5 Designers Share The Advice That Shaped Their Careers
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Asking for career advice is hard. But what it boils down to is simple: find a person you respect, with deep experience in your chosen area, and they’ll naturally help connect the dots between your abilities and goals. But just how easy is it to find the perfect design mentor?
Turns out, the ideal person could just be a DM away. A few weeks ago, Framer community member Juan Mena, himself a seasoned designer for Disney, tweeted a call-out for designers willing to offer their time as mentors. The community outpouring was terrific, resulting in a directory of volunteer designers, all open to sharing their expertise on interviewing, leveling up and transitioning between career paths. Volunteer mentors ranged in background, hailing from Caracas to New York and working in industries as varied as tech and gaming to Bay Area breweries. The logical conclusion here is that some of the most successful designers out there are also the ones that see the value in mentorship.
Inspired, I reached out to 6 such designers and asked just one question: what advice has had the biggest impact on your career?
Here are their stories.
Designer at @Lyft
There are two pieces of advice that really stuck with me in a big way. The first came from my high school photography teacher, Ron Morris. He once told me:
“Don’t like what you get; get what you like.”
At the time I thought he was specifically talking about my photo project, but as I grew older I realized that this quote holds true through all aspects of life, including my current work in design. It’s important to always push the boundaries of your work, and to not settle for work that you feel just “okay” about. Instead you want to strive to bring your dreams to life through your work.
The second quote came a bit later, once I had already started working at Lyft. At the time, I had asked our Director of Design, Frank Yoo, on advice for growing as a designer. His advice to me was simple and impactful:
This was important for me to hear, because it helped me explore different types of design, identify areas where I wanted to focus, and build a more broad array of skills. I’d encourage any up-and-coming designer to simply try designing everything, and find what you’re most passionate about.
Product Designer @drondemand and founder @joinfrontcenter.
In all honesty, I’ve struggled to find design mentors.
The lack of Black female design leaders in tech led me to question whether or not I could be successful as a designer in the first place.
I never doubted my abilities as a designer, but I did doubt the capabilities of others to judge me based on my potential rather than my gender and race.
After several years of being a product designer, I decided to take matter into my own hands by starting a mentorship program called Front & Center. The objective was to to empower women of color to pursue a design careers in technology. I worked with amazing folks like John Maeda, Koen Bok, and Renato Valdes Olmos to define the basic skill set designers need, especially those coming from non-traditional paths (e.g. autodidactic designers), and run a mentorship program. In the process of running this program, it was them who helped me realize that the biggest impact I can have is by shipping great work. I now mentor new talent on a 1:1 basis, and continue to design for impact at Dr On Demand, where Cody Evol is pushing me to step out of my comfort zone, be comfortable with the unknown, and push for what I think is best.
Nuno Coelho Santos
Designer at @Google @DeepMindAI.
It’s helpful to have a mentor that understands your work and career, but on my one-to-ones with my mentor we focus mainly on aspects of my life outside of work. Perhaps that’s what’s had the biggest impact on my design career.
Design everything around your life, better work will come out naturally.
My mentor is Yujin Han, a friend from the time we both worked at ustwo. When I catch up with Yujin we talk about my personal environment, finances, relationships, health, spiritual energy, time energy. I set goals around those points and she helps me progress with them. I find that when all aspects of my life are looked after I can be more creative, focused, and a better team member. That’s what really inspires me. And perhaps that’s where the real value of mentoring lies.
Designer/co-founder at @Carbon_SF and mentor at sketchtogether.io.
The best advice I’ve gotten came from an amazing designer and friend of mine, Luisa Mancera. She taught me the value of being uncomfortable or rather,
Be comfortable with your own fears.
By opening up and being okay with feeling uncomfortable, I allow myself to grow and learn. We all have to deal with struggles throughout our life, it’s pointless to avoid or deny them. So why not just embrace the problems and deal with them?
VR Producer @oculus and curator of VR.AR Design Resources
Finding the right UX design should begin with understanding the problem, and then exploring high-level, distinctly unique explorations that look at the problem from different angles.
This initial step is about understanding the tradeoffs between different approaches, for both users and your product, and knowing specifically why you decided on a particular direction. This is more work up front, rather than just focusing on the one intuitive design that comes to you at first. But in the end, it saves time and gives you confidence that you made the right choices, especially when it comes to aligning your team with the right solution.
If you neglect this step, you can get too attached to your original idea, go down the wrong path and create churn and confusion in a team environment. You may also miss the best solution altogether. I learned this while working with former colleagues Summer Bedard, Amine Bellakrid and Olivier Desmoulin at YouNow.
Did you receive career-changing advice from a mentor? Share it in the comments and we’ll tweet out some of our favorites! Huge thanks to Zach, Melanie, Nuno, Pablo and Dorian for sharing their stories and to Juan for curating the List of Designers Willing to Mentor You, a great place to start your own mentor/mentee relationship.
5 Designers Share The Advice That Shaped Their Careers was originally published in Framer on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.