How Do You Stay Relevant as a Designer?

“There’s a kind of Bermuda Triangle lying in wait for practicing designers. Few appreciate that they’re nearing this sneaky apparition until they’ve been wholly subsumed by its draw… .Most designers who’ve reached their mid-career have developed a capable skill-set. As such, they don’t feel as great a need to learn as they once did. Additionally, they (rightly) realize that there’s more to life than just design. So, they coast for a while. They rely on the clients whose trust they’ve already established. Additionally, they take longer holidays, spend more time with their kids, and perhaps even find a little time for a hobby.

These sentences in a recent blog post by smashLAB co-founder/Creative Director Eric Karjaluoto are maddening because they go right for the Achille’s heel of designers everywhere…and because the question he raises in the piece itself – how do you stay relevant as a designer – is never really answered.

First, let’s get this out of the way: We all know there are successful designers in their sixth or seventh decade still going strong, just as there are 80-year-old black belts in tae kwon do. Unfortunately, they are the exceptions.

Karjaluoto resumes:

“And such decisions should be OK. In any other pursuit, they would be: You learn a craft, practice diligently, gain expert knowledge, and then take back some life balance. However, design changes so fast that such a pause can arrest one’s career…”

Throughout the rest of this warning against complacency, Karjaluoto gives us the type of advice we would expect: try new approaches, question why you do things the way you do, etc.

Yet none of this tells us anything we don’t already know. The more you age, the more out of touch you will become on the whole. It starts with not recognizing contemporary band names and goes from there.

Yet all of that design experience you’ve garnered over the years still counts for a great deal, surely. Place designs by two excellent designers – one in their 20s and one in their 50s – side by side and you will see the difference maturity can make.

The question, then, is this: How would you creatively sell the value of a mature designer to a potential client?

After all, the most important product you will ever sell during your career…is you.

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