There are several routes aspiring UX designers and researchers can take to expand their knowledge and experience in their chosen field. One option is through mentorship, where gleaning real-world advice and information from senior UX designers and seasoned professionals is often invaluable. However, the UX industry is vast, so how do those exploring a design career find a suitable mentor willing to share ideas, provide expert advice, and valuable feedback?
What is a UX Mentor?
UX mentors are experienced professionals with a wealth of wisdom and understanding, practical knowledge, and industry experience to share. Whether you’re a beginner taking your first steps into the industry or a senior UX designer looking to niche specialists for a fresh perspective into new fields, studies, or projects—a UX mentor is a great option to expand your professional development.
Benefits of Finding a UX Mentor
- Support for career development
- Exploration into a preferred UX field
- Enhancing technical skills
- Bolstering a UX portfolio
- Building confidence through a better understanding
- Pinpointing valuable resource pools and networking opportunities
UX mentors have been exactly where you are already, so with a few carefully chosen questions, you can learn how to avoid common pitfalls and the ones you never imagined having to face. You can ask for feedback about your design process, research new skills, and discuss current challenges. Mentors are also a great option for discussing career goals, offering interview advice, and helping you develop your chosen niche through your UX journey.
Your mentor will also be able to suggest a range of resources and design industry events, ideal for networking and building relationships, leading to further discussion opportunities with even more great mentors.
The last thing I’ll mention—as the benefits a good mentorship brings are boundless—is that as your UX career progresses, your mentors are ideally placed to provide you with the written references that employers and UX team leaders won’t fail to be impressed with.
Where to Find a UX Mentor
A UX mentorship doesn’t fit into one simple box. They can be friendly or formal, low-key or strictly scheduled. How you attract and connect with your mentors will determine the type of relationship you’ll develop.
It’s pretty much a given that you can find everything online, including UX mentors. Jump into Google, and you’ll find plenty of platforms and apps that help you connect with experienced or aspiring designers, all ready to debate your chosen topics with a fresh perspective. Paid or free, there are various options to help you with your professional development.
You can also explore social media channels for discussion groups and mentorships within the UX community.
A career in UX means you’ll continually be developing your skills. Fortunately, online and in-person training opportunities are vast, and joining professional organisations can provide essential insights into how the industry operates beyond developing role-based skills.
Attending networking events regularly is one of the best ways to stealth-develop a mentor relationship. If you ask experienced designers if they’ll be your mentor, there’s a strong chance they’ll politely decline your offer. However, ask them for a quick chat about a specific topic, and it’s more likely they’ll accept, especially if you pay for the coffee!
A scheduled or ‘official’ mentorship demands a great investment of time and effort, which most working UX designers, researchers, and practitioners probably don’t have. However, having a coffee with a few new acquaintances you ‘happen to bump into’ is a great way to develop a relationship and get the same information without the formal commitment.
How to Choose the Right UX Mentor
Ideally, you want a mentor a few steps further up the ladder than you. Aiming too high could match you with someone who was at your level so long ago that their perception of the role may be outdated or inaccurate. Chatting with someone who was in your position only a few years ago will provide a much better recollection of the problems they faced and how they’ll apply to you.
Research their Background and Experience
Given the vast range of UX roles, choosing a mentor with the knowledge you need is essential. If you’re interested in new technologies or information architecture, you need a mentor with the correct professional experience. Quite often, it’s a good idea to explore the people working at a company you’re interested in joining or creating a product you’d like to be a part of.
Look for Compatibility and Chemistry
However accomplished a senior designer might be, if you struggle to connect, you’ll find it tricky to learn from them. The right mentor will help you feel relaxed and confident to ask the questions you need answers to, make your professional journey more exciting, and offer advice of real value in your current position.
Understand What They Can Offer You
When considering a UX design mentor, as much as you want them to be your one-stop contact for everything, be realistic about their resources. They may not be experienced in every angle you need, and they certainly won’t be at your beck and call—their time is precious, so respect that by choosing your questions and how much contact you pursue wisely.
Preparing for Your Mentorship Relationship
Most of this article’s suggestions are based towards structured mentorship, but even with casual meetups, you should do your homework, setting and respecting a few clear boundaries.
Set Clear Goals and Expectations
While a less formal conversation can feel like a chat with a colleague, it’s still important to ask the right questions. Also, don’t overshoot; consider how achievable what you want is and how the relationship could work, then operate within those limits.
Be Open to Constructive Criticism and Feedback
Mentorship is about asking the right questions and listening to the answers. Don’t interject or talk too much, and respect what you’re being told, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.
Be Respectful of Your Mentor’s Time and Expertise
You can soon burn out a mentorship by not respecting how valuable their time is. If you think they’re a great option for professional or personal development in UX, so will others. Try to be fair with what you expect from them, and always respect their boundaries and work-life balance.
Maintaining Your UX Mentorship Relationship
Be Consistent in Your Communication
Even though your mentor is the one with all the knowledge, it’s up to you to drive the relationship. That means exploring the areas you need their help with and reaching out when you’ve got everything you need to ask. If you don’t have a set schedule for your meetings or conversations, keep your messages or questions clear and concise, easy to answer, and at intervals that shouldn’t impose on your mentor.
Stay Focused on Your Goals
With someone so experienced, it could be easy to ask them for their expert advice on everything you face. However, to protect your relationship, are there other avenues you can chase for the everyday information, using your mentorship purely for the specific goals you need their help to drive?
Give Back to Your Mentor
Despite it feeling like a one-way offering, mentorship is a two-way street. Your mentor will be interested in how you utilise their advice, and your feedback will encourage them to stay invested. You’ll occasionally offer alternative perspectives to projects they’re working on, so don’t assume you’re not bringing anything to the table.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Finding a UX Mentor
It’s easy to get overexcited with a valuable new voice and opinion at your disposal. As we said, not paying enough respect to your new UX mentor could ruin your relationship or, at the very least, limit the benefits of such a valuable opportunity.
Not Doing Enough Research
UX design is as much about research as it is about application. If you haven’t already figured out the value of doing your homework, you need to. If you can approach team members or classmates to cover the basics—do. Keep your mentor strictly for their expert feedback on the trickier topics.
Expecting Too Much Too Soon
It’s practical to expect a few disappointments within your UX community. A good mentor will do their best to reply or engage with you, but they won’t always be free to chat or reply as you hope. And just because you’ve made a valuable new connection that could open all kinds of doors, avoid the disappointment of hoping for too much. Be practical about what’s on offer, and be sensible about how you try to achieve it.
Not Being Prepared for Meetings
With their time being so valuable, it’s crucial to have topics and questions ready for your meetings. In which areas do you want to grow? How can you develop your skills? How did your UX mentor approach the challenges you face? Also, prepare feedback for follow-ups, examples of how you applied their advice, and the breakthroughs you’ve made thanks to them.
Finally, being prepared means having everything you need to take notes, reflect, reference specific projects, present your work, and guide the meeting towards your essential areas.
Paying for a UX Mentorship Program
If you can’t nail down the right mentor through organic routes, paying for someone’s expertise is an option. However, as always, ensure you’ve done your due diligence and that each UX mentorship you engage in delivers value.
Finding Free Resources to Help You Grow as a UX Designer
You can find answers to almost anything online, but one way to get hands-on experience is to get directly involved with user research. Participating in UX user research projects will uncover much about how different systems work in real-life situations, delivering valuable practical experience and insights into how UX professionals conduct their studies.
There’s much to glean from a UX mentorship. With practical planning and clear expectations, a mentor within your chosen field will provide the kind of education you could never gain in a classroom, whether you’re studying or training, in your first job, or much further along in your UX career.