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How can mentoring help you grow your design business and career? The reasons why you need a design mentor.

8 February 2022
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As the design industry undergoes accelerated disruptions and shifts, designers are looking for leaders to steer them through challenges and uncertainty towards new opportunities. Establishing a mentoring relationship with another designer is one way to navigate the changes more smoothly and to promote career success and business growth.


What is mentorship?


Mentors are friendly long-term career advisors with experience in the mentee’s industry or company. Mentors are senior, more experienced and trusted confidants who often help more junior professionals with their career direction, but can also help more senior professionals in their professional journey. 


You can have a mentor at any stage of life – whenever you have a significant change or transition to make or something you want to achieve –  and would value conversations with someone who has experience they can use to help you think through how you will make that transition or achieve that goal. 


To bust a myth – a mentor’s role is not to tell the mentee what to do. The word “mentee” means, literally, “one who is helped to think”. The approach emphasises questioning, listening and feedback, rather than instruction. It also involves mentors sharing insights into how they got to their position and opening up their own networks. Mentors help their mentees or protégés clarify what they want, make better decisions, identify routes that are aligned with their values, act as a sounding board, challenge assumptions, give tough feedback and help their mentees develop a network – so that the mentee can make their own choices.


Mentorship is important, not just through the transfer of knowledge and skills, but through fostering a culture of personal and professional growth for both mentors and mentees. 


Surveys show the most significant difference between high performing leadership and less effective teams is the attention and time devoted to coaching and mentoring.  Yet only one in five people in the workplace, who would like to have a mentor or be a mentor, are able to do so. 


Embedding mentoring into your design practice can accelerate your design business growth, and there are several reasons why you would benefit from becoming a design mentor or having a design mentor in your life.


Why do you need a design mentor?


You might be a master of your craft but a design mentor can help you reach your fullest potential. There’s much to gain from a mentoring relationship with a more experienced designer: expanding your network and opportunities, getting feedback on your work, life-long career advice, and honing and learning the skills that will get you to the top. A design mentor can contribute to your professional growth and drive success in your career in many ways. Whether your goal is career advancement, career change, entrepreneurship or you are job seeking –  if you need to soar, deliver great results, find fulfilment and reach the zenith of your potential at work, you need to get a good design mentor.


  • Empower you to take your design thinking and career to the next level

For recent design graduates and early career designers, mentorship is a way to have the first foot in the professional world and bridge the gap between education and industry. For more senior designers, it’s an opportunity to take time to focus on your business or your career development, rather than on pleasing clients. 

Mentors can be a valuable resource to help you understand and refocus on what it takes to get to the top or next level with your work or design career – whether it is by helping you realise that you might have a mindset issue preventing it, enabling your leadership and business thinking or helping you identify new routes and opportunities you can take.

  • Reach your goals faster, increase productivity and profitability

Mentors can help rising industry leaders and business owners define their goals and grow their businesses.

You can and do learn from making your own mistakes of course, but it’s easy to get discouraged quickly when you don’t have someone to discuss them with and identify what you could do differently. 

A design mentor will take you under their wing, provide business insights from their years of experience, help you stay motivated and discover the path that you may need to take. Your design mentor will help you see other perspectives, help you clarify and focus on your goals – which might mean helping you define fewer of them – but the ones that will make you stand out from other designers. With a proven track record a mentor can route you in the right direction and help you get where you want faster. 

  • Constructive feedback on your work to improve your design skills and portfolio 

For those starting out in their career, a mentor can help with improving your design portfolio or helping you identify what design skills you might need to build further. A design mentor can provide you with constructive critique and feedback on a variety of areas (designs, tests, research, working with departments, etc.).

  • Challenge yourself creatively and bounce off ideas

Stuck in a creative rut? A design mentor can challenge you to help you improve your creative skills, boost you in specific design and work aspects or think outside the box. Those who work freelance or as the only in-house designer might also enjoy bouncing ideas off a veteran designer and agency owner. 

  • Create a process that helps you make better-informed decisions about your business, your team and yourself.

A design mentor could also help you create or streamline your processes to suit better your workflow, so your design work becomes much more efficient and clients and colleagues find it easier to work with you. 

  • Improve specific skills/areas of expertise

Mentors can impart specific knowledge and expertise which contributes to the mentee’s  learning and professional development, where appropriate The benefit of mentorship is that mentees can steer the learning in the direction they want to go in.

  • Discover resources, design tools, shortcuts, business insights and career tips

Whether you are starting from scratch as a freelance designer, agency owner or in-house designer; a design mentor can help you understand what’s involved in the process, from starting your own business, helping you get more clients, to working with your teammates. A design mentor can also help you discover a wealth of knowledge, resources, design shortcuts and tools you might have not found on your own or that take years to acquire.

  • Open doors, expand your professional network and make new connections 

A lot of people rely on referrals and word-of-mouth to hire designers or consider them for projects. Mentors can facilitate professional networking by introducing their design mentees to their connections, influential design individuals within organisational contexts or simply the right people, team, or subject matter experts; when an opportunity arises. These crucial career contacts or support organisations can lead to career success in terms of funding, training, salary, future collaborations, promotions, and job offers.

  • Gain the confidence to sell and defend your work

Having someone supporting your progress, will make you more passionate about your success and brand, grow in confidence and into a better advocate of your work. Presenting or defending it in front of the rest of the team, clients, manager and directors and non-design members of the team (engineers, project managers, etc.) will be easier. Your design mentor can also share insights on how to interpret what a client needs and how to present it with confidence to them, so you get less pushback on your work.

  • Provide life-long career advice and friendship to help you navigate through challenges

There are so many challenges and worries that you could be facing professionally in the design sector — projects, teammates, clients relationships, working remote, developing your toolset, soft skills., etc. But chances are your mentor will have faced the same issue at an earlier stage of his/her career or is more likely to find a proactive solution. When you’re unsure how to deal with a business or client-related issue, a design mentor can help you work through it. Whether it’s coming up with what to say, how to handle the situation, offering guidance, a solution, or even crafting a better process to prevent these problems in the future; design mentors can be there for you at every challenging step of your career.

Think you rather be a mentor than a mentee, find out how becoming a design mentor can boost your career and business productivity.

How do you get the most out of the mentor/mentee relationship?

This Thursday, February 10th, Design Skillnet is delighted to host workshops for Mentors and Mentees, designed to impart and enhance the skills needed by both parties to gain the most from the mentoring process. These workshops will be facilitated by internationally renowned Prof. David Clutterbuck, one of the pioneers of developmental mentoring, co-founder of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and chair of the International Standards for Mentoring Programmes in Employment.

Sign up for our Masterclasses for Mentors and Mentees or email to see how we can support you in your design career.


Find out how Design Skillnet can help you become more creative, human-centred, and impactful within your organisation.