This is what I learned from 70+ mentoring sessions in the year 2020.

Gratefulness is the key to wisdom.

Overview

I’ve always dreamed about being a mentor and helping people. My fascination with mentoring started at university when I organised and gave my first lecture about Adobe Flash. There were only 3 attendees around the table, but this experience sparked a passion for teaching that has only grown since. Over the years, I’ve been more and more fascinated with how much time is wasted in the process of creation and delivery, so I decided to focus on design integration within businesses.

As my expertise has increased, in particular, I’ve been offered increasing opportunities to share my knowledge about tooling in the creative world.

As my experience increased over the years, in particular design project management, I have been fortunate enough to share my knowledge throughout the projects and mentoring session to a broader design community.

Why mentoring?

After 2 decades of conferences, workshops and presentations, I’ve come to the conclusion that that design needs more advocacy, especially with the younger generation. So, with 2021 already upon us, I’ve changed my focus from mentoring colleagues to mentoring junior designers throughout several recruiting networks.

The majority of apprentice designers expressed their struggles to me. They were finding it difficult to understand the design process and generally grasp both where they belong and how they can grow.

Real-world scenarios

I believe that what comes around goes around — if you don’t have the experience, you can’t get a job… and therefore you’ll never get the experience that you need. Let’s face it, if you’re an apprentice (essentially a graduate, junior or mid-weight designer), you’re essentially building skills in verticals that are relevant to your career. The first vertical is your technical and theoretical skills about the design job you do. Usually, these are quite specific to the company that you’re working for.

The second vertical is your soft skills and how do you ask for the things you need from the boss or peers — essentially, is it your right to ask, or do you have to figure out by yourself.

And the third vertical surrounds understanding the business proposition. What is your value and contribution to your career alone?

Slow start

I usually have ten designers who came and go on a yearly basis and are always asking questions about approach, structure, organisation, process… and even how to ask for more money or get a better job. To my surprise, I realised there is a pattern that start repeats itself — designers usually don’t have a problem with creativity and ambition. The issue is typical with their own self-identity and why they became a designer in the first place.

I like to dig deep into the topic by carefully asking specific questions. Whether I talk to the designer from Taiwan, Romania or Morocco, I observed they all give me precisely the same answer:

I want a job at Facebook.

This is not for me!

The bitter truth is that the 17th century and the industrial revolution transformed time into a commodity. Instead of selling the skill or the profession, we start selling the time to spend on the given task. Because of that, we’ve all become as replaceable as an old toothbrush, phone or car — anything that’s dated and isn’t functioning as it should be is simply replaced with something newer.

In today’s world, it’s hard for apprentices to find any roles because they do not possess any specific craft or practical skill. Moreover, there isn’t a great correlation between the skills they gain into what’s required in the real world. Young professionals now find themselves in a very difficult position.

The knowledge that helps

Despite these obstacles, we much acknowledge that fledgeling designers are our future.

They’re not lost; they are just unaware.
They’re not a problem for brands; they are unique.
They are not difficult to work with; they are passionate.
They don’t need a job; they need the right course.
And that’s where I step in.

Sure, we can review portfolios and adjust the CV but, ultimately, as Erik Spiekermann said: “you are not your portfolio”. A designer nowadays will be hired because he or she is a thinker, creator, facilitator, a connector of all ideas they have.

Does this resonate with you? Because this defines how I can make a humble contribution to your journey. By recognising the potential within you as a designer and forming the habits of an observer, leader and warrior, I can help you become a director.

It’s not about the job you want; it’s about the job you create for yourself and how you can contribute to the world.

Being creative is second nature to any designer out there — we look at a menu in the restaurant and can think of 20 different ways to fix it. We can be redesigning the user flow for buying the flight ticket on local Myanmar airline at the drop of a hat. But at the end of the day, this is just about making life better for as many people as we can.

Different perspective

We all have been exposed to stories of a strategist who has made 600+ applications, yet can’t get a job. In my professional network, I have 100+ designers who didn’t earn a penny in the last 12 months.

I personally made 370 applications and had 120 interviews, 6 of which had a gruelling nine rounds — and still, I had no positive results.

With that, I’ve set up two businesses, negotiated 20+ propositions, joined 3 startups as an advisor, plus mentored 70+ people.

All in just in a single year.

And guess what? I’ve learned more in the last year than someone who wasn’t prepared to put their name out there.

Damn, you are creative.

I often challenge those who use the word creative their title.

Now I challenge people (and myself) to see themselves as creative and create a job for themselves instead of waiting for a bunch of recruiters to call you back–as they rarely do.

Throughout my network of 60+ design directors located all around the world, I’ve discussed the future of remote design and product development and how we can contribute to the course of mobile/remote-based company.

The feedback was positive and all my apprentice designers have immediate access to it. Equally, I negotiated the account with Figma where all my future training will continue — and I’m super excited to meet all the fantastic talents who eventually influence the future.

The biggest surprise

I’m fortunate enough to have access to talents with a great variety of character and ambition. What surprises me most though, is their will to improve and become greater than their predecessors.

Instead of downloading files from Figma Community, Sketch Library or Adobe Creative Cloud I teach them to create their own step by step, From basic shapes to colour, typeface, imagery layouts and underlying their own storytelling — who they are and how they are going to influence the future.

Be Bold

The feedback to all of them is to be bold. Create the greatest portfolio you can, contribute the community and help people to solve the problem — have your own design philosophy… that one day you can make a real difference.

This will secure you a dream job, not one that is orchestrated by the ATS (Applicant Tracking Software) and sits in places you don’t even know about, but by real creativity and craft. Your legacy leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that the impact lasts in your absence.

Thank you to all collaborators, my students, junior and mid-weight designers who are bold enough to grow and contribute to the future.

Experience Design Director and Founder of @givetm_ and @9V™ (former @LloydsBank, @SR_, @skyuk, @rga, @sony). Constantly trying to find a space for his @TrekBike