Everything designers need to know about mentorships

We speak to both mentors and mentees to find out what benefits mentorship programmes offer, and how to get the best out of them.

“It’s so rare that we have someone other than you be so focused on your development,” says Isabel Farchy. “But that’s what you get with a good mentorship and it can be the source of so much confidence.”

Farchy is the founder and CEO of the Creative Mentor Network, an organisation set up in 2014 to help young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds find their way into the creative industry. Farchy herself started out her career as a teacher, but found awareness in how to get into creative job roles was severely lacking.

What is a mentorship?

Mentorships vary across organisations – but most follow the common thread of someone with more experience helping to guide those earlier on in their career in a one-to-one format.

Farchy’s Creative Mentor Network focuses on helping young people aged 16-25. The offering is structured, and usually mentorships take place over the course of 16 weeks. Within that time period, different sessions and workshops are programmed, to ensure the mentor and mentee both get what they need from the experience.

Other mentorships, like the Re:create programme founded and run by Steve Brown, are less prescriptive. This means the experience can be driven by the mentor and mentee, depending on how and what they want to learn. “You get what you put in, really,” he says.

Mentorships are not exclusively for younger designers however – programmes like the Design Business Association’s (DBA) Twenty/Twenty offer mentorships for designers who are established in their career.

What can I get out of it?

As Brown mentions, the benefit of a mentorship is that mentees can largely steer the learning in the direction they want to go in. For example, a mentorship can be geared towards the more technical elements of design like drawing or software use; or the business side of the profession. And depending on the programme, it can be as intense or laid back as you prefer.

Reflecting on her own mentorship with the DBA, Róisín Ní Ráighne says there were numerous takeaways. Ráighne has been through the Twenty/Twenty scheme twice while working at Dublin-based branding studio Dynamo – first while strategy director, and again when she was promoted to managing director.

“The confidence I gained both times I did the programme was huge – sometimes you’re faced with a situation where you really just have no idea what to do,” she says. “But to have someone outside of your studio to talk to, who has experience in this area, makes it much easier realise you are on the right track.”

She also says having that sounding board helped her gain perspective. In her senior roles at Dynamo, she admits some of her responsibilities were “daunting”. But being able to talk through these worries with someone who had experience in a similar studio was invaluable, Ráighne says.

Additionally, she says it helped her with “focus”. “As a managing director, at the beginning I felt like I needed to do everything all at the same time, but chatting with my mentor helped me figure out what to prioritise and why,” Ráighne says.

How do I go about picking a mentor?

For some programmes, mentors will be assigned by those running it. This is not a decision taken lightly, Farchy says, and she explains a lot of work goes into making sure people are well matched.

Other mentorship platforms, like Brown’s Re:create, allow you to browse from a selection of almost 200 practitioners who have signed up to be mentors and reach out to the one you feel fits best. He jokes that it is “a bit like online dating”.

Those looking to find a mentor via the Re:create platform can refine their search by narrowing down to things like job roles and specific skills before using the profiles to select who they want to approach.

“We don’t sanitise the profiles or change the grammar, so what you see there is straight from the mentor volunteer themselves,” says Brown. “You can tell a lot about a person from how they approach the task of describing themselves.”

As for how prospective mentees should approach finding a mentor, Brown says it’s important to look beyond skillsets and jobs too. A good first step is to look at a mentor’s portfolio. “Are they doing the kind of work you aspire to? If you don’t connect with their work, will you connect with their feedback?” he asks.

Why is a mentorship different to any other kind of support?

Farchy explains the biggest difference between mentoring and other forms of professional support comes down to the industry experience a mentor can offer. “When it comes to mentorships for younger people, this is often the first time they’re able to engage with someone who has real experience in a field they want to go into,” she says. “Even with the best will in the world, teachers are stretched and busy, and family members often don’t have experience in the right labour market.”

Brown adds to this, saying a mentorship is a way to “bridge the gap between education and industry”. “There are plenty of things that just don’t come up in a school or university education,” he says, giving the example of time management. “At university, you can have six weeks to focus on one project, but in reality in six weeks you could be working on five or six projects – and two need to be delivered in that time.”

Having a mentor, Brown says, is like having a foot in the professional world. “Getting insight into what goes on beyond education is invaluable,” he says.

Where can I find more information?

Twenty/Twenty information (2022 deadline – 10 December).

Re:create information.

Creative Mentor Network information.

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