Design dilemma Entering the creative field later in life

Ellen T. Writes: I got laid off from the job I had since I graduated high school and decided to follow my heart and pursue design as my new career. I have always loved design and feel that I really value being creative deep in my soul. My question is; where do I start? I'm 49 years old, so I'll be the oldest student in the art school (which school should I attend?), And will I have to buy a big computer, or can I just draw things and have people at the client's site? Business all together? I really want to be a designer! Can you help me?

Well, Ellen, it's not going to be easy, and your age and lack of experience are going to make it very difficult to. But there are those who have gone on to successful careers throughout history. I'm not going to sugarcoat the road in front of you, so for those looking to start a new career, whatever it is, join us as we dive into another design dilemma and help answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky design world?

I wrote to Ellen to get a little more background so I could give her better advice. She now works as an adversary in a supermarket, is a single mom who moved back in with her parents, and lives in a small town that doesn't have a college or university, let alone an art school. There are also no design offices in their city, so interning is out of the question. Already enrolled in an online design school and want to design logos and create illustrations. Your work is? rough to say the least, but that's the work of many creative people before they go to art school.

I don't know where is the best place to start? the good news or the bad news. Let me start with the challenges and bad news so I can end this article on a note.

Too late for the party

Design has become the field of young people. Many of my peers, some as young as 45, saw themselves forcibly retired from the company as design directors. Young and cheap seem to be designers these days, and designers invariably need to be comfortable with both print and digital design. It means years of training, and while you are in a two-year program, you have to learn a tremendous amount in just 48 months.

"Design is not just" being creative in the soul ". as you say. There are technical considerations that designers need to learn.

Design is not just creative in the soul? like you say. There are technical considerations that designers need to learn. Aside from computer software, you will need to learn color theory, typography, layout, print production and web design with associated apps and coding. Online art school can never give you enough to compete with younger designers who have grown up in the digital world. My older son, who was computer literate as a toddler, learned CSS and web design in middle school. How can you make someone who is now 17 come alive with the digital world you are about to enter?

You have asked if you need to buy a computer. Sure thing! You will also need to purchase design software, a printer, and peripherals, supplies, and internet access, and continue to learn, learn, and learn throughout your career.

You are also about to take on a large student debt load (about 40.000 USD for a two-year online school?). How will you pay that back in your situation? You see a loan of 20 years and will be 69 years old when it is repaid.

Where will you find customers? Your town is so small, local clients won't make a living because I don't think anyone will pay more than $50 for a logo, and you are competing with online logo factories like and There are many hurdles you have to overcome. The question of the moment is: Are you ready and able to continue the fight against these hurdles?

The good news

I always like to use JK Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books) as an example of what someone can do when faced with impossible odds. She was a single mom and was penniless and sent her first manuscript (19) consecutively before it was accepted. She is now a billionaire. So nothing is impossible.

Being creative means being able to recognize creative possibilities.

Many designers and small design firms I know have started to specialize in the industry, finding a niche and serving those niche clients, such as healthcare providers, mortgage lenders, real estate, payday loans, etc. In your position, the problems with living in A small town can be one of your strengths. If you know people who own small businesses, they need logos, flyers, signage, menus, etc. If you can meet your local's price level and get enough business, you can make a living. You won't get rich, but if you want to do the work that drives your desires and your soul, the money isn't important.

The online logo factories I mentioned are a gamble for those who participate, but you may find that joining and occasionally winning gives you extra income and makes you happy. You should also consider opening up your own opportunities. Can you write and illustrate a book, design greeting cards and notepaper and / or draw? Being creative means being able to see creative possibilities.

Face the realities

Yes, you need to follow your dream so you never have to wonder if you could have done it. However, if you continue, you will have to face reality as your dream does not pay bills in a cold, hard, unforgiving world.

As any professional creative will tell you, it takes years of practice, patience and an understanding that design is a craft that is learned and not just inherent in the soul.

I once worked in the marketing art department of a major publisher. There were three of us in an open area, connected to the offices of the marketing staff, directly across from the legal department. We had a good time together and the corporate lawyers always complained that we were too loud and laughed too much.

One day a legal secretary came into our area and said she thought we were all having great fun and asked how she could be transferred to the art department. We asked if she went to art school, and she screwed up her face like she smelled something awful. She just thought she could sit down at a computer and get the job done from day one.

Any professional creative will tell you that it takes years of practice, patience and an understanding that design is a craft that is learned and not just in one's soul. If you are willing to fight, you can find your way. No one will give it to you, and there are no guarantees.

Send us your dilemma!

Do you have a design dilemma? Speider Schneider will answer your questions personally – just send your dilemma to [email protected]!

Speider has designs for Disney / Pixar, Warner Bros. among others., Designed Harley-Davidson and Viacom and is a former board member of the Graphic Artists Guild and co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee. He writes for global blogs on design ethics and business practices and has contributed to several books on business for designers.