Many of us missed the Industrial Design boat at first, only to fall for its charms after starting a different life path. Maybe you never heard of it at all until stumbling onto our fair website, maybe you made (and then got jealous of) friends in the ID department, or maybe your parents discouraged you from getting a "useless art degree," but now you're sure you missed your true calling at the Alessi drawing board. But don't kick yourself, you aren't alone—over on the C77 forums you can find many, many threads where the OP asks/worries whether it's TOO LATE FOREVER to enter the thrilling world of ID. The transition from no-ID to maybe-ID is fraught with glittering possibility and barbed with cost and social stigma. Are late starters out of luck? According to the wise design minds of the forums: nope! Before shrugging off that ID dream, consider these insights from the boards.
Am I too old?
Are you really excited about designing things? Then probably not. ID careers usually start after a few years of school and internships, but embarking on that path well after high school doesn't have to be a hurdle on its own. Unlike gymnastics, the young ones don't necessarily have the upper hand in the field: ID students are often a little older—according to apowers, "the average freshman age for Industrial Design is 24." Besides age itself, a belated start is a common occurrence even among people with real lives and kids and responsibilities. The crux is whether you really want it or not—if you do, there are ways to make it work.Bepster shared a common experience of coming in late:
I jumped into an ID education at 26 from a different field, did unpaid internships closer to 30 and never regretted it. Every experience was necessary and has [been] vital for my development. Mainly because I realized that I needed to understand the nuts and bolts of design and learn the core skills from the ground up. Short cuts don't really exist and buckling down a few weeks to become a great sketcher does not a designer make. In order to get a foot into the door, you don't have to be amazing at everything, just good enough that you would be considered an asset rather than a time suck at a design office.
Sanjy009 offered a tongue-in-cheek take on the "better late than never" tack: "Lots of competitions and scholarships are for the young people under 25 with their hip-hop and ironic beards and crystal meth. At some stage you will be 30. Do you want to be 30 with some ID education/experience, or just 30?"
What if I don't have the right degree?
Reasonable minds differ on the weight of different degrees and schools, but most concur that having one in ID is a really good idea. It's painful to admit that you've sunk time and money into an educational red herring, but getting into an ID program and building a portfolio aren't the sole domain of the young and unjaded. Forumites bandied about specific schools in the thread "Which US ID Program Is Best for an Older Guy?," but the advice boiled down to this: identify your goals, strengths and weaknesses; pick a program that you can afford; and don't be concerned if it isn't the most well-known. If you're just anxious about going back to the "beginning" without racking up higher and higher level degrees, Choto calls out a few reasons not to sweat a later start on a second undergraduate degree:
I completed a Bachelors in a non-design field, went back to school and will be heading on 27 by the time I graduate...Yes I am doing another undergrad degree, but my personal mindset is that I'm in a 5 year graduate program. I've done all the partying, all the college life stuff, I got my fill on that and now I'm ready to really put in work. I'm actually glad it worked out this way. I think, personally, had I gone straight into ID from High School I would have graduated with a lot of regrets. I think your experience will give you a perspective that some of your peers will not have and you can leverage that to your advantage. Will you be older than most of your peers, yes, but will an employer pass over your work when they realize that you're 30, no.
Is there a shortcut? Can I just build a great portfolio and jump in?
In every field you'll find a few untrained but successful people who make going your own way look easy. Screw those guys. Most of us non-geniuses (and no offense, you're probably among these ranks too) benefit most from some high quality guidance, educating, and hard earned experience—YouTube can't do it for you. Bepster laid it out neatly:
What I feel you need and a good design course offers, is structure and a big picture plan. This is very hard for you to put together by yourself [if] you have no experience. Developing a compelling portfolio with quality work is about more than just exhibiting skills. It takes time to mature and develop. Rushing this is very difficult as your personality as a designer changes as you learn.
I can't tell you about not going to school. What I can tell you is that the world hires problem solvers. If you know how to find solutions to problems you'll always find work. If you're going to go the way of the designer, I would at least take some beginning design classes for process and some drawing courses. You'll shave off years of struggling. There's really no replacement for a CAD course either. Once you learn one 3d program, others will come easier.
On the other hand, Mpdesigner had a hopeful (albeit possibly apocryphal) anecdote:
I once worked for an older industrial designer (he was in his 60s) who told me he started studying ID in his 30s. He said he actually climbed the ladder at work quicker because people assumed he was experienced. So he felt his age was actually an advantage for him.
Just to get super tactical and blunt, with no design education, why would someone hire you? 1) you have an amazing portfolio despite of not having a design education. 2) somehow you gained a tremendous amount of experience in design despite not having a design education. 3) the person hiring you doesn't know any better, probably doesn't know how to work with design, and is hiring you for next to no money. outside of those three possibilities, it is very very unlikely. Think of your competition and what they will bring to the same job application or interview. You need to beat them.
In sum, commenters agree that it might be hard work to start late (not to mention the financial aspect, which, as a reality of higher education across the board, we won't get into here) but it's surprisingly common, and if you really have the ID spark in your heart it's absolutely worth it.
For more common sensical advice on your educational concerns, post up on the Students and School boards for a hearty dose of help.