Good mentors give feedback, good students commit
This wasn’t Carmen’s first experience learning with a mentor, having taken the Interaction Design course previously. Nevertheless, she explains that there are always nerves when meeting a new mentor.
“You are always slightly nervous at the start. It reminds you of school in a way—at the start of term, you don’t know what type of teacher you’re going to get, or what their exact style will be.”
“The big lesson I’ve taken from working with mentors is that feedback is great! This individual is offering you their time, experience, and knowledge to help you learn. Getting feedback on your own work is initially daunting, but once you get used to that conversation, it just turns into exciting, collaborative design work.”
So, given this experience of different mentors, what makes a good mentor? “For me, a mentor needs to be patient, to make the learning process fun, and to be a source of inspiration.”
“They also need to give the kind of feedback that will enable the student to go back to the drawing board and come up with something they wouldn’t have believed was possible for them to create at the start of the process.”
And what about the other side of this equation—what makes a good student? Luuk emphasises commitment to the learning process above all.
“My core belief is that you can’t be a good mentor if you don’t have a good student. And by that, I mean that a student needs to be eager, and needs to be willing to do the work and needs to be willing to learn. Otherwise, no matter how much energy I put into the process as a mentor, the student won’t see results.”
“I wasn’t a very good student myself. People wanted to teach me things I couldn’t be bothered with. Nevertheless, there were a few teachers who knew how to stimulate my interest, rather than dictating what I needed to learn. Those teachers sparked a passion within me that still drives me forward autonomously today. I hope to be that kind of mentor.”
Keeping in touch, and getting involved with Startup Weekend
One of the most exciting things for us as educators at Designlab is when students and mentors keep in touch after the course, and even find new opportunities to collaborate. Carmen and Luuk stayed in contact, and last year Luuk invited Carmen over to the Netherlands to take part in a Startup Weekend in Groningen.
Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event that sees a group of individuals get together and build a business from an idea pitch. Luuk is the lead organizer of the event, and Carmen participated with a group of other attendees who she’s now connected with.
“It was a great opportunity,” Carmen explains, “so I happily packed my suitcase last November and flew over to take part!”
“At the event, I was part of a team called Waitless, and we worked together to create an app for the hospitality industry. It focused on improving the flow of interactions between a customer and the waiting staff—from ordering or asking for help, through to paying the bill.”
“I was put in charge of working on the user interface workflows, and the company’s branding. It was an exhilarating experience, and I highly recommend any design student to take part if they get the chance!”
Carmen also explains that what she took away from her first Startup Weekend was much more than just the project they worked on for those 2 days.
“Since meeting Luuk, I’ve been able to build on that partnership. I’ve networked more, and in doing so, have found myself forging new and deep friendships. It’s also encouraged me to focus on getting more day-to-day mentoring from colleagues in the industry, as I’ve learned how valuable it can be.”
“I’ve even started learning some Dutch in preparation for my next Startup Weekend!”
Luuk explains that events like Startup Weekend—which is like a supercharged design sprint—can be a valuable for anyone with an interest in creativity and problem-solving, even if they’re not especially interested in business or design.
But they’re particularly good, Luuk explains, for helping designers to understand how design can help to solve business challenges and meet business needs. “Designers help business owners to overcome challenges through design, and participating in these kinds of event help us to get a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs.”
Taking your design work to the next level—and landing a job
After adding skills in interaction design and branding to her resume, Carmen landed an awesome new job as a UI Designer at a leading company in the games industry.
“I am loving every minute of it! I love my job and I look forward to what the future holds for me. Every day is a thrill—whether it’s creating mockups, or seeing the final product working on screen. There is never a dull day!”
And how about tips for others who are looking to begin a career as a professional designer, or take their career to the next level?
At a Startup Weekend. Photo credit: Joost Nuijten
“Above all,” Carmen explains, “understand that feedback is hugely important, and you cannot put a price on it.”
“Second, take ownership of your design work—believe in your abilities, and defend your design choices. You came up with these ideas to begin with. Of course they will need developing, but a little self-belief in explaining and defending your vision definitely goes a long way.”
“Third—can you draw that logo from memory? You never realise how challenging it is to make a good logo until you have to design one! And finally, don’t give up! Keep studying hard and stay connected with the passion that got you started.”
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