How and Why Design Mentorships Matter

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FINE Art Director Verity Kent is featured in the Computer Arts January 2019 issue, ART287. This issue revolves around the relationships designers maintain: with their work, their clients, and one another. In this featured article, Verity speaks to the mentorships recent graduates can create and maintain in order to get a head start in the design industry by leveraging their networks.

Why Design Mentorships Matter
By Verity Kent

There’s an argument that it might be a little about who you know, but true success is also a lot about what those people taught you. Mentors are those people you can count on for professional advice. In design, they’re people you can count on for a critical eye, too. A good one, or a few, can be a source of knowledge, and a guide to career opportunities.

Whether you’re working in an agency, with a small team or self-employed, every designer is also a craftsperson who can benefit from an apprentice-like mentality. Mentors are the people you can rely on for fresh perspective, sound advice, honest feedback and an experienced critique post-school, where the continuous feedback loop was built in. In the professional world, the impetus is on the individual to seek and implement improvement. So surrounding yourself with people who are more experienced, and have a similar quest for greatness, will push you, too. If you’re looking for a job, mentors can help find leads, make the important introductions and polish a résumé.

It all sounds pretty in your favour, right? Well, it’s important to first know what kind of person you’re after. Opportunities come in all forms, along with the mentors providing them. So consider setting up a network of various people, and be clear about what you want to ask, and better yet, be respectful of the time they’re giving.

Once you know what you need, the hard part is actually finding people. Whatever stage you’re at, look for mentors everywhere. If you’re fresh out of school, start with your professors. It’s sort of part of their job description to guide. They also may be able to refer you to others. Similarly, alumni are a great resource. Research whether any are working locally, or at companies or in industries you hope to learn more about.

Once you have the contact, turn it into a relationship, beginning with communication that’s concise, specific and semi-occasional – in-person if geography and time allows. Consider the scale of each request, spacing out larger ones such as a portfolio review until significant changes warrant another look. Leave plenty of time for turnaround, and don’t demand certain deadlines be met.

A mentorship, at its most basic level, is a benevolent act. But mentors themselves benefit, too. As someone who’s been mentor and mentee, I know there are many: just feeling good and being appreciated, gaining the “back to basics” insight that comes with teaching, staying abreast of the next generation and helping to grow your own network.

With that in mind, as a mentee, find simple ways to reinforce what’s in it for your mentor. You should also follow them socially, read content they’re sharing, attend events where they’re speaking and update them on any big changes in your career. As relationships go both ways, support their career as they support yours. The time may then come that you can pay it forward, and be a mentor to others.

Design is a community, and we’re all always learning as we go. Contributing to that community – whether as a mentor or by sharing your work and thinking behind it – helps grow the industry and the people within it. And if you’re doing it with an open mind, enhancing your skills, too.

Article originally published in the January issue of Computer Arts magazine.

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