Especially when you’re starting out as a Designer.
I was at a job where I did not have a design mentor and now in my current company, I have one. From my perspective, working with a mentor is making a big difference and having a huge positive impact on my career and skills.
1. Opens Doors
If you come across an opportunity you’re interested in and wanted some assistance being referred or getting through, a design mentor can definitely help you. Because of their experience or influence, they might help you get in touch with the right people or team.
Getting through the door is not the hardest part, what you do after, is the part that needs thorough thought. What you want to achieve, how you do justice to your mentor — someone who gave a shout out for you, how you make things work for you is what counts.
2. Empowers you
When you try something on your own, you make mistakes and learn, which is good. But, when you have a mentor, who has years of experience and knows what works and what doesn’t, there are some things that he can help you with instantly. This helps you to work more efficiently and you can dedicate your time to learning more. And, a good mentor won’t spoon-feed you everything, but give you sufficient information for you to figure out the solution.
An important thing to keep in mind is not to take this for granted. Because, even though you feel like you always have someone to fall back on, it only holds true as long as you can hold yourself up at all times. Also, your mentor is only going to be as good as you’re as a mentee and empower him/her as well.
3. Enables you to focus on your goals
When I started out as a designer 3 years back, I set a lot of goals for myself and tried working on everything at once — which led to nothing working out successfully. After I started working with my current boss, who is also my mentor, he told me to set fewer goals, work on fewer things, but really master them. He also assigns me tasks that will help me get good at the goals and skills I want to improve on. This is very beneficial in the long run because you can get really good at a particular skill that will differentiate you from everyone else.
The only person who can define your goals is you. Your mentor can certainly guide you through it and help you get clarification on it, but it is you who must define it in order to let your mentor help you with it. You can also get assistance from your mentor to help you define it.
4. Helps you in challenges
There are so many challenges that you could be facing professionally — projects, teammates, developing your toolset, soft skills.,etc. There are chances that your mentor might have faced the same sometime or he/she could have some good ideas and could give you guidance on how to handle these situations. This is particularly very helpful because you don’t want to feel like you’re alone, and you have someone experienced to talk to when needed. This also motivates you to take risks and try different methods and ideas.
Although, only go to your mentor when you’re completely blocked and don’t have sight of the solution. Developing a habit of heading to your mentor right away when you face a problem will put you in a comfort zone and you will never be able to conquer your fears and problems.
5. Professional Networking
In the design field, it is very important to maintain a good network because as a new growing field, a lot of people rely on referrals and word-of-mouth while hiring designers or considering for projects. So, it is always a good idea to maintain a good professional network. Your mentor can help you improve your network through his/her connections or if you need to get in touch with someone with a specific skillset.
A mentor can help you extend your hand to someone but, it is up-to you to take it forward and maintain the connection, which is the hard part. And, it is also important to constantly stay in contact with your mentor, because even if he/she is no longer working with you, they might continue to help you. But, keep in mind the difference between networking and being creepy.
6. Design shortcuts and tools
There are so many tools out there to help you with your designs. But, which tool do you choose, which skillset do you improve, how efficient can a tool make you, what tools do engineers or project managers prefer, what shortcuts in a tool can get you to flush out a prototype or wireframe quicker. There are so many things to learn when it comes to perfecting a certain tool or skill which your mentor can help you with. This will give you confidence and also help you to become a more efficient designer.
Although your mentor might help you with certain tools and design shortcuts, it is good practice to use a tool that benefits you and your work the most.
7. How to tell Good vs Bad design
As a young designer, even if you’re looking up dribbble all the time, reading all the design use cases, stories and principles, it is still hard to differentiate between a good and bad design. It sometimes need years of experience to get it right and be able to clearly tell which design would work better. Of course, there is always the choice to do user testing to confirm a good vs bad design. But, in some cases, you don’t have the liberty to conduct a user test, the time to do extra research and even if you do, there are certain development and business constraints that need to be met. In such cases, experience can help tell the difference between a good and a bad design.
But, users are changing, design standards are changing, businesses are changing and so it is always a good idea to not completely depend only on your mentor’s advice but take into account testing and other stakeholders’ advise.
8. Provides resources
Every designer gets their everyday information and news from sites such as Muzli, medium, designernews, dribbble., etc. But, my mentor taught me to always dig deeper. There are many articles, design standards and principles that are old, but are classic and still hold true. I have worked as the only designer in a team and now I work with a team of designers. I am so much more knowledgable now because we are always helping each other, sharing resources and getting to know new stuff everyday. Also, a mentor would always have some useful piece of information that could help you.
But, constantly berating your mentor with questions and resources could be bad because you need to do enough research by yourself as well. Also, always save the resources your mentor passes on to you because you don’t want to keep asking him/her for something they already gave.
9. Discover new opportunities
Other than improving your design skills, there are so many other opportunities such as attending conferences, talks, events or joining a design board, a new team, helping set design standards and more. There is so much you can do outside of work that can help you grow professionally. And, your mentor might be someone a lot of people contact or keep close ties with and so when he/she comes across an opportunity that may benefit you, they would let you in on it or you could always check with them when you want to get involved.
One thing to keep in mind is to not blindly follow any new opportunity that your mentor passes by you, do your own research and see if it actually benefits you. Also, consider it’s effect on your personal life and time as well.
10. Constructive feedback
Anyone can give you feedback! I have been in situations where I am the only designer and since I am a young designer, so many non-designers give me design feedback. And, it is not essentially good and sometimes I have no way of confirming because they either have more experience professionally or I don’t have much experience to able to correct them and be confident of my designs. But, working with a design mentor has really helped me in this area because their feedback will help you improve your designs, tests, research, working with engineers., etc. My mentor gives me enough feedback to guide me and make me think in the right direction. He is always giving suggestions and ideas to do things a certain way that will help me gain a good reputation and also boost me in design and work aspect.
Some people are very sensitive to feedback and it is very hard for them to accept any sort of feedback, even if it might benefit them. But, when it is coming from someone who is very experienced and whom you consider a mentor, it is a good thing to be able to accept feedback.
11. Praises you
It is indeed an amazing feeling when someone praises you for your professional skills and it is even better when that someone happens to be really good at those skills. Also, because of their credibility, you know that any praise coming from them means you’re getting better at the skill and you have actually done a good job. The praise will also boost you to work harder and garner some respect and attention from your fellow employees and teammates. They will also gain trust to seek help and advise from you in that specific area. This is also incredibly useful to grow in that field and gain some followers for your work.
It is also important not to dwell in the praise for too long and continue working on it and get even better. Another point to note is to not fish for compliments all the time from your mentor, because ultimately your designs should be user-centric and not designer-centric.
12. Understands you and defends you
Defending my work has been the hardest thing to learn and do the past 2 years. When I was on my own and designed something based on principles, facts and tests, I still had a tough time defending my work and staying grounded. Because, learning to defend is a skill in itself and the people who were professionally experienced always had ways to defend their statement. So, it’s been a good ongoing learning experience with my current mentor on how to defend my work. He also helps me in meetings by defending my work to engineers and projects managers when I am stuck or don’t have a suitable answer. This in turn is also helping me learn to do that and be assertive when I am on my own.
But, it is also good to not get too defensive because sometimes the designs or work might actually need some improvement and by being too defensive, you wouldn’t get better at it or would turn a deaf ear to other person’s ideas or points.