How to find your design mentor

4 min read
Nathalie Crosbie
  •  Apr 30, 2015
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Getting high-quality mentoring represents a vital step in a designer’s growth process. But how do you get your mentor search started? I’ve found that the best way to find your design guru is to source and vet candidates through sources you trust.

Before you start reaching out, you’ll want to get clear on 3 things:

  1. What are you looking for mentoring on?
  2. What goals can a mentor help you achieve?
  3. How much time are you willing to commit?

If you aren’t clear on those, you’ll be wasting your sources’ time—and your own.

4 great sources for your design mentor

Once you’re clear on why you want a mentor and how much time you’re willing to commit to learning, you’re ready to reach out. Here’s 4 great places to start:

Your local UX/IxD/design association
These sorts of organizations can serve as a sort of local directory of UX and design professionals. They know who’s who, who’s willing to mentor, and a host of events that might help you in your mentor search.

Your local Interaction Design Association (IxDA) chapter might even hold “speed mentoring” events. They’re exactly what you’d expect: mentors and mentees meet several potential matches for a few minutes and attempt to gauge their fit. If your chapter isn’t already organizing such events, ask them if they’d consider starting.

Colleges, universities, and educational programs near you
Research local schools with programs in the area you’d like to grown in, then ask if they can suggest any of their professors, alums, or current students as mentors.

UX Mastery hosts a pretty comprehensive list of academic programs in UX and related areas. UserTesting lists several not-so-academic programs too.

Your professional network
You may already know your future mentor—or someone who does, at least. Hop onto LinkedIn and comb through your connectionsTwitter Logo, and their connections, then reach out to prospective mentors or ask for an introduction. Your connections’ endorsements can be a great way to vet candidates at a glance. You might check your People You May Know page too.

Your workplace
If you’re not the only designer at your job, ask teammates you respect if they’d be willing to mentor you, or if they have any recommendations.

Consider mutual mentoring

If you have a skillset a potential mentor doesn’t—be it homebrewing, model rocket construction, or graphic design—consider a knowledge-sharing arrangement. This can make the prospect of mentoring you a little more enticing.

I’ve done this with several different colleagues, most recently collaborating with some experts in front-end development and visual design. This kind of arrangement can be very rewarding, since it lets you grow both your desired skill and your mentoring abilities. Plus, it can be a lot of fun!

Don’t limit yourself

I not only mentor several people, but also have several mentors in several different areas of my life. My philosophy is this: If there is a topic I want to know more about, and know someone I admire in that particular area, why not ask for their mentorship?

Remember too that mentorship doesn’t have to be an ongoing relationship.Twitter Logo It can also be a one-off thing, with the mentor lending a supportive hand, sympathetic ear, or even shoulder to cry on—but only when necessary.

The best design mentor may not be a designer at all

I know. You were probably expecting me to say something like, “Your design mentor should be the best designer you know.”

But I won’t. In fact, I believe almost anyone you respect can serve as a design mentor.Twitter Logo After all, design is most fundamentally the art of solving problems for others, and chances are that just about anyone you know has overcome a struggle or two in their lives.

One of the most valuable design mentors I ever had was a senior-level executive at another company, in a non-design field. They helped me accurately read and navigate “work politics” at my then-current employer.

So rather than limiting yourself to designers, return to the 3 questions at the beginning of this post. Think of the problems you want to solve, the skills you want to develop, and seek a mentor who can help you by sharing their experience and know-how in that area.

And remember, soft skills like emotional intelligence are as important in your personal and professional growth as the technical ones.

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