Milton Glaser demonstrated design is a sustainable career

Is design career sustainable?

How many designers, when faced with sharing our career choice with parents, were questioned whether design was actually a career? And a sustainable career at that. Sure, it may be something you could do for a few years, but does design have the longevity you need from a career? Does it deliver a good salary, savings and superannuation like other careers? Is a design career sustainable?

The passing of Milton Glaser this week could not go without mention. To live until 91 is indeed impressive. To live until 91 and still enjoy working and producing relevant design solutions is outstanding.

It’s outstanding because design is arguably a young person’s business. Greg and I have few colleagues over 50 still practising design. Many of our cohort have taken their design skills and morphed into another career (as arguably we have).

But even given these facts, what makes Mr Glaser so impressive is not his age, it is his relevance.

Take these two quotes from an interview he did last year when he turned 90:

On studio size:

I used to have 60 or 100 people working on projects, like big theme parks. Now, I have two or three people working with me, helping me every day and they’re wonderful to work with. You can accomplish a lot with smaller groups. Once you get past a certain size, everything becomes a bureaucracy with a hierarchy of importance and so on. That is the real impediment to doing good work.”

Said by a guy who understands the business of design. It’s no secret I’m a big supporter of small teams. In my experience larger studios don’t necessarily deliver better results. Having more designers didn’t ensure clients got the best person for the job. Infact often they got ‘next available’ — the next cab off the rank. Previously that was just my opinion, now it’s mine AND Milton Glaser’s opinion. I must be right. 🙂

On the topic of challenges:

Other people are obstacles. People that you don’t like are obstacles. Stupidity is an obstacle. Your own limitations and lack of understanding is an obstacle. The thing about the human brain is that it is programmed to overcome obstacles, in fact without obstacles there is no activity, so we need obstacles and problems. We are a problem-solving mechanism.”

I love this reminder we are commercial designers. We design for a fee. Our role is to solve design problems. It’s not easy because briefs and people can be complicated. But if we didn’t have the brief and we didn’t have the clients we’d be fine artists, not commercial designers.

In each generation there are only a few people that truly make an impact. Milton Glaser didn’t just impact my generation, he has arguably impacted three generations! I urge you to take a look through his catalogue of work. Honestly, it looks like he didn’t have one ‘bad day at the office’.

Among his many legacies Milton Glaser proved irrevocably that design is in fact, a sustainable career.

Vale Milton Glaser.

Carol Mackay

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After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of her design work at
Her current work can be viewed at and