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InsightMay 17, 2023

Ageism in the Canadian Graphic Design Industry

Written by Faron Dawe RGD, FARON.DESIGN, Sharon Lockwood RGD, Daniel Szilagyi RGD, John Furneaux RGD, Roderick Roodenburg RGD, Glenda Rissman RGD, and Vida Jurcic RGD
Photo of old Macintosh computer Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash

Senior designers share their perspective on the impact of age on careers in our industry.

“Now that I have passed my 20-year mark as a professional graphic designer, I think about this topic more often. 'Am I, my work, my skills and my experience still relevant?' and 'How has the design world changed since I was a junior?' are questions that arise more frequently. But when I think about the age of designers, it's not as a marker for establishing levels of experience and skills but rather how younger designers can and will change our industry and their own roles through advanced tech. Like those before me who designed without computers, I am guessing many felt similarly about how efficient and productive young designers will be with a mouse and ‘CMD-C’. I think young designers will create new (and automated) design processes and use technology on a larger scale than I did during my junior days. Because of this, I see design roles changing significantly with advanced technology and new applications where design is now living.”
Faron Dawe RGD

"Ageism has always been an issue within the graphic design profession. We work in an industry that celebrates and rewards what’s new rather than what is lasting. This often comes from people placing too much value on what looks good — surface decoration — rather than strategy or true problem-solving. However, as a designer of a certain age, I can also see that, as we get older, we can become our own worst enemies. We often want to keep things as they were back when we were the “new thing with the new ideas.” To counteract this, as designers age, we need to stay curious and really tap into our most valuable resource: our experience. This is what allows us to realize that what appears to be a new challenge is just an old issue in a new context — and we already know how to successfully solve it."
—John Furneaux RGDJohn Furneaux RGD, Principal at B3 Strategy

"I have been a young, bushy-tailed keen designer willing to do anything for almost nothing, to a fairly seasoned intermediate, right through to an over-seasoned, maybe a bit too spicy creative director. There are pros and cons to every stage of a designer’s work-life. In the face of economic turmoil in Canada today, a junior designer has an advantage by far as most design firms seem to want to hire young designers (get ‘em for less), harvest them while fresh, maybe keep them for a few years, then send them happily on their way. A lot of this is due to the fact that clients are chiseling budgets and most design firms can’t afford to keep a studio filled with intermediate and senior designers. One other benefit young designers have is that they have received training in cutting-edge technologies and are in tune with the latest trends. However, I do feel that the dependence on social media for inspiration limits the scope for creativity and innovation. While the older designers have done it all and seen it all, with AI creating a paradigm shift, will we all be obsolete?"
—Vida Jurcic RGD, Partner, Hangar 18 Design Continuum

"Like all other forms of discrimination, ageism is also hard to identify. Some of the markers of ageism include exclusion, derision and mockery. While it exists, like all other ‘isms’, discrimination based on age is not acceptable in our community. It is essential to understand that our profession is enhanced and enriched with people of different generations. Diversity of perspectives and lived experiences expands our reach and opens paths for empathy, learning and connection. Age should not be met by trepidation. By opening dialogue and understanding the advantages of people of all ages contributing to our practice, we can move towards truly being an inclusive and diverse community."
—Sharon Lockwood RGD, President & Creative Director at Line of Sight Design & ZayZay Living

"Age, in and of itself, does not inherently act as a detriment to graphic designers, however age-related biases can lead to missed opportunities. Decades of marketing has quite successfully instilled fear and anxiety in people about aging. Extending these cultural associations into the workplace brings assumptions that if a person is older, say over 40, they could be less capable with emerging technologies or disconnected from contemporary design aesthetics. Overcoming these biases requires people to have an open mind, especially by people in positions of leadership and it requires continuous learning on the part of people in senior roles to actively stay updated with industry developments, showcase adaptability and demonstrate proficiency in using new tools. Senior creatives bring value on many levels—they typically have extensive networks and reputations built over years, they approach projects with depth, strategic insight, a strong understanding of stakeholder needs and can create opportunities for collaboration. They often provide mentorship to younger creatives, fostering their professional growth. By focusing on merit and creating a culture that values diversity, employers, clients and the graphic design industry can benefit from the full potential of creatives at any stage of their careers."
—Dianne Semark RGD, Freelance Creative Director

"Having spent 10 years in the industry, I do feel that today start-ups and newer companies hire younger designers as their salary expectations are lower. However, it is important for an organization to understand that the role and responsibilities of a younger designer and those of a mature designer are not interchangeable. Not only do senior designers ensure the application of sound design principles, they also come with invaluable experience and historical knowledge that can help shape younger designers' creative abilities and aid in building a team. I have also noticed that senior designers tend to better understand the importance of culture and value systems, while younger designer lean towards trends (as I did when I was younger). Designers of all levels should and do have a place in our design industry."
—Daniel Szilagyi RGD, Senior UX & UI Designer

"I was a designer at a leading firm for eight years and started my own firm with a partner 30 years ago. I believe that up-and-coming designers bring a freshness and energy to their work that wanes with more senior designers. Designers with decades of experience that want to continue to design, will never get paid their worth – full stop. Ageism is an issue in our industry and as you age, you need to find ways to keep yourself relevant. What I take issue with is the corporate system that hires inexperienced people to keep costs down and rewards employees to continually cut costs. In both of these situations, the work of designers becomes a lot tougher. I recommend finding a firm that is still buzzing after 30 years, it's a sign that they are working on important projects that are designed to last and are working for clients that are willing to pay for their time when their internal resources are just not enough."
—Glenda Rissman RGD, Principal, q30 Design Inc.

Design concerning form. Design concerning substance. Design concerning the spirit. These are the universal plateaus that designers move through, from young to mature designers, where the latter stages are more transcendent. While our education system and society, in general, tend to prioritize technical skills and knowledge over creative thinking and design which can only be cultivated with time and through practice, I do see that many Canadian design firms value experience and recognize the contributions that older, more seasoned designers can bring. As designers gain more experience, they often develop a deep understanding of specific industries where specialization is a key differentiator and they are more aware of trends and their challenges. They may also have established networks and relationships valuable for securing clients and collaborating with professional colleagues. Additionally, experienced designers may have developed a unique design aesthetic and approach that can set them apart from younger designers.
—Rod Roodenburg RGD, President, Roodenburg Design Consultants Inc.


Faron Dawe RGD

FARON.DESIGN

Faron is a freelance designer and principal at FARON.DESIGN, based in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, focusing on brand visual identity design, web user interface design and consulting in-house teams on larger design-based projects. With over 20 years of professional experience in the creative and design space, Faron has worked with clients from a variety of sectors, providing solutions in visual identity, print, web design and more.

During his tenure as a post-secondary design educator, he was the lead instructor of multiple courses, including Design Principles, Visual Branding, Colour Theory, Print and Layout, UI Design and The Business of Design - passing his experience and expertise onto the next generation of designers, teaching, mentoring and directing them in a classroom studio environment.

He is a Certified Registered Graphic Designer, a designation from the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD). RGD is a professional association governing the graphic design industry across Canada. Faron has previously held vice-president and director positions on the RGD board of directors and currently, serves on the RGD events committee.

With a heart for giving back to the creative community, He is working with other creatives on a passion project called Creative Union - a community club for creatives to connect, celebrate & empower one another to elevate the profession.


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