Starting in Industrial Design in your 30's......

Just curious… are there any designers here who are old farts like me, who got their start late in ID? I am attending school soon for ID and I am in my mid 30’s (yikes…). Has anyone known of any in their class who were older or anyone who is currently in ID who got a late start?

I was worried initially about age discrimination in the industry, but I guess what matters is how talented you are and what you can bring to a company, not your age. Is that true? Regardless of how much harder it will be competing with fresh younger talent, I still want to pursue this ID dream of mine. :slight_smile:

thanks guys for any feedback.


Hey CJ-

Speaking as one old fart to another (just turned 38 and graduated with honors from my school) the main thing you need to know going into ID is that you will be working very very very long hours. Needless to say, the kids half your age have no problem doing this on a regular basis. However, like one of my teachers once said-they might have the youth, but you have the perspective.

Try not to lose sight of the very unique approach you-as a 30-something-bring to the table. Maturity, possible wisdom-knowledge outside the field of design. These things will help you.

You will also just have to get over the fact that most people in this industry are younger than you. Don’t sweat it. I just graduated with a great bunch of people and in the end, it didn’t matter what age anybody was-we were all (and still are) very passionate about ID.

Hope that helps. Best of luck! It’s tough but worth it.

we had someone in our year who had been a tool designer for many moons but wanted to move up a notch and design the parts instead of the tools. People generally will judge you buy your portfolio, your knowledge and experience. I’ve never know of any age discrimination, but then its easy for me to say that.

Hey CJ I was 33 when I graduated from Cincinatti back in 2003. I started in 1997 and yes it took me 6 years. It was very hard working 60 hours a week to pay for it and try to get all the work done too. My schoolwork sometimes suffered in order to pay the bills. :cry: I was hired my Junior year to be an entry level designer at Rubbermaid after two fantastic internships… I joined them after my senior year and it was great! Now 4 years later I’m in Boston and struggling to find something here. It’s out there man, You just have to be persistant and I wouldn’t worry too much about age. If you’re good, someone will want you!

Hi CJ,

I returned to school at 35 - it was one of the best experiences of my life. The program is challenging, and the hours can be long… but if you’re motivated, healthy, in shape and adaptable you’ll be fine! Another benefit of returning to school in your 30’s is that you may have better monitary resources than your peers. That counts a lot due to the underlying costs of tools and supplies.

There were several 30+ adults in my classes, and the only thing that seperated them from anyone else was their own personalities.

One thing I will comment on, is that practicing in the field of ID is different than school. If you have a really good portfolio and big skills, you’ll do well. However, the pay and job availability may disappoint you. However, don’t think too much about that now - because ID can lead to a great many excellent (creative) careers… it’s worth the journey.

Good luck with your choice.

Can anyone comment on the effect on salary when changing careers?

If you’re starting at the bottom of the ID food chain in your mid-thirties I would be concerned about a significant salary adjustment when moving into an entry level position. You’re competing with the other fresh grads for the few low paying entry level jobs out there.

Did you do any salary research before making the decision to start a second career?

I was tempted to go back to school for an architecture degree when I was in my early thirties, but then I got a whiff of how much an entry level archie makes and I stayed the course.

Good luck!!!

Hi Cj,
One of my friends and classmates was 30 when he started. I found in comparison the older you are the more mature your designs look, he managed to finish off three years in two and took off for a masters program.

So I wouldn’t worry about the age at all…I am not sure about other schools but my school the classes tend to have a quite an age range, there is always the group that comes straight from high school, then there is the group who has two or three years of school under their belt, and then there is a couple who have degrees and have worked a few years and our back for a career change. I found when you are talented and hard working the age doesn’t matter.

Just for the record I fall into the group that did another program for three years and then switched over :smiley:

Hey guys,

Thanks for all the insightful replies. I got a lot out of each of your own personal experiences. I was initially worried months ago when I decided to change careers (if I can call what I am doing now, a career, lol) mostly because of starting at this age. I think I was mostly worried about competition for jobs with younger grads. I know people all the time change careers and go back to school later in life, so it shouldn’t be that unusual. But now that one of you mentioned salaries… I wanted to say that right now, my pay is not that great, trust me. lol Its not bad, but it’s in the upper 20’s… so if I graduate and start at entry level at 20 something, I won’t be disappointed at all. I know I have to start out at the bottom of the totem pole. As long as my pay increases as I gain experience, I am not worried. I have messaged a few on here privately who are doing very well for themselves and 8 to 10 years into ID and some are making 80 K to 100K even. I don’t know if that is the case for MOST of you or your collegues, but it all does sound promising. Any input? Thanks again guys.


Let me please start by saying that I’m on the younger side of this conversation- just ticking my second year of experience- and hitting 30. I honestly think that age really an issue- for the company. The person though, might have some financial issues.

Lets be honest here, we have kids- wife- dogs- houses- lives. Younger folks fresh out of school and early 20’s rarely have all of them, let alone combinations of them. It is very, VERY difficult to live off entry level pay. I’m not splitting rent with a couple buddies and most my money is going for ‘a few rounds’ afterwards. I think I’m a year or two before being capable to start paying off school loans- and probably at least 5 from REALLY, REALLY- getting ahead.

I do think that in a couple years I’ll have enough experience to know something, and old enough to move into more of a leadership role. It can be hard to hire 25-29 year old Director of anything. This is not to say that it doesn’t happen or is bad by itself… but someone earlier said it… I’ll be a little more refined, and have better perspective.

I hope. In short- I don’t think the age is the real issue. Good luck.

Great observation. I am lucky to have at least one good thing on my side. I am childless, in a long term relationship of many years and we plan on being childless. And I have the full support of my spouse. So we will both have dual incomes (even if I work part time while attending college), no kids and I also have the financial help and support of my other half. So I guess it can work out for me. :slight_smile: But I can imagine having a family, a wife, and loads of bills, etc… THAT would make it hard for anyone to change careers and start entry level for sure. Whewww! By the way, I chose Stout, because it’s in my area, as I live in Minneapolis, MN and the town of Menomonie, where U of Wisconsin Stout is, is only 45 mins from the Twin Cities.

I too went back to school at age 35. Sold my home, took the wife and 2 kids and moved 1000 miles to school. Had a blast at school and graduated at age 38. Have now been working in ID nonstop for 12 years.

Your age and the experiencial background it holds will give you a huge advantage over your younger peers in many ways. Your previous work experience should have disciplined you in a strong and steady work ethic. I never pulled an all nighter (came close a few times). All the younger peers pulled multiple all nighters.

I graduated with a larger family than when I started, and yes the first few years can be real tough with entry level pay, But I always seemed to be somewhat higher in the pay scale, probably due to previous work experience.

If ID is what you want to do and you have a passion for it, make the move. Things always seem to work themselves out. Don’t be put off with statements that design is just for the young. With an aging population wanting products that will enhance thier later life lifestyle, who better to design for them than aging designers.

34 and just graduated from BA Prod Des and landed a job before I graduated.

Experience (and maturity) has definitely helped me during the course and in securing the job (some of my fellow graduates also applied for the same position and have been rejected).

As long as you’re doing what you love then go for it and get he most out of the experience you can. I got one product going through the patent filing process, another that the client company is now securing funding to produce and a possible paper being published. Make use of the facilities as much as possible (it’s unlikely that you’ll have access to such a wide range of equipment as you do when on the course).

Good luck.

i had thought that professions like design are ‘age proof’
notice the well known designers are usually in their 30s and 40s.

The advantage of age is the experience and the wisdom.
But there are downsides for the married as most will have family committments and others to tend to, which can really be a distraction.
Otherwise I do not see starting a new career in their 30s has much of an

I found that entry level design work can be very difficult to make a living off of, at least at first. Remember you’ll be competing against kids who are 21-22 years old, and while your age and maturity might be seen as a positive thing by some employers, others will only think “they want more money and their skill set and experience is equal to the younger applicants.”

My last job (which was not really design, they thought they were designers , though - long story) was like that. For many years they had had a maintainted a revolving door of single, unattached people in their 20’s with no kids that were there on an average of a year or two each before they either quit or were fired. The principle actually asked someone during and interview if they had kids (which is beyond illegal), as he didn’t generally want to hire anyone with commitments that would come first over his company and the work schedule. Shady.

i suppose if the candidate was still single even in their 30s would not face these committment problems though ?..

So nobody here thinks that age in design often has a negative stigma attached? There may be good designers, and old designers, but few good old designers…?

I’m not qualified to speak on the hireability of new grads in the late 30’s-early 40’s range, but have seen some forced attrition at companies where the older crowd got the axe before the younger ones. Experience and portfolio didn’t help them. Rather it was assumed or perceived that malleability and most importantly fresh perspectives were more important.

It’s commonly assumed that one’s capacity to learn diminishes with age…how it’s easier to learn a language or the piano when you are young. I think this is relevant to designers trying to get a read on the market they are serving in an intuitive way. Also depending on the industry you work in, there is real value in “being there” and “living the life”, oftentimes in the urban setting. The commitments we have later in life can make it difficult to see and participate in a rapidly evolving street technology culture, for example.

I do not at all wish to discourage the thread, this is just something I’ve been thinking about for a bit (I’m 33, been at it for just about 10 years). What is the shelf life of a designer, starting early or starting late?

I think you’ve hit on an interesting paradox. Why don’t you see a lot of older industrial designers. (Kind’a like why you never see baby pigeons…)

Early in my career I noticed that too. Now that I’m actually becoming an older designer I think I can answer the question. It comes down to money. There is a single track pay system for designers instead of a dual track system.

In some progressive corporations they’ve set up a dual track system where you can continue to get decent raises and still practiced what you’re skilled at. These corporations are typically research based. If you don’t have access to a dual track system you’re forced to get out of your core competency and get into a management position to get a salary increase - which a lot of people aren’t prepared for because they’ve been trained to be a researcher!!! It’s a classic case of the Peter Principle. You get promoted out of what you’re good at!!

Corporations also look at salary grades as gospel, so if you make too much money and there aren’t any more grades for you beyond Senior Designer you need to step-up and become a manager. I got trapped in that conundrum, so I jumped ship and joined a small company where you wear a lot of hats. I still get to design and manage the process. I guess all of the old designers must be at small companies like me…

I don’t think there is a stigma for being an older designer in some industries. Look at the age of some of the fashionistas. Of course they have an army of young designers actually doing the work, but they set the tone.

terse lines here : I think designer’s shelf life depends on a lot of self upgrading. Usually old ones get ousted out of the line because they stop learning. If you are snappy bright and willing to move, age is no barrier to being astute. Young may be a plus. But young and lazy is no feat even to the oldest folk in the line.

ps: i know i’m much younger than slippyfish :wink:


Seat 46a on a 747 or something sounds really bad.

Management scares the bejeezus outta me. Will do it if I have to, but rather keep honing the skills, learning new stuff, and being in the trenches. To cheery’s point you have to work harder to “self-evolve”, because the older you get, the more important having families, paying mortgages, financing that new Land Rover can get, and there’s less time to work on new proficiencies.

OWP do you have examples of the “dual-track” systems, or what companies might have tracks like this? Microsoft Research sounds like one such affair.

I totally agree that upgrading your skill set is critical to survival in almost any industry. Especially a technology-driven profession like ours. Now that most of the magic markers and colored pencils have been replaced by wicked-fast rendering software the bar has been raised pretty high. If you can’t jump over it then it’s time to find a new profession.

I went back for an MBA degree about 12 years ago and then about 6 years ago taught an old dog new tricks by transitioning from 2-D to 3-D (Solidworks). I tried to prepare myself for a career in either design OR management - whichever direction the wind might blow me. I prefer the design side, but the money is in management. Sad truth.

I’ve seen a lot of design guys throw in the towel and go into management, but you can tell they aren’t happy about it. It’s where most good designers go to pay for the new Land Rover.