Tips for Being a Good Design Mentor

One of the great aspects of being a web designer is in joining the supportive community of fellow professionals. There are just so many people who are willing to share their knowledge and help others learn.

There’s a lot of mentoring that goes on. The funny thing is that we don’t necessarily seek out these opportunities. It seems like they more often find us.

As such, it can be a challenge to advise another designer. Whether it’s general career advice, technical knowledge or even tips regarding client relations – you want to make a positive impact. Yet it’s also important to respect boundaries and provide others with a boost in self-worth.

That’s what being a good design mentor is all about. The following are some tips for helping others live their dream.

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Demonstrate Humility

When another web designer approaches you for advice, they likely have a good reason. They may well consider you to be successful and someone they can look up to. This in itself is actually quite an honor – one not to be taken for granted or dismissed.

Even if you aren’t able to answer every question or have the time to go in-depth, a polite response is in order. For example, pointing them to a blog post or other resource on a particular topic can be both helpful and expedient.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that we are all in different places when it comes to experience and skill level. Sometimes, we can let our ego get the best of us. That can lead to judging someone else because we perceive their skills as less worthy than our own.

However, we all start out from the lowest rungs of the ladder. Therefore, approach others with a sense of humility. Remember that you were once in that same position.

Two women having a conversation.

Combine Honest Critiques with Encouragement

Have you ever had someone ask your opinion about a website they’ve built? Perhaps it was their personal portfolio or a client project. If the result is less-than-ideal, giving feedback can be a bit like walking a tightrope.

The same can be said when looking at a snippet of code. Programming affords a lot of flexibility in terms of style, with each of us having a preferred technique. There may be times when what you see simply isn’t to your liking.

In these situations, aim for both honesty and encouragement. It’s OK to point out a mistake or omission, but do so with sensitivity. Everyone reacts differently to this sort of feedback and the wrong choice of words can be harmful.

One way to accomplish this is to add your own personal story to the critique. For instance, instead of bluntly telling someone their design doesn’t work in Firefox, explain the issue with an anecdote attached. You might point out that you had a similar issue with CSS Grid or whatever the culprit may be. Then, encourage them to dive back into their code and make adjustments.

This greatly humanizes the process of building a website. Your mentee will know that yes, you too have made mistakes and lived to tell about it. It’s a little thing, but can mean a whole lot to an inexperienced web designer.

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Be an Attentive Listener

While part of being a mentor involves dispensing useful advice, don’t forget to listen as well. This is especially crucial when discussing career-oriented goals.

If you’re a successful freelancer or agency owner, it’s likely others will want pick your brain on the subject. They’ll want to know how you accomplished your goals, the challenges you faced and maybe even what’s next for your business.

But goals are very personalized. Not everyone is aiming for the same exact thing. Therefore, don’t assume the path will be the same for someone else.

How can you know for sure? By doing a lot of listening and asking the occasional question. The idea here is to find out what the other person wants to accomplish in their own journey.

Of course, your experiences can serve as a wonderful guide. But they should be put in the context of what your counterpart’s goals are. They’ll have the opportunity to learn from your triumphs and mistakes, while applying those lessons to their own career.

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Give What You Can

For all its benefits, being a web designer can be a highly-stressful career. The day-to-day pressures of deadlines, changing technology and financial uncertainty is enough to wear any of us thin.

So, when someone is seeking our help or advice, it’s only natural to wonder if we have anything left to give. Here’s the thing: mentoring does not require your complete and total attention.

It’s not necessarily a matter of offering all of your free time to a designer looking to level up their game. You don’t even have to possess the answers to every question or sticky situation.

The reality is that most of us can’t make that sort of commitment. And your mentee isn’t likely to ask for one, either.

Instead, focus on what you are able to give. Whether it’s an extra five minutes between tasks or an hour on the weekend, it all counts and will be appreciated.

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The Rewards of Being a Design Mentor

There’s nothing quite so rewarding as making a positive difference in someone else’s life. That is all the more reason to offer another designer the benefit of your unique experiences.

Plus, being a design mentor can also inspire you as well. It can refresh your creativity, improve your communication skills and even unlock other hidden talents.

So, don’t hesitate to connect with other web designers. After all, it’s a big part of what makes this community great.