Office hours: A conversation with Essi Salonen on UX mentorship

4 min read
Amber Stechyshyn
  •  Oct 26, 2016
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To gather insights on career development, Springboard is talking to outstanding UX designers about mentorship.

To kick off this new series, we spoke to Essi Salonen, Visual Designer at Fjord.

How did you discover UX? What was your background before UX?

I was doing web design in the mid-2000s, but 10 years ago UX wasn’t a big thing yet. I was looking for opportunities to get more into larger-scale projects—ones with more impact on people’s lives. It wasn’t until couple of years later, when I worked at IDEO in London, that I discovered the importance of human-centric design. That revelation led me to UX, and I moved to San Francisco to work as a product designer at various startups before joining Fjord.

What crucial skills do you think led to your success as a UX designer?

Empathy is best UX skill you can have.Twitter Logo Since I’m an active contemporary dancer, observing how people move and act comes naturally. This is also an important skill for a UX designer because we need to understand how people interact with technology and objects, and how they might move while using them.

“Empathy is the best UX skill you can have.”

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I have experience doing magazine and book layouts. There are certain similarities with traditional and UX design. For both, the designer needs to understand flows and how to sequence the content, but they also need to organize all the elements in appealing way that attracts the user. My graphic design background has given me a solid design foundation that translates well to the UX field.

How is mentoring valuable to the mentor?

Mentoring helps designers sharpen their thinking.Twitter Logo For example, how we talk about UX design ideas and methods becomes an important skill, not only with mentees, but also when a mentor communicates their ideas to a client.

What makes a great mentor?

A great mentor cares about their mentee and wants to help them grow. A great mentor is genuinely curious about UX and is always learning more about it.

Mentors help mentees stay on course, often acting as a reality check by asking their mentees questions like:

  • Is your work feasible?
  • What do you need to consider more?
  • Why is the work you’re doing valuable?

Being a good mentor is about making a mentee realize things they didn’t think of before.

“Mentoring helps designers sharpen their thinking.”

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How can people joining the UX industry find a mentor?

Have a road map—know the direction you want to go. With that information, you’ll have a good idea of the type of person who should mentor you.

For example, attending industry events, getting to know other designers, and growing your design network is a first step. It isn’t necessarily an easy task to find a mentor—people you’d like to have as a mentor might not be looking for mentees.

A sketch from Essi’s notebook.

Within your own organization, look at colleagues you admire and ask if they’d be interested in mentoring you. You’ve got to take the first step—no one will ever ask you if you want to be mentored.Twitter Logo

You can view Essi’s projects at

At Springboard, we connect UX learners with mentors like Essi and build free learning resources for UX design like our learning path of 131+ hours of free UX design learning material.

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