Three things I’ve learnt mentoring designers

man types on type writer with his dog watching him
Man writes first medium article circa 2020.

Everything is a test

Designers put a lot of pressure on themselves. Pressure creates stress that can paralyse you. Designers have heaps of methods of de-risking and innovating. Ironically designers have a design process for their work but not for their career. Careers can be designed. This article is a test! Putting my thoughts down to try and help other people isn’t something I’ve done before. But I’m going to put this first point into action by asking people if they found it helpful. If the test is successful, I can continue helping out. The risk is low, and I already get reward from retrospectively thinking about what I’m doing. When I offer advice to other designers I discuss the same approach. How fast can you try out an idea? How much can you learn? And how can you move onto improving? Take a load off and consider how valuable your learnings will be versus not trying something new.

three bearded gentlemen lined up, first in a plain tee, the second in a shirt, the third with long hair and scarf
Which one is the designer?

There is no right way to be a good designer

Am I a product designer? Should I be a researcher? What about learning to code? Designers often talk about what they are and withhold what they actually do. I think this is due to the breadth of tasks a designer may do on any given week in any given project or company. The question to ask: is task clarification as important as the outcome of the work you are doing? There are, however, some caveats to being a great designer, which are outlined perfectly in Laura Van Doore’s great presentation about how to be a Pragmatic Product Professional (Her presentation at Web Directions 2019). Overall, if you are passionate in wanting to do good things for your users, there is no right way to be a designer, but there are right outcomes of good practices. Come at every day with this mental model and you can’t lose. If you’re reading this: I think you’re a good designer, let’s chat about that.

Man and his dog sail a rough sea with a row boat whilst whistling.
Lucky we brought these oars.

Nothing is scary

I personally deal with imposter syndrome in just about every part of my life. I walk into most rooms feeling like I know the least! So mentoring feels like the last place I should be. There is a lot to read about fear and how humans can work through it and use it to their advantage, so I won’t be covering that off. For me, as a designer and as a mentor, examples of some of the scary stuff include presenting to peers, changing jobs and growing new skills. Sometimes the pressure of deadlines and presentations can make us worried about failure. These are actually just signs of opportunity! Treating everything like a test, learning from our tests and understanding how we become better are really scary things — if you let them. Instead, if you recognise that scary zone as an indication you’re in the right spot, and there’s so much you can learn from it, you’ll soon realise there isn’t much to be worried about.

Man is jumping onto seesaw which will catapult his pet dog, which doesnt seem like a good idea from the dogs perspective.
Let’s talk this through first.

Bonus: I have no good ideas.

I don’t recall a good idea I’ve come up with on my own — almost all of them have become good because I was able to bounce them off other people. And whenever I’ve helped people, it’s come about from listening to what is already happening in their day, and giving nods to concepts or ideas they have had. The best example I can give is that the idea of writing this came from talking with other designers about how they want to progress in their career. Sometimes you need to write it down for it all to make sense. So collaborate and iterate your ideas, and make stuff awesome.



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