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Getting Better with Age

Armin’s birthday and my visit to the Hollywood Bowl last night made me ponder: does age make graphic designers better? After all, the older we turn, the wiser we should get. Right?

It all started last night, when I went to the Hollywood Bowl and saw The Dave Brubeck Quartet. I looked at it as a lesson in music history. Mr. Brubeck is in his eighties, and if history proves right, he won’t be around forever. So, I figured, I might as well see him now… The event was billed as “Piano Masters” and the Bowl was filled. Brubeck was the main attraction. At the end of the night, a few of us commented to each other that while Brubeck was the main draw — the legend — of the evening, we liked the other two acts, Ramsey Lewis and McCoy Tyner, better. Both accomplished acts of course. However, Brubeck, in his eighties got most of the attention.

I think jazz and graphic design have much in common. For starters, there seem to be grid systems, common understanding among the players which leaves room for improvisation in between. What Brubeck is to jazz pianists, Saul Bass might have been to graphic designers. And as an added bonus I’d say that on both fields there are practitioners and critics playing along.

If Brubeck would play crap today, some would probably still applaud. If Bass designed something bad towards the end of his career, many in our field would still comment on how well designed it was. Because history and age has given them the credibility to do anything they want(ed). And let’s face it, both fields are hard to grasp. What makes great jazz? What makes great design? Sure, there are theories, but does the audience care about them?

Let’s look at someone on the other end of the age spectrum: our very own Armin Vit. He puts on Speak Up, (and by the way: let’s not forget, he is doing it with Bryony, who never gets as much credit), Speak Up looks at the graphic design landscape with, if not always a critical, certainly with a commenting, eye and reports back to the community and opens it up for discussion. Because Armin is a young guy, he and his forum might get discredited by some folks who feel he just does not have the experience that he should have to critique. And that “rule of age” of course applies to many participants in the forum that contribute with their comments in here. At some point the “they’re just a bunch of kids” was flying around, a comment which now, with Speak Up having gained recognition, can be looked at as amusing, but needless to say is based on the opinion of “too young, inexperienced, no understanding yet.” Armin a few weeks ago commented himself, that he was quite happy to get more “age” on his résumé, as it will help him to be recognized as a valid design critic and not just a young kid.

In the end, are we just like a good bottle of wine, getting better with age?

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.05.2004 BY Peter Scherrer
Armin’s comment is:

Well, as I am (part of) the subject of Peter's post I think the quick answer is yes. There is no doubt about it, as I get older — and I seriously consider being 27 as being old — I feel like I get better, in general. Because of some of the things I have done over the past couple of years I sometimes feel ashamed to divulge my age, like at the IIR conference in NY where I spoke back in June, I was praying that nobody would ask how old I was… because I think it is then easier to discredit anything I might have to say. And it's other small things where I kind of like to avoid the age question. Getting to 27 gives me a little more confidence. I know this might sound kind of silly, but that's how it feels.

(For those who missed it or didn't know about it, I wrote an article for VOICE along the lines of this subject).

I'm really looking forward to hitting thirty! I will freak out surely but what the hell…

On Aug.05.2004 at 05:11 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


Great Concert.

For the last twenty years, I've always lived somewhere between these two philosophies.

1. "The Good Ones Copy and the Great Ones Steal".

2. "To be Good is not Good Enough. When you Dream of being Great".

The first being a old saying. The second a tagline from The School of Visual Arts circa 1980s. Written by Silas Rhoades.

Your question is a Double-Entendre.

I remember having a conversation with a Musician. Discussing Oscar Peterson and McCoy Tyner.

He emphatically told me McCoy bow down to Oscar Peterson.

Oscar Peterson in an interview stated he could not play like Monk. Wish he could.

I suspect our Heroes and Sheroes look up to someone they aspire too.

For me the Greatest Living Entertainer is Mick Jagger hands down.

I argue with my Friends whom believe Michael Jackson is the Greatest Entertainer.

I always ask them, will Michael Jackson continue to Entertain at 60 years of age and continue to be relevant ???

Mick is already sixty and continues to Kick Ass. With no signs of slowing down. Relevant is an understatement !!!

I've seen every Rock Group to come down the pike. Including Punk and New Wave.

Zeppelin my favorites. Good on wax. Sound like their records. Never quite seemed to enjoy themselves on stage like the Rolling Stones.

Other than the Stones and Zeppelin. Another group that impressed me the most was a European Group named Ultravox. Second to none.

I hope Ramsey Lewis and McCoy Tyner will be performing if they live to be eighty.

Dave Brubaker is already pulling feats of Eubie Blake. Who was playing the piano at 100.

One thing I know for certain. They'll never be another Designer to Replicate the Magnitude of Saul Bass' Career in totality. If the lived 26 LIFETIMES.

On Aug.05.2004 at 06:54 PM
jenny’s comment is:

I've seen Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, and McCoy Tyner, and enjoyed them all (McCoy Tyner especially), although all seperately and in smaller venues than the Hollywood Bowl. Brubeck struck me as very frail when we saw him two years ago but still playing with energy - although he'd put everything into the concert, and was clearly exhausted by the end of it - you could hear that. The smaller venue may have helped him though.

Age certainly lends respectibility: it's Sir Mick now!

In the end, I'm not sure you can always tie age to greatness. Some wines don't improve with age and even the best wine can get corked. So you have Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote his best poems before the age of 30, and mostly trash from 30 on. But then there's Matisse, who didn't even start painting until his late 20s, only really got going well into his 30s and 40s and did amazing things right up to the end of his life.

I don't know: maybe its all about passion, commitment, and energy. And like Maven said, dreaming big. And working hard.

On Aug.05.2004 at 07:44 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


Speaking of Getting Better with Age.

I'd like to take this time to Remember

Henri Cartier-Bresson.

August 22, 1908 - August 3, 2004

On Aug.05.2004 at 09:03 PM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

As someone with a birthday coming next week, and with tickets to The Who at the Hollywood Bowl on Monday night, I've definitely come around to the fine wine argument.

On Aug.06.2004 at 08:46 AM
Greg’s comment is:

When I first started coming here to Speak Up on a regular basis in January, I allowed people to believe I was a lot older than I am. Partly as an experiment (at least in justification), but also partly because I thought if anyone knew I was 24 then suddenly my opinions and thoughts would have less validity. I'm still not sure what the results of my experiment are; rarely does anyone debate me, but my comments are acnowledged in one form or another from time to time (usually just when I'm sure that no one's listening). Most everyone's posts are regarded though, unless they're of the "me, too!" variety.

Do we get better with age? I don't know. I imagine if you choose to, you do. If you choose to stagnate, you do. But what do I know, right? I'm just a kid.

On Aug.06.2004 at 10:55 AM
Todd L.’s comment is:

It's sometimes a Catch-22 though: you're either young and lacking in experience, or old and assumed to be "out of touch". The latter becomes increasingly true in a world obsessed with youth, and the marketing to youth. As the youth demographics (18-35, teens, tweens, children and even toddlers now) becomes (rightly or wrongly) the holy grail for advertisers, the age of the designer becomes (rightly or wrongly) an issue, because there is often an assumption that just as wisdom comes with age, hipness comes with the lack thereof. I sometimes find myself enjoying the experience of age while simultaneously dreading every year that puts a wider gap between me and 18.

Will Design in the future allow for the grand old masters? Will any of the creative fields, other than Architecture perhaps? Or are we too youth-obsessed as a culture to appreciate the wisdom that comes with age?

On Aug.06.2004 at 11:47 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

I believe age is a double-edge sword that will move and morph based on who is carrying it. With age comes wisdom, knowledge and understanding, growth and the ability to form individual opinions, ego, sense-of-self, stupidity, charisma, nepotism, power, carelessness, brilliance, giving-back, humility, character, stamina, worship (to or from), and many many other things.

With age comes the option to choose what kind of person you want to be from this day forward.

With age comes the ability to define and decide who you shall be.

With age comes the understanding of how you are going to accomplish this.

On Aug.06.2004 at 01:02 PM
Steven’s comment is:

DesignMaven -

Yo, man! I love Ultravox!!! Rage in Eden not only blew me away for its awesome Peter Saville cover, but THE MUSIC! And their other stuff was great too, both in the Foxx era and Ure eras. In the past, I had zealfully searched used record stores for all of their many quirky EP singles and have collected many, if not all. Really ground-breaking stuff there. Some of Midge's latter independent work doesn't really hold up to earlier times. In this case, age has not been so kind.

And with regards to McCoy Tyner, he's just an amazing pianist!!! I mean, what can ya say about someone who has played with the likes of Miles and Coltraine. Nuff said.

. . . old and assumed to be "out of touch". The latter becomes increasingly true in a world obsessed with youth, and the marketing to youth. As the youth demographics (18-35, teens, tweens, children and even toddlers now) becomes (rightly or wrongly) the holy grail for advertisers, the age of the designer becomes (rightly or wrongly) an issue, because there is often an assumption that just as wisdom comes with age, hipness comes with the lack thereof. I sometimes find myself enjoying the experience of age while simultaneously dreading every year that puts a wider gap between me and 18.

Todd L, I really empathize with this sentiment. As someone who's in the over-40 crowd, it's become more and more apparent to me that a subtle form of age discrimination does come into play in our field. While it's true that some in the over-40 age bracket have become "stuck" or closed to new things, there are still a lot of us 40+ types that have very fresh, eager, flexible, and open minds.

I frequently wonder whether it's in my best interest, when applying to jobs (freelance or otherwise), that I have 20+ years of experience. And I have had friends and fellow-designers suggest that I just lie or not mention the first 10 years of professional work. But dammit-all, I AM WHAT I AM! I shouldn't have to mislead people in order succeed. A solid professional designer/designer relationship should be build with trust and honesty, just as we expect it to be with our clients. Maybe this altruism is hurting me, but denying my own reality can't help in the longrun.

Only wines with good ingredients, stored properly, age well. Accordingly, I do think that designers can become better with age, as long as they have enough inherent talent and skill, and they stay reasonably tuned into the current zeitgeist. In fact, I think that at the tender age of 44 (45 on 8-30), I'm a much better designer now than when I was 24 (25). Back then, I was tremendously concerned with finding my "creative voice" and proving myself. But now, I'm much more focused on "problem solving," with an understanding that creativity can be manifested in many ways and forms. There's more background and perspective to my design process. I don't put myself in front of the design process. Instead, the process flows through me . . . If that makes any sense. I guess you could say that it's a matter of cultivating and utilizing the wisdom of past experiences, while still finding insight and opportunity in the new experiences of each unfolding day.

I feel compelled from this thread, to post a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago ('86), at the time not knowing its full importance to me. Going forward in my life, it has become my mantra:

I feel like I am,

Running down long paths,

Dark hallways and corridors,

In search of

Not peace of mind,

But peace of heart.

Most glorious vision,

Most attainable dream,

Dream of dreams,

A quest with Infinity,

As an end.

Eternal unfold,

Time-loop bud to flower,

Safety in evolution,

Harmony in motion.

Let me fire,


Burn most beautiful light,

I will see,

Invisible/visible vision.

I scream my heart song,

Running down long paths,

Dark hallways and corridors,

I feel like I am.

On Aug.09.2004 at 05:11 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

Respect is determined by many factors other than age…�I picked up a copy of Emigre no.64 today, from winter 2003, called RANT. Its great, its about inciting action among my generation of designers (I'm a young pup at 23.) If people want to discredit younger designers from voicing their opinions, that is just plain dumb. We, as young people, need to start being WAY more critical as a whole, and put our thoughts down on paper. I know I am going to. Are you?

A passion for your work, a critical eye, and the ability to articulate your thoughts has little to do with age or how many years you have worked at a monolithic agency, to me. No doubt that experience lends confidence and credibility. And as young designers we should look up to our 'elders' for wisdom and direction.

I have just started reading this site, and find the discussions very intriguing…�its great!

On Aug.21.2004 at 09:30 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Keith, if you enjoyed Rant, you might want to read this…

On Aug.22.2004 at 10:29 AM