Should you include your age in your design portfolio?

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From time to time, I like to visit the web sites and portfolios of designers who comment on the blog here, join the facebook page, or follow me on twitter. I am always interested in finding new talent, meeting new designers, and gaining new inspiration.

The other day, while perusing a few sites, I was taken aback by something I read in the “about me” section. The first paragraph started like this:

Hi, my name is ********. I’m a 16-year-old designer from the UK.

Now, I’m all for being personal and approachable – even transparent – but I was a little confused on why the designer felt the need to include his age when describing himself. So I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you today on the matter and then I’d love to hear your comments.

Walk a mile in my youthful shoes

So, before I started to judge this designer too much, I decided to try to put myself in his situation. I thought it could be useful to understand why he may have felt the need to place his age in such a prominent place. Perhaps he was proud of how successful he was at such a young age. Perhaps he thought it helped him appear honest and transparent.

Whatever the reason, he felt it was necessary.

So, to offer fair advice, I’d like to offer a few Pros and a few Cons for divulging your age to potential design clients.

In favor of age transparency

So why would someone want to share their age? Whether young or old, there are a few benefits.

If you’re 58, for example, perhaps you’d like to share with your potential clients that you have a lot of experience under your belt. You want to come off as wise, experienced and trustworthy. After all, who wouldn’t love to hire an aging gentleman reminiscent of Paul Rand for a designer?

Conversely, if you’re 16, perhaps you’re trying to explain to your potential clients that you are young, up-to-date on the latest styles and techniques, and have the ability to crunch a project through the night when necessary. There are a lot of clients who would also like to hire someone who can run on coffee and creativity alone.

Negative side affects to age-sharing

But, as in any situation, there are also negative side affects to sharing your age. Clients always judge you quickly. A first impression is everything. And, even if you are the right designer for the job, they may not be able to see past your age into your beautiful and impressive portfolio.

If you come across as too old, you might lose potential clients who are looking for someone young and “hip”. If you come across as too young, you might be misjudged as irresponsible or inexperienced.

Frankly, I would discourage sharing your age with potential clients.

A nice alternative

So what would I do? I would (and do) try out this fancy-pants alternative: I tell them how long I have been in business. Many of my promotional materials include phrases like “…has been designing since his childhood…” or “…has been making clients happy for nearly 5 years…”.

I find that this helps me be transparent without scaring away potential clients.

What about you?

Do you share your age with potential clients? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of sharing your age? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Should one put their age on portfolio….NO NEVER NEVER.

    A portfolio is where the work speaks for itself. And we all know that resume’s shouldn’t have either. If you happen to have your age on your social network page I guess that could be seen by a client or employer, but I’d always remove it.

  2. Totally agree. Giving your age seems unprofessional. Interestingly enough, the theme of my website is based on age. I correlate the concept of fresh food, specifically meat, with myself and my skills. In this way, I can use age to my advantage while not outright saying how old I am.

  3. At the age of 24 I believe I am probably approaching the sweet spot in terms of how old clients want their web designer to be. However, I am proud to admit that I have been totally nerding out on the web since I was 13 or 14. When I was around the 16-17 mark bringing in some clients for low end jobs was starting to become an option. Being “too young” to have any experience no doubt plagued me for a while.

    However, displaying your age on your website has benefits outside of those mentioned here. One must consider that at some point in the initial stages of planning or starting a project it will start to become evident about what age both parties involved are. It is much less annoying to never have a shot with a client who can’t see past your age than it is to have a client blow you off or treat you differently during a project after finding out how old you are.

  4. Great points Preston! I totally agree. People’s perception of age could go either way but I think the most common would be negative (too old to be up-to-date on the latest and greatest whatever or too young to be reliable, etc). I handle it the same way you do, by saying how many years experience I have.

  5. Hi Preston,
    This was a topic that I battled with when I first started my design blog back in 2007 (when I was 19)… I decided to include my age and because of it I found myself getting a lot of exposure, eg. getting onto “Top young entrepreneur” lists and so fourth. Since then I’ve continued to show my age, updating it each year and to this day haven’t found it a problem… in fact, I know for a fact that one client hired me because of my ‘young’ age.

    Age transparency can work wonders if done correctly.

    On a similar note, you need to be weary of those that claim “20 years of experience” – it’s not how many years of experience you have, but the quality of those years, that matters.

  6. Nice post, Preston! Now to answer your question: I don’t disclose my age for a couple of reasons: 1) it might hurt my chances at winning that proposal; 2) it’s really none of the client’s business.

    Benefits? None that I can see. Drawbacks? Other than those you listed: Would you gladly disclose your age to a potential job interviewer? Likely not, and it is discriminatory for a potential employer to do so in the United States. The other potential danger of disclosing your age, particularly in the case you cited above, is now everyone in cyberspace knows this person is a minor. If this person has indeed been very transparent, this becomes a perfect stalking opportunity.

    I like the approach of telling the client you have been in business for x years rather than your age. Much more professional. This tells the client how many successful years you have been working your craft and partnering with businesses in the marketing adventures. If the client needs more information, you can provide a list of references for them to contact. Better yet, send them to your testimonial page.

  7. ALAN SKATES says:

    I am a glass and ceramic artist here in New Zealand and on bios usually give my age as “somewhere between 40 and death”

    Cheers Alan

  8. Great post! This is a very timely article for me right now because I have been developing an about me/FAQ page. I had already decided that I was going to show my age (currently 20 years old, started business at age 19 in mid 2009) but I am even more so happy with my decision after reading this post and comments.

    I took a lot of time to think out the pros and cons dealing with my circumstances and have found that what you can do design-wise is what really matters to the customer. I am going to focus more on building a great portfolio that speaks well of me (like Smick’s comment mentioned). I agree with Jacob’s comment on the fact that age transparency can be great if done correctly.

    Even though I want to show my age, I do respect and totally understand the decision of others who opt not to show their age. In the end, I think it really depends on everyone’s circumstances and what works for them, because either way you decide there will be pros and cons, yet you can succeed if you handle your decision/situation correctly.

  9. Would you really expect a 16 year old to be fully versed in the timeless concepts of design in general, such as layout, visual hierarchy, golden proportions, typography, etc? No chance, I’d expect this kid to have little more than a cracked copy of Photoshop – absolutely no commercial experience, little to no professional acumen, no track record, no knowledge on how to handle clients, deadlines, legal matters, etc. All the sorts of things which an older designer (26 or 66, doesn’t matter) would already know a lot more about.

    Anybody can rattle off some tutorials, buy a powerful computer and call themselves a designer, yet utterly fail at the business side of things which just can’t be taught other than through experience. So in the case of that 16 year old, he’s a hobbyist, as mentioned in the 25 Nuggets of Entrepreneurial Wisdom article.

  10. I agree with Lisa Raymond approach. I started working successfully at a very young age but was always insecure of customers/employers thinking I might be to young and not experienced enough. Now I’m older and still don’t feel comfortable disclosing my age. However, I do disclose the number of professional years I’ve been working.

    As designers, we are very fortunate that our work speaks for itself no matter what age.

    Oh, and now that I have a good number of experience year, I confidently add that to my resume.

  11. I have been trying to find perminent employment as a designer for over a year having had a glittering career working for Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB (UK) and then managing my own design agency for 14 years – Creative Rapport.

    I do not mention my age on applications. I have had considerable success having had many interviews. Yet, none of those interviews have turned into employment…. !

    I have come to believe that my age is the problem. All of the people in all of my interviews have being young enough to have beign my children. At 51 I guess I don’t meet their target audience. Surely though, to be sucessful in design you need to be able to see ‘beyond the brief’ and want to lead the way a little.

    Have a changed the world a little in writing this comment. I hope so.

    T

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