Mentorship is a pivotal component of our educational process here at Designlab, and is an integral part of the student experience. Not only does it give our students an opportunity to chat with and seek guidance from an industry professional, it also helps them gain knowledge, grow as a designer, and gather constructive feedback on their work to assist in the UI/UX design learning process.
Since students work so closely with their mentors throughout their journey with us, a question we’re often asked is who our mentors are and how we know they’ll be suitable to support them through UX Academy.
Over the years, we’ve distilled our mentor vetting, training, and coaching process to ensure our students have the highest quality mentorship experience possible as they move through UX Academy. In this article, we’ll outline the key things we’ve found are important to becoming a top UI/UX design mentor, how we assess prospective mentors, and also ensure our current mentors maintain high standards across all of their mentees.
What It Takes to Become a UI/UX Design Mentor
To begin, anyone hoping to become a top UI/UX design mentor must have knowledge of the UI/UX design space, and a portfolio of work to showcase it.
Relevant UI/UX Design Industry Experience
One of the beauties of the UI/UX industry is that the designers involved come from such diverse backgrounds.
Regardless of where you’ve started out, to become a top UI/UX design mentor, you’ll need to ensure your skill set, knowledge, and insights are on par with what would be expected of someone required to provide high-level, detailed, and industry-specific feedback to students. That being said, UX Academy mentors are typically required to have at least 4-6 years of hands-on, UI/UX design experience.
The level of design experience needed to become a mentor also depends on what you were doing previously. For instance, an individual may be eligible to become a mentor sooner if they transitioned into the UI/UX design industry from a closely related industry where they’ve already been working with designers — such as front-end development. This is because, despite being in a different niche, they’re usually still familiar with a lot of the concepts and practices that go into UI/UX design
On the other hand, a UI/UX designer who previously worked in a more loosely related field, such as business or marketing, may need a little more time in the industry before having the skills necessary to become a mentor. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re unqualified, or won’t eventually be great at the job — they just need a little more industry experience under their belt first.
A Solid UI/UX Design Portfolio
It’s also essential that your portfolio showcases your best work and aligns with your time in the field.
Since the UI/UX design field is so diverse, with so many avenues to go down, portfolios can look vastly different from one another, but they still need to demonstrate the necessary skill set. When we’re assessing the portfolios of potential new mentors, we look for evidence of their understanding of the UI/UX design process, and whether there’s a deep and comprehensive knowledge of that process demonstrated through their work.
For example, a designer who’s been working in the UI/UX design field for an educational institution might have a portfolio that looks visually disconnected from an individual who’s been designing for a sportswear company. However, both will be equally valuable and qualified to become a mentor, as long as they have a clear and in-depth knowledge of the UI/UX design process showcased through their various case studies.
Once you’re accepted as a UI/UX design mentor, students will want to see your portfolio when they get matched with you, or seek you out as a mentor — so take the time to make sure it’s in top shape! Students will be looking to your portfolio as the gold standard, so it’s important you take the responsibility of being a role model seriously.
A Genuine Interest in Student Success
Just because you’re an expert UI/UX designer, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be an expert mentor to students trying to learn your craft. Working with students is a completely different ball-game to technically designing something, and you have to be able to do both to be an effective mentor.
When we’re considering prospective mentors to join the team here at Designlab, it’s important that the conversation on their end reflects soft skills such as:
- Empathy, inclusivity, and care for all students
- A desire to help students become the next generation of UI/UX designers
- Emotional intelligence to help students through difficult times, including an ability to have difficult conversations when necessary
The type of UI/UX mentor you’ll become will also be massively affected by your personal journey in the field, and how you perceive and value mentors you’ve worked with in the past. It’ll therefore be important to reflect on why you want to become a mentor, how your mentors have impacted you, your learning journey and career, and what you personally think it takes to become a good mentor. This will not only help you clarify your own motivations and how you’d like to support and guide your students, but will also enable you to articulate this when you’re interviewing with prospective employers or mentees.
The Art of Constructive Feedback
One of the biggest aspects of being a mentor is providing constructive feedback to your students.
When provided with student work, you’ll need to ensure any feedback you provide is relevant, thorough, organized, and also tailored to your mentee’s learning style wherever possible. You’ll be able to establish the latter through having a transparent conversation with your mentee early on about what works well for them.
You’ll also need to be able to translate your feedback across multiple mediums and platforms — in the form of written comments, but also in the spoken format of video calls. As a mentor, you’ll need to be able to provide (sometimes quite tough) feedback while also creating a space that feels professional, personable, and comfortable.
Ultimately, you’ll be looking to create an environment that’s highly conducive to learning and your students’ personal style, as well as one in which your students will feel confident having conversations with you about any aspect of their work. The best mentor-mentee sessions in our opinion are upbeat, dynamic, and challenging (when appropriate).
We also appreciate constructive feedback given not only to your students, but to the Designlab team as well. We encourage our mentors to identify potential areas in the curriculum that could be altered, adjusted, or enhanced to better the student experience. We’re always looking for areas that we can improve upon, and look forward to hearing back from members of our community (especially our mentors) about how we can do so.