There is a stereotype about older people in tech, including the UX design community, that must and can be overcome
Those that knew the young Joey Kilrain would probably use keywords like: overly enthusiastic, nonstop, Philly (as in, from Philadelphia), sponge of a person.
I graduated from the Art Institute of Philadelphia just as the internet was ramping up. My first agency role was at Devon Direct which was headed up by experienced directors. They needed young designers to do the digital work they didn’t know how to do.
And while their use of the computer was basic, their advice, insight, and mentorship was legendary. I’m grateful to not only have had them as mentors but that I was patient to listen to them too.
At the time, I wasn’t concerned about getting old. Instead, I labored over things like; ‘Am I creative enough’, ‘Such-and-suches portfolio is amazing’, ‘The client wants to review my work. What does that mean?”
Like I said, the excessively enthusiastic Joey would go to great lengths to learn, be innovative, and excel at work.
My young status did not last long – just about three years or so. After three years, I started my own agency. I explored various avenues and opportunities and went on with life, and eventually, time became a blur.
After about thirteen years of being ‘in the wild’, when I returned to the ‘domestic’ agency life is when I began to notice that I had aged. The younger designers were moving at the speed of innovation while the experienced designers were lagging behind, probably yielding with research first.
A few years back, I spoke on a panel discussing the value of designers with fifteen plus years experience. That’s when a designer, with five years of experience, stated that “anyone over forty was washed up. They think old and it shows in their work”.
And while there are myths that back up some of that statement, the comment left quite a sting. That’s when it dawned on me that ‘experience’ was code for old.
Following the statement, there was an awkward quiet. Despite the fact that no one knew my age, which was forty six at the time, my #southphilly was not about to slide. “When I turned forty, I felt like I was truly grasping life as a designer. I was getting into my stride “, I remarked rebelliously.
“I’m more confident with decision making, I no longer stress over being ‘creative’ or coming up with ‘great ideas’. Now it just happens naturally most of the times and I’ve also developed a bit of clairvoyance, helping me to make informed, creatively compliant decisions with clients and colleagues alike. These decisions take years of real-world experience. But more importantly, I’m entirely grateful to have had older people point me in the right direction.”
My remarks gathered praise from the audience, but the ‘old’ comment still stung. That’s when I heard my lack of confidence speak up, “Hey Joey, bud, you are getting old!”.
I spent the next few years in honing up my skills and rebuild myself in a bid to get at par with the “young” in the industry.
It’s no surprise the creative and tech industry in general is full of young people because it’s incentivized to stay on the cutting edge. To be young is perceived as being on the cutting edge. But what can the ‘experience’ do to remain relevant? A whole lot actually!
When I was struggling to rekindle my relevance, I did so by doing the following:
I would watch about two videos a week and happily post the certification to my LinkedIn profile. Not only does it show you’re still in the game, but the videos made me realize I was STILL relevant because the process is similar to what I’ve been doing.
My ole heads from Philly taught the value of sharing knowledge. Why make their mistake twice? The only difference between the ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ generation and the current is that the current generation is more diversified.
Joining platforms like ADPList, 1000Hires, and BlackValley will not only give you a purpose but might also lead to a new opportunity.
If you don’t do it, start. If you are doing it, do more of it. Networking comes in the form of podcasts, online or in-person events, and LinkedIn, Meetup, MyOpportunity. Post relevant comments, offer advice, and have your portfolio up to date. You never know when opportunity is going to knock.
To my ole heads, keep your faith, confidence, and definitely stay up to date. Accept the fact that a younger designer may teach you something. And don’t be shy to bring your experience to the new ideas they have. By working collaboratively, both sides will gain immensely by sharing and working collaboratively.
This article was last updated on November 27, 2023; Originally published on August 3, 2022