Sally spent years leading design teams at west coast shops like Sandstrom Partners, Cole & Weber Advertising and Coleman Souter before co-founding her own branding and design firm, Sally Morrow Creative, in Portland, Oregon in 2013. Did she do it as a way to avert ageism? Perhaps. As a way to welcome new challenges while adding much-needed balance at home? Most definitely. Over the course of her career, Sally has created work for a roster of enviable clients, just some of which include Nike, ESPN, Converse, Adidas, The Portland International Film Festival, Portland State University, Evolution Wine, and New Hokkaido beer. This last one went on to earn the title: “The World’s Best Craft Beer Label Designs”. Nice, right? A whole host of other incredibly impressive accolades have showered Sally's work as well. Way too many to fit in this space. But if you’re looking for some visual inspiration, we highly recommend heading to her site. Right after you see what she has to say here about getting older on the design side of things.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
In my 30’s, I didn’t give it a lot of thought, but did have some murky idea that there was a perception in design and especially advertising of “aging out” at some point. I looked up to a teacher at Art Center named Mary Scott who was working and teaching and heavily inspired me–she was doing great things and probably 25 years my senior. I feel like a constant thread running through creativity was problem solving, and if it kept exciting you, then why stop? I did wonder if being a female designer and creative director would someday be a struggle, but I figured it was a matter of tenacity–two of my design idols Ray Eames and Eiko Ishioka did beautiful thought-provoking and contemporary work their entire lives.
Throughout my 40’s I loved my creative life, but had to deal with the constant struggle between family time and long hours at work. I was told at some point that I ‘shouldn’t worry about being away from my kids; I could always pay for counseling later’. That shocking statement strengthened my resolve to put in 8 hours at the office, and bring my laptop home to work after the kids were asleep. You don’t get those years back!
"I was told at some point that I ‘shouldn’t worry about being away from my kids; I could always pay for counseling later’."
Is ageism something that’s affected you? What are some of the challenges you faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell.
Early on, being a hard worker with a low salary meant job security…later on (and it took me way too long to realize this) that age and salary just might be seen as liabilities. Ultimately, I ended up and finding the right business partner and falling in love with the flexibility and autonomy of running our own design firm.
When I had a young family, probably my biggest challenge was work/life balance. Funny, I find that we all do get older, and we often have families & partners we need to spend time with! Um, right? That’s important to prioritize.
Tell us about your own creative journey. What are your thoughts on where you are now, compared to your mindset when you were in the beginning of your career?
Early in my career I was obsessed with idea generation…and the firms I worked for loved having me endlessly come up with design variations. That was exciting, but often based on aesthetics over thinking. I then was hired to start a small design entity within an ad agency–and lo, and behold, strategy was required for ideas. That transformed my approach. I now find that I don’t have to create endless iterations, but love digging into communication problems and solving them. I’ve got to give lots of credit to my many creative copywriting partners over the years.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
I think design firms can sometimes skirt ageism a little more successfully than ad agencies–but yes, I definitely craved self-reliance after a while so that I didn’t have the added stress of politics and ageism.
"It's sort of funny to me that age isn’t valued like it should be; I’ve always looked up to designers and art directors I consider to be great and don’t expect them to suddenly start coming up with bad ideas!"
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
It's sort of funny to me that age isn’t valued like it should be; I’ve always looked up to designers and art directors I consider to be great and don’t expect them to suddenly start coming up with bad ideas! People with deep experience have so much to share about navigating the creative process. A person over 50 can provide the encouragement to chase good ideas, and show the resilience to overcome a clients (sometimes) subjective idea-rejection. It's important to pick up and keep going, keeping anxiety and doubt from creeping into your creativity. I know that people who have had to find the strength to do that over the years can be an incredible resource.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Stay focused on problem-solving, innovation and relevance to the consumer. If your path starts to change, change with it. Big picture, finding a place to do great work is what will make you happy; keep an eye open for that.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
The next 10 years I’m looking forward to more of the same. I’d love to continue bringing new or existing brands to life based on interesting ideas; brands that want to also do some good in the world. I think most people are craving that these days–doing real good for others; not some fake version of it. I want to be inspired by products I come in contact with, too, so the process of creating something new is an exciting, and constant, challenge.
"Instead of a union, I’d say a coalition of agencies to support a movement that rejects ageism (along with sexism and racism) in our industry would be amazing. Create incentives to the agencies that reject these stereotypes."
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Instead of a union, I’d say a coalition of agencies to support a movement that rejects ageism (along with sexism and racism) in our industry would be amazing. Create incentives to the agencies that reject these stereotypes. To have a truly diverse workforce, we need to look at how we fall into the trap of hiring based on looks and focus on ideas. How much broader is your thinking when you have experience to draw from? Being intentional to hire, and then intentional to promote the intellectual diversity of your agency would be powerful to clients.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
The positive thing about growing older in the business is that you have a much broader perspective about the process in general and how the work can make a difference to a client’s bottom line. It’s a lot more fun now to jump into projects than in my early days, I’ve got so much to draw from–and self admittedly, I’m more disciplined.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
People that I’m inspired by are usually the ground-breakers or the ones that do great work and keep their sense of humor. I’ve been really inspired by people like Rebecca Armstrong who runs North advertising here in Portland. She’s got wit, intellect, is a bad-ass leader and a great mentor to others–all attributes I admire!