Discovering/exploring the world of design at 40+

Hi all,

I’m brand new here and this is my very first post in here, so please bear with me as I really have no idea what I’m doing or where to begin. So I guess I’ll just begin at the beginning…

It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with, but to summarize, I used to draw and paint a lot from when I was little all the way until I was in high school. I even drew my own manga (comic book) back then, and I always enjoyed art and design. But I never took it seriously as a career option, more like just a hobby that I enjoyed and that was it. I really struggled thru high school and barely graduated, then I was too busy working and surviving (being in survival mode) to even think about going back to school. Plus I had no idea what I’d major in if I did. So all the creative, fun stuff I used to enjoy got put on the back burner in the name of survival and practicality (I basically got sick and tired of being a starving musician/artist and got whatever jobs I could find).

All I knew was that I wanted a worthwhile career and not just another survival job, and that I’d always wanted to do something in the creative and artistic realm, like with music, art, and/or design (possibly all of them). But I don’t really know what exactly it would be or where I would even begin. In the meantime, I still need to keep going to work and bills aren’t going to pay themselves, so becoming a full-time student just isn’t a realistic option for me.

Fast forward about 20 years… I have a job that I’m not proud of and it doesn’t pay much, but it’s stable and I keep getting raises, so I can’t complain, really. I survived the last round of lay-offs in January, mainly because my employer considers me more or less irreplaceable. So I’m counting my blessings, especially in this economy. But I don’t want to be stuck there doing that forever.

I just turned 42 and only recently discovered the world of ID and design in general, and am fascinated by it because it combines a lot of my interests (e.g. art/design/making things) into one job, more or less. I wish I would have known about it a lot sooner. But I’m having doubts as to whether it would be feasible or realistic to start taking art and design-related classes at my age. I mean, even if I could afford the tuition for Art Center or someplace like that, the idea of being a 42-year-old intern just seems kinda silly to me. Plus I like being debt-free and I’d like to stay that way.

So I wanted to learn more about ID and design in general, and didn’t know where to look or whom to ask, but then I stumbled across this site and figured this would be a good place to ask about it. Since I live in the L.A. area, I even drove up to Art Center in Pasadena and had a look at it, and I’m really impressed and fascinated by what I saw there and what some of their students were doing and creating. I spoke with some of the staff there and they gave me some valuable info on it. But the cost of Art Center is just too much for me to realistically handle. I’d have to pay for it out of my own pockets, and I simply don’t have that kind of money.

Anyway, I’d like to know your thoughts on my situation and whether design is something that would be a viable and realistic option for someone like me, or not. Feel free to be as brutally honest as possible; I’m a big boy and I can take it. (-_^) All I ask is that you keep it civil and polite.

Anyway, this post has gotten way longer than I had intended (sorry for writing a small book here!), so that’s it for now.

Thanks in advance.


Hi Scott,

Welcome to the c77 discussion boards. I’m running between things so I’ll post a longer reply tomorrow, but I ironically I just stumbled across this video about a 40+ year old design student at art center… OK, it is mostly about the fact that he owns a DeLorean, but it touches on his decision to go back to school in his 40’s.

Thanks, Yo! I appreciate that. And that video is awesome. (^_^)

Interestingly, I know a guy at work who has an '81 DeLorean. He’s quite a brilliant scientist/engineer and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he were to get it hovering or time-traveling. lol


Hi Scott,
Nothing is impossible!
I turn 50 this year, and studying my first year of Product Design at RMIT Melbourne (Australia). It’s humbling and exciting all in one. Sometimes I feel out of my depth, and other times I know I contribute with life experiences. All good and now that I am doing something I feel covers the bases with my passions and my strengths I have a great sense of fulfilment. Not sure where it will take me but the study is opening doors I never knew existed.
Good luck on your journey. Explore/follow those dreams of yours! Perhaps get in touch with a local college or university and talk to a career counsellor? How close is Stanford Uni? I know they have a brilliant design program there. Maybe a good place to start…

Thanks, Jayjaycee1! I appreciate that. I know I would feel way out of my depth too, and I’m humbled by the sheer talent that I’ve seen from some of the students at Art Center in Pasadena, CA where I visited recently. Stanford uni (another school I wish I could go to) is a bit far from me, as it’s up north in San Fran/San Jose, and I’m down here in the L.A. area.

I’ve spoken with some of the staff at Art Center, as it’s the nearest art/design school to where I live, and I quite enjoyed my little visit there. Art Center’s tuition is prohibitively expensive for me, tho, and so now my main issue I’m trying to sort out is how would I pay for it? I can’t realistically quit my job and be a full-time student, as much as I would like to. Bills and rent aren’t going to pay themselves. Plus in order for me to actually start going there and be able to devote my 110% effort to my studies, I’d need to move there and find another job closer to there. It’s not insurmountable, but it won’t be easy, that’s for sure.

I’m thinking about leaving Art Center alone for now and just taking some art/design classes at El Camino College, which is a local community college in my area near where I live (which is relatively cheap to attend and has a pretty good art program), just to get my drawing/sketching skills more polished and up to speed. That way I could acclimatize myself to being a student and then maybe Art Center wouldn’t be such a shock to the old system, if I can find a way to afford to go there later on.