What is a mentor? Plenty of people think it’s some formal, master/apprentice agreement that lasts for a certain number of years, but it doesn’t have to be. A mentor is simply someone with more experience than you, who helps guide you on the right path and steer you away from the most common mistakes young designers make.
These can be relationships that last for a short period of months or years – or they can last for a lifetime. The bottom line is, if you’re a professional designer, you will need your own mentor at some point. Let’s explore some of the reasons why every designer needs to find a mentor of their own.
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You Don’t Have To Reinvent The Wheel
Why bang your head against the wall over and over again? A mentor can tell you what will work and what won’t in your designs, as well as your career as a whole.
Lessons that might take you years to learn about how to deal with clients, incorporate storytelling properly, or communicate with your target audience in a way that will have them begging for more can all be learned quickly and efficiently from a mentor. The few nuggets of wisdom I’ve received from mentors in the past have been invaluable in helping me avoid costly mistakes in my career.
Not A Perfect Match? No Problem
Another thing to note here is that these mentors don’t actually have to be designers, or matched exactly to the kind of work you do. The most helpful mentor I’ve ever had was a business developer with many years of advertising and PR experience.
I do none of those things in my work (I’m a brand designer and copywriter), but still, the things he taught me were applicable to the work I do as well. Don’t be afraid to look outside your industry for those who have things to teach you.
Making The Connections
A good mentor can introduce you to people in and out of your industry you would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Have your eye on that awesome client you’ve been dying to work for? He or she might be acquainted with your mentor, and they can make the introduction for you. That saves you months or even years of trying (and failing) to get your foot in the door.
Want more visibility for the cool personal projects you do on the side? Your mentor might know someone who knows someone who can get you that visibility.
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You never know who knows who in the creative industry. It’s a smaller community than you think, and people do talk to one another – about the good as well as the bad. It’s often said that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I would go one step further and add: “it’s not who you know…it’s who they know.”
Your mentor may not be the CEO or president of anything impressive themselves, but it’s likely they know someone who is.
More Credibility As A Designer
Designers who have illustrious mentors have a certain prestige that other designers don’t have. Being able to name-drop some rockstar designer gets attention and opens up doors to better opportunities in the industry. You don’t even have to learn anything significant from them.
Simply by being associated with them you will have raised your status as a designer, and others will seek you out on that connection alone.
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It might seem sleazy, but it’s just human nature. We all want to be associated with something great, and if your mentor is really as great as people think they are, they can help you filter out those not worth associating or doing business with.
A mentor has a vested interest in seeing you succeed. They’ll be there for the ups and downs of your career, cheering you on when you achieve something great. Since they’re already established, there’s no jealousy or need to compete with you for your accolades (if there is, run as far away as you can – that’s not a good mentor at all). All that will be there is pride at your accomplishments and an ear to listen to your struggles.
The very best mentors can almost assume the role of a family member, offering you the same kind of support that you might get from a parent or best friend, only with more technical knowledge of your field. Grandma might love your work, but unless she’s a designer, the advice she’ll be able to give you will be limited.
How has having a mentor helped your design career? Do you have any thoughts on what having (or being) a design mentor is all about?
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