'm very good at efficiency, organization, and communication. I love design systems and design ops more than I do designing features at this point. I would like to work more with people, too, rather than sitting with headphones in solitude all day. But I've never really worked for tech/product companies big enough that I even know what other roles I might be missing out on.

What are some other roles that someone like me might be comfortable transitioning into at this stage in their career?
posted by critzer to Work & Money (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You sound like an ideal project manager for the tech industry. You can get certified; it's a desirable qualification.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:58 PM on July 31, 2019 [9 favorites]

A project manager that knows design (and how to plan it, staff it, et al) is worth their weight in gold. Seriously. It's an advantage.

Beyond that, I wonder if moving into DesignOps and/or a design management position may be up your alley. These generally involve less of the day-to-day work and reach more into strategy, staffing, mentorship, et al. Also...

I might also feel weird being a design manager and giving design advice to people better than me.

I completely expect that the people on my team are better than me. They have lots of skills I don't, and I respect them and need them for that! Sometimes, yes, it's weird. But more often than not, it isn't.

Oh, one more to consider: client services. That leans more on the relationship-building and there is a need for people who can speak design to be in that space, too.
posted by hijinx at 8:10 PM on July 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

My too-quick take: It feels like you might need a change of scenery more than a change of profession. Maybe a larger tech company is looking for designers to work on more of a system level than an individual feature level?
posted by Citrus at 8:11 PM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hot damn I would appreciate a project manager who was fluent in design and had more experience than me for guidance. Having a good manager to me is not about them being more skilled than I am, it's about understanding my problems and helping me fix them. It sounds like you'd make a fantastic leader for a team of creatives.
posted by moons in june at 8:49 PM on July 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

Also, as a person similar to you in both age and career level, maybe consider going back to school, or even a concentrated effort at self-directed learning? I don’t necessarily mean heading to SCAD or whatever for another 4-year degree, but a lot of community colleges have a decent certificate or AA program. I’ve been considering that myself. I have a degree, but I also feel Iike my design is stuck in the ‘00s and it could be a way to get a refresher. Lots of professions engage in continuing education, why not design.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:56 PM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

+1 to @DarlingBri and @hijinx. My team is hiring a TPM right now and wow would it be great to have someone with your background. Becoming conversant with different work methodologies and practices (waterfall, agile, scrum) is a great first step in this direction.

PS. Doing my part to de-jargon the world: TPM sometimes means "technical program manager" and sometimes means "technical project manager". On an engineering team, TPMs translate stakeholder asks into actionable development work, work with engineering leads to create estimates, help resolve competing priorities, and generally keep the trains running and the team's work moving. Often, the strongest candidates for these roles are folks who have been engineers themselves who eventually gravitated away from the code and toward process/planning.

PPS. MeMail me if this sounds up your alley and you're in the SF Bay Area.
posted by unruthless at 1:53 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I look at my own designs and those of younger folks, and... I see my own weaknesses.

This makes me think you might make an excellent design manager. Not someone who can design better but someone who can see weaknesses in design. And then ideally provide the right kind of feedback for the designer to find a good/better solution. Particularly because you also mention wanting to work with people, and being good at organisation and efficiency. Those are things that will help you with management.
posted by plonkee at 5:39 AM on August 1, 2019

FileMaker is a tool that as a designer and part-time coder you probably wouldn't find it that hard to pick up. There is a niche industry for FileMaker designers and the gigs in the FM space can be lucrative because it's a relatively rare technical skill. The are certifications for it too.
posted by signsofrain at 8:35 AM on August 1, 2019

Design systems are much the hotness right now, you could potentially market yourself as a consultant or in-house lead in that direction. I'm a Product Manager and one of my team's front-end devs has a background similar to yours.

He has been an absolute godsend in auditing and prioritising our template and component issues. He mostly works with the design leads to refactor our messy code and help us create and implement a practical pattern library, but also advises and helps troubleshoot CSS for new features. Might this be of interest?
posted by freya_lamb at 12:57 AM on August 3, 2019

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