Design Ability: Mentorship

One of the cornerstones of the AIGA Raleigh chapter is improving design ability. Through various outlets like Web101, the Lunch and Learn  series, and other seminars and charrettes, AIGA Raleigh is offering ways for designers in the Raleigh area to grow and expand upon their skill sets and knowledge base. While I think these have been hugely successful, I wonder if we’re not missing something a little more personal in our arsenal of advancement – a mentorship program.

Since we were young, we have had various kinds of teachers in our lives. Whether through our parents, teachers, peers, or some other means (like books for example), we have learned things by a process of passing knowledge down. This idea is illustrated best by the apprenticeship. Years ago, if a young person wanted to learn a certain trade, he or she would gain experience by studying and working alongside a master of the trade. It was through this mentorship that they would learn the skills and real world knowledge they needed to know to eventually become a master tradesman themselves.

In creative fields today, mentorships no longer exists quite as it did during the age of apprenticeships. Instead, colleges and universities attempt to prepare us with the skills and best practices for the professional world. Through school projects, typography classes, and design history, we are prepared to hopefully graduate, land a job, and be ready to compete in today’s tough market. While I know some schools achieve this, unfortunately many fall short. As quickly as software changes it is easy for a young designer to feel left behind and out of the loop. This is where a mentorship program could help.

I think mentorship is a two way street, benefiting the mentor just as much as the mentee. We can all look back on past experiences and wish we could redo the mistakes we made. As more experienced designers, sharing those experiences, as well as knowledge and real world advice, with younger designers can help us to become leaders and teachers. As we advance in our careers, how effectively we can lead and teach those below us, will determine our creative and personal success. Mentorship is a great way to practice that.

As we talk about improving design ability with AIGA Raleigh, I think we really need to consider where we can implement this idea of mentorship within the design community.  Hopefully it is already happening in firms and creative departments, but it would also be an easy installment into our chapter of AIGA. Neighboringchapter,  AIGA Charlotte, has successfully launched mentorship programs and I think it would be a huge benefit for our area. With the goals of creating a community where design flourishes, I think one of the answers is starting to invest our time into each other. That, in my opinion, is true community.

Author: David Mitchell
David Mitchell is a graduate of the School of Design at NC State with a Bachelors of Graphic Design. He is currently a graphic designer at the Farrelly Group, a marketing firm on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.

Artwork: from Maggie Black’s “Den medeltida kokboken”, Swedish translation of The Medieval Cookbook

By David Mitchell
Published September 3, 2011