Do agencies hire 50+ yr. old designers?


#1

I’m a 53 year old designer. Most of my experience has been in print, but I have done a share of web work. This is mostly designing the “look” and working with a developer to build the site. I have an “ok” knowledge of HTML and CSS, and have used both to build a few relatively simple sites (Adobe Brackets). I learned some of the frontend code to better understand the limitations, and to help me work better with developers.

I’ve been looking at some of the intensive bootcamp classes for UX/UI, specifically in Toronto. I’m trying to get a grasp on what the market is like right now. Any of these bootcamps would be happy to get my money and give me a “certificate”, but what happens when I graduate? Are agencies/studios overwhelmed with these bootcamp graduates?

The one, overriding question I have is: What’s the market like for a 53 year old designer? Are agencies only looking to hire younguns (lower pay, longer hours)? I’m just trying to be realistic here.


Start UX as freelancer?
#2

Hey Rustollo63

I have to say I’m not a hiring manager, so you might want to take what I say with a grain of salt, but from my experience as someone who entered UX at quite a mature age the short answer is ‘yes’.

Basically, your age shouldn’t be relevant, definitely don’t include it in any CV, because it’s simply not important. If you are serious about building a career in UX what is important is to show your skills in taking a user-centred approach to your work. That means being very uncomfortable working from assumptions, having the skills to collect clean-ish data from potential customers (and knowing the difference between good data and bad data) , not being afraid of working with data to arrive at implications for design, internalising data to develop empathic, intuitive understandings around customers, envisioning designs that are grounded in data and guided by empathic understanding and taking a whole team along the journey of discovering what goes on inside your customers’ heads.

Notice I have not mentioned any specific tools. Good uxers build competencies with different tools, but that is not where their intrinsic value as a designer lies. Decent hiring managers should understand this (and is one of the main differences between UX design competency and UI design competency).

You need to be realistic about the value of what you offer. In my experience having years of commercial experience in a different discipline and basic maturity (understanding how the world works and how to get along with people) counted for a lot and gave me confidence when observing how millennials approached their work.

There is an issue with recruitment agencies not recognising what makes a good UX designer versus someone who claims competency with a bunch of tools, and there can be issues with hiring managers who have very little experience or knowledge of UX but the path to a well demonstrated UX portfolio is very simple: Find a problem, think about it, explore the problem, analyse the problem and show what your design response was. That’s it.

If you focus on developing that mindset and those skills that will take you as far as you want to go, not necessarily in a straight line, but you’ll get there.


#3

Thanks for your reply, irith. Your reply really helped me too - I’m in a similar situation also. It’s all about confidence that you can add value!

My perception is that competition in graphic design is fierce, but there is a real shortage of UX designers. (Although many jobs advertised as “UX Design jobs” seem to be actually digital design/UI instead of a true UX role - but by the sound of it, that might work in OP’s favour?)


#4

Sorry to be the one throwing cold water on this discussion but if you don’t think age is going to be a factor against you, you are in for quite a shock. I’m 55 and have several friends who are 40+ and, like me, attended or are attending CareerFoundry’s online bootcamp for UX Design.

The story is largely the same, they, like me, send tons of resumes in and the most frequent outcome is basically silence. I have been submitted to both senior and junior UX positions but the most I’ve gotten from employers is a preliminary phone interview, maybe once or twice (I don’t honestly remember even that much progress but I could be forgetting something) - you will hear terms like “over qualified” which, of course, is code.

Essentially they don’t know what to do with you. If you are older but don’t have much direct experience already doing UX professionally then it would make sense that you would start off in a junior designer role. But you would be 30 years older than their typical junior hire and maybe 20+ years older than the MANAGER for the design department. I’ve also tried to submit myself for Senior roles many many times but that doesn’t work either because the hiring managers for all their complaining that they cant find enough qualified and EXPERIENCED people to hire, don’t have the creativity or perhaps will to look at even related skill sets combined with recent UX education.

And yes, there are currently way too many new graduates seeking those very well paid jobs! The most common request is for people with 3+ years recent experience, those with 5+ are in a better position.

Yes, by all means, a portfolio is essential, and having at least 3 work samples focusing on process as much as outcome will be essential as will professional networking. Frankly, responding to online ads for UX designers at 50 and over is a waste of time…sorry to be so blunt but I am only sharing my actual experience and those of my friends in similar situations. Is it impossible? Hell no! BUT you will have to find a backdoor - the front door for regular employment is not welcoming at this time.

Try and find an online bootcamp that offers your money back if you don’t find a job within 6 months. There are several. Plan on starting out by doing freelance or volunteer work to get real world work samples under your belt. OR hire yourself and get together with your new friends from the course and create a virtual agency. Do you have business experience, can you SELL professional services?

One of my friends and classmates has over 25 years experience as an Art Director (most all of it in print) and so, naturally, has great visual design skills and HE is running into the same thing.


#5

It’s hard when the hiring market essentially has an immature understanding of the profession, but I have encountered everything you describe and I don’t attribute it to my age for one minute. Largely because (especially 6 years ago) I don’t look my age, when I was first trying to get into UX nobody had much of a realistic idea how old I was. Also, the trajectory that you and I have both experienced is also reported by 20+ 30+ people trying to get into UX.

I have never applied for a position online in my life, and I regularly block recruiters from my linkedin account. This is NOT because I get jobs very easily, but because I am an obsessive networker and I have formed enough relationships over the years to have people who will vouch for me and that’s how I get work. I don’t have anything against online job ads or recruiters per se, but in my experience they are incredibly emotionally draining and unproductive paths. So I would rather invest my time and emotional energy in working my own networks.

Not everyone has the same approach, but the barriers you describe I would say are pretty ubiquitous. Yes, I know there are bright young things who have spent 5 years at Ogilvy, do a GA course, then get hired… but I am willing to bet they are still doing a lot of their old job (usually VD or marketing) with some ‘UX’ mixed in… IMHO.

Working ‘for free’ is an essential part of not only building a portfolio, but actually building your own practice and making relationships. If someone go into it thinking ‘this is a sunk cost just so I can have a portfolio’ then they are really selling themselves short … 100% not saying that is your attitude Steve, just trying to point out that even unpaid work has multiple benefits and shouldn’t be viewed as a loss :slight_smile:


#6

Yes Max, I think you are absolutely right about jobs advertised as ‘UX’ jobs not really being about solid user-centred methodologies. And this is reflected in hiring behaviours :frowning:

I recently found myself on the other side of the fence helping our Product Owner hire a second UXer (one with more mature UI skills that me ) and half our applicants were Visual Designers who really had little understanding or little experience in user-centered design. One applicant told me that he had learned how to make his UI more logical, and therefore deliver a better user experience, which made him a UX designer.

All of these applicants had come through a top flight recruitment agency by the way…


#7

Yeah recruiters are often clueless but then the hiring managers and the job ads they post don’t seem much better. The UX profession has done a poor job of describing itself in terms that are understandable and distinguishable from other similar and related fields.

The most common confusion does seem to come from the visual design area - ads asking UX applicants to offer “pixel perfect designs” is often a give-away in my opinion. I ran into an ad the other day that was a little unusual, it was for a UI/UX Web DEVELOPER … turns out it was mostly for a coder with an appreciation for UX

https://www.glassdoor.com/Job/monterey-ux-jobs-SRCH_IL.0,8_IC1147261_KO9,11.htm?fromAge=7&jl=1935818635&ja=36688803&jaguid=00000157f52f3ce484961c4682bd899a&pos=104&srs=EMAIL_JOB_ALERT&utm_source=jobalert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=jobAlertAlert&utm_content=ja-jobtitle


#8

Sadly, in my role as UX Agony Aunt, I am starting to hear stories of rampant ageism in UX. :pensive:


#9

Sadly I think that’s becoming prevalent in many emerging disciplines. I see the same thing in community management. If we focussed more on the importance of soft skills (that whole concept that we already know half the job before we come to it) then the value of age would be apparent.


#10

I agree Sarah. I experienced the same thing when I tried for like 4 years to go from freelance/self employed as an online video producer to going in house somewhere as a regular employee; I couldn’t even get interviews! Both UX Design and online video production are among the most in demand fields according to many “what’s hot” lists - so of course I make the connection of ageism being the common factor.

Even applying for jobs in retail, or for admin type positions, the only success I’ve had was through Manpower working within an HR department for a short term assignment. That was a weird situation but I best comment no further on that.

Because of my prior experiences in the Web I was able to fly through my UX Design course very successfully but that didn’t translate over to actual realworld opportunities. So right now I feel that if I am going to have any UX related career it’s going to be through the side door, maybe a parallel area but not if I keep on applying through online job ads or recruiters.

Either that or trying to create my own virtual design agency using talent I know from school. I hated the direct sales responsibilities while doing video production but I’m not seeing other avenues right now besides very temporary Manpower-type work.


#11

That and/or not even be something to be evaluated!

But we are human… so what you said is more likely. (With my one whole week of post grad psychology education) I know that we all have stereotypes - we’ll never be rid of them but we can change the conversation and value what really matters: attitude, experience and a hunger for learning.


#12

Thanks for all the responses. Much of this confirms what I suspected. I have a few career options I’m looking at, with UX/UI being one of them.

I know some of the local (Toronto) bootcamps have open houses, but they involve interacting with the current students. This is not the best benchmark for evaluating a course. The issue with these non-accredited “schools” is they are not mandated to release their student employment statistics.

Realistically, it seems that SteveCrow is probably right. A front door approach is unlikely.

BTW: I woud lean more towards UI than UX.


#13

Wish I had better news, I had high hopes myself. Disappointing to be sure.


#14

I think the most useful take-away is ‘the front door approach is unlikely (to succeed)’. I hear this from UX newbies of all ages… and @rustolio63 I think being more of a UI focussed person probably enhances your ‘front door’ chances, as people have a clearer idea of what that is/might be… Good luck.


#15

I’ve been in my 50’s for a few years but have never experienced ageism :wink:

I’m also a mentor for CareerFoundry and have seen several students land good Jr. UX level positions. Besides the course, Ashlea’s wise words regarding attitude, experience and a hunger for learning are likely what got them there.

There are also other avenues besides agencies. In-house UX roles are in high demand and it’s hard to fill those positions. There are also UX-focused consulting firms, startups and staffing agencies with contract roles that often lead to permanent positions.

And of course, there is always the option of hanging out your own shingle. Practical optimism has served me well over the years. For the record, I’m still excited about UX.


#16

After thinking about this a bit more, a couple more questions (to the older designers) came to mind …

  1. If you’re in the design field, but not UX/UI specifically, what are you doing?
  2. If you’re considering leaving the design field, what would you do?

#17

You guys are in your 50? And you think you are old? I just turned 63 and I’m graduating this December with a masters degree in UX Design. I also have a long-term background in graphic design and illustration, as many of you do. I think there will be a change as more baby boomers like me either refuse to retire or can not (more like the reality). We are pioneers. Just watch Robert DeNiro in “The Intern.” Attitudes and viewpoints change, not quickly, but I hope to help make those changes happen and find my place in UX. I’m not sure what it will be.

Yes, ageism exists, but as we know from doing user research, one has to watch out for our own researcher’s bias–we tend to see what we expect to see, and may miss out on data points, however small, that contradict our hypothesis. And then there is confirmation bias. I’m as fearful as any of you about entering the job market again, but I prefer to see differently. A teacher of mine used to say F-E-A-R, stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.

I hope to keep this thread going.


#18

One of the things that is pretty consistently trumpeted, at least in my neck of the woods, is that in the tech world you need to make as much hay as you can when you’re young. Once you’re past about the age of 40, opportunities for advancement dry up almost completely, and whatever level of career you’re in is where you’re likely to stay. I’m in my mid-30’s and have made some great career strides in the past 4 years, but I’m staring to wonder how much further I can go before I start to run up against some of the ageism that I’ve seen affect others in the tech world.

It’s great to hear that @paul has had excellent success at later point in his career. In my experience, the UX world is more egalitarian than other portions of the tech world, and this seems to bear that out.


#19

The question I’d be asking is “What’s the market like for a designer with a lot experience vs not much.”

I worked for someone who was your age but had trouble getting a job because she had too much experience and it was hard to find a leadership role. If you have enough experience, I don’t see why you couldn’t find a job. Sure, ageism exists, but you wouldn’t want to work for a company like that anyway so take it as a good thing if they pass you up. It’s a hard thing to measure being that a lot of young people will get passed for roles with the same amount of experience as you. If you love the field, I’d put together an awesome portfolio that displays both your print and web projects and keep trying.