The impact of mentorship in launching a design career

Mike Joosse Jun 21 Resources, Thought Leaders

At Designation, our mission is to provide everyone in the program the tools and skills they need to be lifelong learners. 

Learning is an essential part of every designer’s life—they learn a lot in their previous professional and educational experiences; they learn a massive amount in the program, and they’ll have to continue learning to stay strong and competitive for the rest of their design careers. This demonstrates a growth mindset, which means always looking forward and learning the steps it takes to reach the next stage, whatever that looks like. This keeps designers purposeful and humble, but where it really starts to reap visible rewards is in being paired with others who’ve gone through similar experiences, who can shine a light on what might come next for them. 

That’s where mentors come in. 

Mentorship comes in two forms at Designation: At the beginning of the Immersion Phase, when designers start the in-person part of the program and meet their intercohort mentor; and just before graduation, when they meet their career mentor.

ux ui design collaboration

These are two of the most crucial (and vulnerable) points of the Designation experience; the Immersion Phase represents going “all in” on this immersive experience and, for many designers, moving to Chicago. And graduation represents the leap into the unknown of life as a professional designer. At both points, they need as many resources as possible, so mentors serve to bridge an important gap at an important time. Mentorship is always 1:1, meaning thorough and specific attention from both mentor and mentee.

Intercohort mentorship

A few days before starting the Immersion Phase, every designer in a cohort is matched with a mentor from the “senior cohort.” 

The purpose of this mentorship is to help acclimate to what can be a jarring experience—the transition from working virtually to working in-person and more-than-full-time. “Senior cohort” designers went through the same experience only weeks before, and are able to speak about their recent experiences with honesty and in detail. For “junior cohort” designers, this is a chance to get insight into what the next several weeks of the Immersion Phase look like, and what they can expect to experience. And more importantly, their mentors help them find the rhythms and practices needed to thrive in the phase.

This mentorship starts on day one, with an introduction and tour around our space in WeWork. Mentees get, on average, five weeks with their mentors, and weekly meetings to recap the week and get prepared for the following week. Mentors and mentees often stay in touch long after the mentor’s graduated—and the mentee experiences the real goal of this mentorship: Becoming a mentor themselves for a designer in the subsequent cohort. 

Career mentorship

Over the years, our community of mentors has grown to over 150 professional designers located around the world. They work as UX designers and researchers, UI and visual designers, product designers, front-end developers, motion designers, interaction designers, content strategists, and design directors in every type and size of a company. Through this community, our graduates are able to tap into the vast areas of knowledge and skills of designers from companies like Allstate, Fjord, Indeed, Yello, SapientRazorfish, dscout, and so many more.

Our community of mentors has grown to over 150 professional designers located around the world.

Career mentors serve two necessary purposes: 

1. They provide actionable, specific feedback on the designer’s career materials. This primarily means everything the designer creates in the Career Phase—a portfolio site, multiple case studies, a résumé, cover letters, a personal statement, and more—which collectively form the story they’re able to tell about themselves to potential hiring managers. 

2. They serve as a peer resource for the designer’s job search, offering input and advice on filling out applications, going on interviews, using online resources, and in many other areas. Career mentors successfully went through the job search process in the recent past, and have first-hand knowledge of what’s needed and what’s recommended.

designers receiving feedback mentorship

In these two ways, mentors serve as a vital bridge of support and resources between designers attending Designation and starting their first job.

The design community is an amazing, giving group of people, and we’re proud to tap into it with every cohort. The examples set by our career mentors are so valuable to our graduates when they join the community themselves—mentors show what responsible, engaged professionalism can look like. 

So when graduates settle into their careers, we always recommend they give back to their community and mentor others: Future Designation designers, young people and students curious about design, new coworkers, and their local design community.

Mentorship was built into Designation’s DNA from the very earliest cohorts and has become an essential part of the Designation experience for all attendees.

Mentorship was built into Designation’s DNA from the very earliest cohorts and has become an essential part of the Designation experience for all attendees. Many grads report similar surprise when they get an intercohort mentee—they’re amazed at how much they’ve accumulated so quickly to share with others. 

We’re proud that it allows designers to feel like important parts of—and make a noticeable impact on—not just the Designation community but the worldwide design community too.

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