Youth and design

After being in the industry for a few years, I can’t help but notice that the design studio scene in London seems young. Most designers I’ve meet have been between 25-35, and it’s amazing to see the impact they can have on some of the worlds biggest brands. It has made me wonder if it is the youth of the practitioners that makes the industry so vibrant, exciting and innovative? Is youth + creativity really the magic formula for innovative, ground-breaking work?

Being young allows a person to be more impulsive, more accepting of ‘risky‘ and innovative ideas. Getting older but retaining a youthful mindset means being able to make these ideas reality. Juan Cabral must have been in his early thirties when he made the gorilla Cadbury advert. I would have loved to hear how they sold in that concept –it’s a crazy idea executed well.

Innovative ideas does not have to be ‘crazy’ though, they can also appear perfectly natural and impact on people’s every-day life. Like the work made for First direct which changed the convention for telephone banking. It shows an innovative idea supported by strong strategy and messaging. Interestingly, First Direct was defined by Wolff Olins – a design agency that is big, established and which (I have been told) has a higher proportion of ‘older‘ designers.

So why is it then, that the average age of a designer in a London design studio seems so low? Am I being ignorant?

When I asked a designer who began work in the 1950s he said “perhaps young people cost less to hire. But the art schools have produced new designers in thousands, so they are on the market, far outnumbering their seniors. And they are flexible, learn new programs easily and are quick. At the same time, they could be seen to be more pliable, to do the bidding of their clients or those more senior”.

A fellow designer, in turn, who is in his late 20s, pointed out that perhaps the studio culture is too ‘intense’ to keep up with in the long run. He also referred to how a large proportion of designers move on to set up their own companies or go freelance, while they are still relatively young.

A copywriter in his 50s also pointed out that the distribution between ages is resource driven: “a company needs more designers doing the everyday work. A company will want to pay a well-established designer to take a bigger creative overview”.

So let’s go back to the original question: does youth + creativity really make the magic formula for innovative, ground-breaking work?

I would say yes and no – its not about how old you are, its about how long your mind stays young and open. Maurice Sendak pointed out that the magic with childhood is “the uniqueness that makes us see things that other people don’t see”. Bruno Munari and Alan Fletcher kept hold of this magic (in my opinion), always blurring the border between work and play. Wes Anderson and David Hockney are two other examples, showing us how confidently one can play and experiment with technical skill and experience.

Getting older as a designer does not mean getting bland, it means having the power to really make a difference.


  • Youth certainly represents energy, vitality and invigoration. They often bring a new lease of life but there is always the need for balance; with age comes experience, knowledge and understanding. Find that balance and any studio can thrive.
    It’s often when there are too many (old or young) ‘lions’ in the pride that things can start to get complicated because all too often ego takes over.

  • Simon

    First Direct typography was by Wolff Olins. But it was the advertising that defined the brand. The operatic man in a white suit. The commentary over a still of two buckets. This was radical stuff.

    It was a youthful spirit that went into the work and came out of the brand. But the people who ran the account were proven pro’s. All nearing 40.

    The advertising agency was HHCL. A very young agency In spirit who defined the decade (winning agency of the decade no less for the Tango slap ads, their ‘slag of all snacks’ pot noodle ads — they knew what made ‘youth’ tick)

    While all brands need authenticity. It is the verve and joy youthful thinking brings that they universally crave. Not the age of the creator.

    However it is the older generation that is trusted to deliver it on a global or significant scale. An arty postcard design carries little risk. The rebrand of national institution on the other hand… That needs more careful stewardship — and deeper trust than is generally afforded to the under 25’s.