With age comes ___?
Creativity. It’s so often relegated to the young. In almost every profession from music to art to design to sports to entertainment to business, our society idolizes youth as the fountain of creativity.
Just pick up any issue of HOW, Print or ID, and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Rarely will the work of anyone over 40 be featured, and if they are, you can bet they’ve been featured before when they were in their 30’s or 20’s. Take a look across your agency or firm at the creatives there. Most of the hands-on design is done by those in their twenties or early thirties, while those 40 plus are confined to management positions. Why?
Our American design culture is enthralled by the shiny new thing. I guess I can’t really blame us, everything in America is new, relatively speaking. From architecture to music to theater, our nation has only been around for 200 plus years. Hardly mature compared to the creative cultures of Italy, France or Germany—not to mention China or Egypt. And to be fair, design as a profession is a babe when in the company of art or music.
So, it’s somewhat understandable that American designers tend to gravitate toward the next Stefan Sagmeister or Joshua Davis or whomever. We identify these young guns, promote them, show them over and over in magazines and give little thought to what it does to the design community. We implicitly demand that our new stars be young. When was the last time you saw an up and coming designer at age 50? What this culture of youthful design assumes is that if you haven’t “made it” or been recognized by the time you are 30, then you’re work is at best average. Unfortunately, of these emerging young guns have been cut from the same cloth by attending all the big name design schools, worked in the venerated design firms and won the same industry awards given, incidentally, by older designers who have traveled the same path as their protégés. A youth oriented “system” like this severely limits the work we see as a design community and creates dangerously homogeneous, almost bland design. Don’t believe me? Take out the design annuals from any three design magazines from a single year and tell me what you see. Or maybe you’re like me—you’ve already stopped subscribing.
This system of promoting young designers isn’t all bad…I like to see what recent grads are doing. Often times though they’re just copying a style and doing it very, very well. So well in fact, that it passes for something new and good. But in reality, everyone matures creatively at different times. Unlike sports, there is no true creative advantage in youth. You see, creativity must be aged with both the good and bad experiences that life brings. And like a great wine, creativity absorbs these flavors of life and produces rich works full of perspective, maturity and meaning. I suspect that the stronger a designer’s creative vision is, the more awkward and unpolished their work will be early on in life. And it won’t be until much later in life that the skills for expression and the clarity of purpose gel into full blown masterpieces.
So, all of you aging creatives stuck in management or late starting designers take heart, your best work is yet to come.