Is Ageism Catching Up With You?


There’s a consistent pattern we’ve seen emerge with seasoned design professionals. Creatives who have spent 20 - 30 years of their lives in the design industry, regardless if they’ve moved around a lot or if they’ve been in the same company for 10+ years, are struggling to stay relevant and current.

Take Gary, an independent consultant who spent years working for major corporations. He came to us with this challenge and has permitted us to share his story with you.

“I’ve been an independent consultant for years now. I’ve worked with major corporations and design consultancies but the one thing I’ve always hated doing was business development. I hate being that salesy guy and calling up people. So I really dropped the ball on that and now I’m struggling to get new clients. I think it’s time to get into the corporate space. I’ve worked with so many that I think I’ll be able to adapt to that environment. I love diverse product lines and I’m okay with traveling for work. The biggest problem I have now is I don’t know how to present myself as a successful candidate anymore. I’ve been out of the game for so long that I don’t know how to be a candidate and interview for these jobs. I don’t know what’s considered a good portfolio. I think my projects are good but looking at some of the younger designer’s work online makes me think I may be outdated. It’s crazy because, whenever I look at my client list I surprise myself. I’ve accomplished a great deal. Unfortunately, so much of it is dated work now and even my newer work doesn’t seem to match the aesthetic integrity that I see in online portfolios. It's been a while. I feel like younger designers have already learned all the newest stuff and I have to figure out what that is and teach myself. Combined with the industry and my age, I need to be current and look current. I’m also interested in design research; I really enjoy it but I haven’t had much opportunity to do it so there aren’t many examples in my portfolio. I know there are younger designers who learn it in school so I don’t know how to get to their level. I want a position that leverages the breadth of my skills. I want to figure out the best way to present myself like that. I think about ageism very often. A lot of times people look for the young guy who makes cool products, he’s the superstar. That’s not me but I have the knowledge to build a successful product line. I’ve worked for major corporations and love traditional product design.”

Having been in this industry for over 20 years, we have watched designers move through their careers. Some are able to maintain a certain standard of work and stay competitive. But others like Gary aren’t as fortunate. Their career stagnates in one area for so long that they are no longer able to compete with new designers entering the field. And or should they be competing there at all? They don’t get the promotions, they can’t pivot to more innovative and strategic projects, and suddenly they’re faced with the added challenge of ageism, which is a major factor you’ll have to come to terms with. 

We understand how frustrating it can be to finally, after all these years, amass so much experience, only to turn around and go back to the job market realizing that now no one values you for what you can bring to the table. They certainly don’t seem to want to pay for your expertise now that you’ve earned it. 

The thing is, you’re not alone. Most creative professionals find it harder and harder to stay viable as they progress in their careers. We get so many professionals coming to us every week with the same challenge. They don’t understand why, after all these years of building on their careers as seasoned professionals, the job market seems to respond to them less and less. Ironically, the more people amass in skills and expertise, the fewer opportunities out there seem right for them. We often find that seasoned professionals actually apply to only a paltry of postings a year, regardless of how anxious and ready they are to seek out a new job or direction.

Seasoned professionals are realizing that something is happening that they’re not prepared for. The world of work has changed; design is constantly changing and if you’re not changing with it, then you’re being left behind.

We can help you stay viable no matter your age or the length of your career. We will show you where you need to step up to remain a valuable candidate in a highly competitive industry. And if working for a company isn’t what you want to do anymore, we can show you how to use your experience to build your own business.

Companies want cheap, young labor. They just want to hire bodies to do the busy work. In most companies, they need 80% of employees to be doing the hands-on work. Imagine an organizational pyramid - The base of the pyramid is filled with junior, mid-level and even senior level designers who take care of all the hands-on work. As you move up the pyramid to management, the space available is much more limited. There isn’t enough space for everyone to be promoted to those few lofty positions. Now multiply that situation exponentially and this is the competitive situation you are probably finding yourself in. Now you have to deal with ageism and the stereotypes that come with being in an industry for 20-30 years. Companies are not going to be that choosy when hiring designers entering the industry. When you’re just starting your career, you also don’t need to be that picky either and you have time to test out different roles.

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But as your career progresses, vying for those key leadership or management roles becomes more challenging because companies have to be so hyper-selective, and more importantly now you too have to be highly selective. The number of people needed at the top becomes fewer the higher you go. So every year as you move up in your career, more and more people will be disqualified based on competition and positions available. Every step of the way it becomes exponentially more difficult.

Pivoting can take forever and sadly for some it never happens. Sure some fall into success but for the vast majority, it is a rarity. Pivoting and developing a thriving career is not something you entertain lightly or work on sporadically. Pivoting successfully takes orchestration and deliberation. And it takes a method and a strategy. This is what we do, this is our jam.

We’ve helped numerous design professionals identify how their careers were thwarted. Not only have we helped them develop strategies to correct those situations, but we’ve also helped people identify the next ideal career moves they would thrive in, and show them how to reach them in record time.

Let’s map out the most viable paths for you and get you up to speed with all the strategies you need to master to be viable again.

Book a Breakthrough call to explore your options and learn strategies to become more current in this evolving industry. Let’s help you unlock your highest potential.

Angela Yeh
Founder | Yeh IDeology