an online conversation
about design management

Selling design value


This five hour face-to-face workshop shows studio owners and managers how to develop a design value proposition to sell design value.

The workshop is followed by mentoring sessions that help you achieve your goals.

Greg has a terrific understanding of running a design business and has developed a process which allows an agency to target and evolve it’s business to better meet client needs.

Mark McNamara - Echo design

Am I too old for this?

So here’s the thing: this week LinkedIn published my work anniversary and suggested my contacts congratulate me for being in business 31 years. And they did, random messages from colleagues arrived all week.

That led to me pondering my survival. Who knew when I left my last ‘real’ job I would still be going 31 years later? There are not a lot of studios that last 31 years. Perhaps there’s a natural timespan for a business? Perhaps there’s a timespan for a designer?

Then a strange thing happened…

I decided to attend a masterclass held by a visiting international designer. Filling in the online application was all going well until I came to an odd question nestled among the usual suspects.

The organisers wanted to know how old I was.

How odd.

Now, I don't actually mind saying how old I am – 54 – however it’s usually asked within some kind of context and for the life of me I couldn’t find the context here.

But nor could I ignore the question.

Without selecting a radio button beside one of the age groups I couldn’t progress to the next screen. To add insult to injury, my age group was second last. (From memory, the last category available was 57 - death.)

This got me thinking...  what information would they gain from knowing my age? Rather than guess, I emailed the organisers.

Now is a good time to say that this is not a critique of them or their methods. I have deliberately not used their name because it’s not about them; it's a general observation of assumptions we all make.

So, I asked them whether the masterclass is aimed at a specific age group. Or perhaps the presenter was going to adjust the class for different audiences? Or is there a selection criteria based on age?

The answer was none of the above.

The organisers thought that supplying an age range gave them a better understanding of who attends their events so they can cater to those people more specifically in the future. A further email offered the fact that sponsors like to know the age range of who will be seeing their brand.

I’m unsure how that works.

The question was about how old I was, not about my experience in the design industry. Nor was the question about which brands I prefer.

Whichever way you look at it, to use this information someone somewhere is going to make some huge assumptions based on my age.

I’m interested in what these are. I wonder if they think at 54 I’m so technologically challenged I’m still using Netspace and archiving onto CD’s? Or perhaps – on a more positive note – they think I’m so experienced I design like Milton Glaser. (None of which is true.)

For the record, I think I am designing better now than at any other stage in my career. After many years running a studio where my role was more creative direction I’ve finally got the chance to be hands on, and I love it.

In the past few years I’ve produced my best work by far, and I’m currently working with two new clients open to some unusual design solutions that I would not have had the confidence to sell early in my career.

I’m reminded of a story about the three stages of learning that I heard years ago.

The first stage is for those straight out of uni: confident incompetence. Straight out of college you are confident in your skills but are actually not very competent.

The second stage is for those 10 or so years into their career. Suddenly they know what they don't know and it seems immeasurable. The realisation that they are still not close to conquering their skill is demoralising. That’s unconfident competence. They are actually very competent ¬– they’ve just lost confidence. Many people change occupations at this stage of their career.

The third stage is where I’m at: confident competence. I know what I don’t know and that’s a lot, but that’s OK, I’m confident enough to ask someone who does know.

It also means that I’m confident enough to give my age when asked. And confident enough to go to a masterclass that I think may be aimed at a slightly younger designer.

So, am I too old for this? Is there a timespan for a designer?

I don’t think there is. But I’m happy to have the conversation…

Carol Mackay

Carol is co-founder of Mackay Branson, a design studio currently celebrating 30 years in business.

Her expertise is in the use of design to package complex content into bite-sized chunks of information that is easy to understand and digest. She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not for profit sectors. More at