Switching from IT and studying Industrial Design at mid 40s, insane?


I really regret doing half of a commerce degree, getting a job offered and quitting University. I went on to have a career in Telco and Energy companies mostly working in designing software and technical writing.

As you age you realise your regrets, I think VERY few have NO regrets. For me it would have been not figuring out what I want to do with my life earlier on.

Anyway I would really like to work more in the hardware design in ICT not the software itself, perhaps cellphones, perhaps routers, perhaps notebooks, I dont know. I imagine the field is small so Id have to keep my options open for other industries. But basically designing products.

My ultimate would be to work for Triumph helping design Motocycles, of course with a focus on UX with that having been part of my software design work.

I think if I could go back I would have studied Architecture or Naval Architecture.

But is it realistic. Its a 4 year degree. id be a 50yo broke graduate. Perhaps it is just too much of a dream, sometimes we need to be realistic instead of destroying ourselves.


Unfortunately there is an age stigma that is difficult to deny, as much as we’d like to. Do a quick search here, you’ll find many discussions about it. @inca431 is currently battling it so may have advice for you.

I’d consider trying to move sideways into UX without dropping money on a degree in the first instance.

I’d love to hear from @joenatoli on this.


First: I strongly believe it’s never too late. If you want something, if it matters deeply to you, you owe it to yourself to go for it. Time will not wait for you, and life will not meet you halfway.

Next: ageism is definitely rampant. So if I were you I’d be looking into specific areas of industrial design to learn (1) which seem to have the easiest entry paths for someone mid-career in a related discipline and (2) which might allow you to prove your worth most quickly in a junior role.

Talk to older ID folks already doing that work, ask them straight up what they think. What your pathway in could be, what obstacles you may face.

I would also look for shorter education programs and research their perceived value. Meaning, is there a two-year program that gets you a certificate that allows you to start working in the field sooner? So you can start building a body of evidence (product design work) that serves as ammunition against ageism? Proof you can do the work and do it well will often trump all else.

Also consider that there ARE organizations who see the value in older employees. Not the majority, but they do exist. Treat this just like you would any job search: research the organizations you think you’d like to work for, e.g. Triumph.

Finally, and most importantly:


Don’t settle.

You have no time to waste, so go after what you want exactly the way you want it, doing the kind of work you truly want to do. For the kind of organization you truly want to do it for.

Settling is hard enough the first time around. If you’re going to throw down for round 2, then go all in. Believe you deserve it — because you do.


I have a BFA in Individual Design and am now in UX.

We had a pretty broad age range for students in my class. I remember some were in their 40s, few and far between , but they had a lot of knowledge the younger folks lacked.

The greatest challenge I seen (as a classmate ) for them had a lot to do with life circumstances. Where I went to college Industrial Design was one of the most aggressive curriculums. I remember 20 hours of homework one week for one class, not including the in class time. Add that to 3 other classes and you don’t have time for much else. I hope it is different elsewhere. Anyone who had to hold a job, or had a family struggled.

I would weight the cost for yourself and include your loved ones in that calculation. Make sure any school you look into clearly defines expectations for time and progression through required courses.

It was hard for me to find a job in that field. Don’t give up, but make sure internships are included in your choruses, find job placement rates in the field. Also, find out where the industry specific job’s are and make sure that is where you want to live.

I hope this helps. Feel free to send me a message if you want to chat more!


Joe you have an industrial design background?

What would you say are are the easiest entry paths?

I just love the idea of deisgning something tangible that one day I can see somebody using.

Dont get me wrong, Ive designed $30M Software solutions and have found a lot of joy in being both the designer and program manager. Watching end users enjoying a system, the system working for them and they no longer working for it with work around process patches and endless corporate methodologies, everybody has a fav lol.

But there cant be anything that beats designing solid state objects, especially things technology based and seeing people using them successfully. Thats UX.


All of the processes you have used as an experience designer overlap with the ones used in industrial design. It’s just the experience of the medium you may be missing.

Key differences I have noticed are:

Ergonomic principles. Your designing for the sense of touch, so how comfortable the object feels to those you test with is a new metric.

Prototyping objects usually means drawing schematics, and building whatever it is with the cheapest or fastest material to test with. Think anything from cardboard boxes to MDF. If you can get your hands on it, industrial foam, even the pink insulation foam makes for fast work when mocking up handles. Wear a mask though, that stuff is nasty.

Drawing in 3D useing a 3/4 view of the idea to show more aspects of it’s form. Drawing over an image of a prototype to maintain the form that worked best from testing.

CAD and building printable or production quality models. Autodesk has a free version of CAD you can use if the work is not for profit.

Because of the high cost for changes or pivots… The question “is this an ireversable decision” may have a greater tendency to be answered with a “no.” So research and testing may be relied on more and projects may have longer phases.

This list is material or medium related changes, I’m sure I didn’t capture it all, since I have limited industry experience.

Depending on what type of workplace you start in you may not need as much knowledge around the differences I mentioned. Knowing how to draw a 3d object enough to communicate the idea would be my suggestion on the first place to start.

If you get in with a larger cooperation where each role does a different part of the design development process, you could probably start with what you know, and jump in as an experience designer on a product team, working through the early concept stages of design.


Thank you for that, thats a comprehensive list.

One of the things I love that is related to industrial design is 3d Printing coming of age, thats Next gen imo. Amateur industrial designers can just send out the design to the masses.

CNC was the first really next Gen but that is fully matured now.


I have an MS in Industrial Design. I’ll echo what Amber says and add… Don’t underestimate the need to be able to think and draw in 3D. In industrial design we think with our hands. If you have a form in your head, it doesn’t exist to others if you can’t convey it. For that reason you get some real rock stars that can render and make forms, on demand, from thin air. In other words, whiteboarding on steroids washed down with Red Bull. It took me a long time to get comfortable with that skill. I’ve also encountered people that couldn’t get past CGI modeling because when you’re working on wireframes the spacial relationships can get confusing. To get a feel for this ck out: https://designawards.core77.com
I would recommend dipping a toe in by taking some online ID drawing and rendering classes. Ck these demos out: https://www.core77.com/Yo-C77-Sketch?utm_source=tile_flag Spend a lot of time poking around Core77 and you’ll get a good sense of what skills you’ll need. You’ll also need to make 3D prototypes but that’s the easy part. Maker spaces are great for that.

I’m not trying to scare you, but ID is a VERY skill based profession. Every guy I went to school with wanted to design motorcycles or movie props so there is intense competition for those jobs. On the plus side ID is the coolest job ever, so the day to day of it is pretty awesome although you won’t find the UX salaries.

Another factor, most people I know in ID have graduate degrees (in the Bay Area it seems like most people have graduate degrees so that could be regional). A certificate or vocational degree would put you at a disadvantage unless you have a (physical) engineering background or something else directly related like ergonomics.

I hope that helps.


That was awesome thank you. I think I just have to accept my position and get back to the software space. seeing a piece of software you have designed help people is just as rewarding.

I think thats where my focus as a BA and PM in software projects came from, seeing sooooo many large scale software projects that are shrink wrapped and seeing the floods of general BA’s working on process design to get people working around the system made me just as bored and depressed as the end users. No doubt some enterprise software this is needed, ie SAP, but in house software should never be hard coded imo and the process from the BA should include UX focus right from the start with the Business Case.