How to Find a Graphic Design Mentor & Improve As a Designer

HowDesign design mentor

by Alec McGuffey

Whether you’re just getting started in the design field or have been a practicing creative for years, there’s no denying that finding a design mentor is one of the best ways to continue improving and building your skillsets as a designer. However, with so many people entering the creative industry, mentorship is in high demand and can be hard to find.

Where are you in your design career?

Depending on how much experience you have, there are a ton of great ways to start becoming actively engaged in the design community and to begin forging valuable relationships with potential mentors.

Just starting to learn design

If you’re just starting to learn design, you might not need a full-time creative mentor, but you should start diving head first into a design education and making a name for yourself in the creative communities around you.

  • Bootcamps – Schools like General Assembly have fantastic long-term mentorship programs if you’re willing to spend a good chunk of money. They pair you with mentors throughout your course and you’ll be constantly surrounded by other aspiring designers.
  • Self-learning – Platforms like Skillshare are changing the game when it comes to online design education. They don’t offer 1-on-1 mentorship, so if you need help throughout your education, you can schedule individual mentor sessions on platforms like RookieUp, which lets you have 1-on-1 chats with an amazing community of on-demand creative professionals to help you whenever you have questions or want some feedback on your progress.
  • Online communities – Start immersing yourself in the online design world to learn the vocabulary of design and become more confident speaking with other designers. Check out lists of designers to follow and reach out to on Twitter and Instagram and participate in design communities on Quora and reddit.

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Actively learning design

As you start to feel more confident in your design skills, you should start actively contributing to design communities and seeking out ways to meet other like-minded designers around you.

  • In-person mentorship programs – If you live in a major city, you might be able to find well-organized mentor programs that pair emerging designers directly with established creatives. Checkout AIGA’s website to see if they have programs in your city.
  • Posting your work online – Now that you’re starting to build up a portfolio of sample work, begin actively posting your work on dribbble, Behance, and other design discovery communities.
  • Engaging in the conversation – Start commenting on work you see online and asking for critique from design communities you find online. A few great places to start are Designers League and Design Critiques.

 

Starting to work professionally as a designer

At this point, you’re probably looking for a mentor to help propel your career to the next level.

  • Leverage your network – Stay in touch with everyone you’ve connected with throughout your creative journey. You never know where you might need an amazing mentor. LinkedIn is another hugely valuable (and overlooked) resource for this type of networking.
  • Attend local design meetupsMeetups are one of the best ways to meet other designers in your city on weekly basis.
  • Chat with colleagues – If you work on a creative team, chances are there are some amazing designers sitting a few feet from you. Offer to take them out to coffee to see how you get along outside of work.

What are your goals for mentorship?

As you search for mentors, think about your goals. Why are you looking for a mentor? What are your immediate goals and what are your goals for 5 years in the future? Are you looking for someone to help structure your education or do you want to find a mentor to help you land your dream job? A few common goals people have with their mentors…

  • Find a job or figure out your career path
  • Get critique/feedback on your design work and improve as a creative
  • Improve your portfolio and get ready for interviews
  • Learn directly from someone via apprenticeship
  • Gain skills to become a full-time freelancer or grow your client list

How do you make the most out of your mentorship?

Once you’ve identified your goals for your new mentorship and have found someone to mentor you, take some time to lay out what your ideal mentorship looks like. Since your mentor likely has a busy schedule, you want to set up your conversations to ensure you get as much value as you can every time you chat.

  • Set an agenda – Write down a list of questions you want to discuss prior to each meeting so that your mentor can review them beforehand
  • Figure out next steps – Spend the last few minutes of each conversation talking about action items and next steps. Ideally, there will be some clear items for you to work on, whether that’s working on a new project or rebuilding your online portfolio.
  • Have a shared online space – Use a platform like Evernote or Google Drive to create a shared folder where you and your mentor can share notes, inspiration, and projects
  • Ask how you can help – the best mentorships are not one-way streets. Ask your mentor if they have projects you can help with!
  • Be thankful – Mentorship is hard work, usually with no tangible compensation for the mentor. Always be on time, don’t ask for too many meetings, and be incredibly thankful!

Now that you have the tools you need to find a mentor, get out there and start looking! Mentorship is one of the most rewarding and impactful parts of your creative journey and you never know where you might find your future mentor.

If you’re having trouble finding a mentor or are earlier in your creative journey and looking to launch your freelancing career, check out resources like this post on finding freelance design clientson the RookieUp blog. We built RookieUp to provide guaranteed access to a community of high quality on-demand design mentors for anyone, no matter where you live or who you know.

Alec McGuffey is the co-founder of RookieUp, an online mentorship platform for people learning creative skills. RookieUp is on a mission to create a global on-demand mentorship platform to make high quality mentors accessible to anyone trying to start a career in creative fields like design, photography, and more!


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