My partner Rachel has been interviewing designers called in a series called Typography Dojo. On the program we’ve had lettering artists, type designers and typographers.
One message that many of our guests have shared is the importance of mentorship.
When Joseph Alessio began lettering, he found a small tight-knit community on Dribble who provided him de-facto education “that wasn't shy about giving critique. While there’s resources online, there's nothing quite like someone who knows what they are doing and is able to take a look at your work.”
Martina Flor said her type design work vastly improved after she joined the Typostammich in Berlin. Within the group, there were notable designers and she wondered if they would welcome her. She ended up finding inspiration, encouragement and respect with the design community. “By putting pressure on my work, they contribute a lot.”
If you’re a self-starter, sometimes a little nudge could set you in the right direction. Gemma O’Brien mentioned she had a tutor who helped her initially set type and then she spread her wings from that point on.
Mentors were typically found on your first job; a boss or manager who took you under their wing to show you the ropes. You were paid to learn on the job and used those skills to continue your career path.
My mentor taught me how to set type on a page in the phototypesetting era, with boards, blue pencils, a waxer and a T-square. From there, I translated what I learned to the computer and to this day still use the same approach in my digital work.
“Mentors provide the knowledge we are missing, open doors to new connections, and impart philosophies we otherwise would have had to wait years to learn,” Sasha VanHoven mentions in 99u article Mentorship as You Know It Is Dead. “Mentors themselves aren’t extinct, the models under which they existed are,” she noted. “Look for a mentor not only by what they can teach you, but by what you can teach them as well.”
The lack of design mentorship has left a huge gap in the creative workforce.
Dan Mall, founder of design collaborative Superfriendly confirms in this video. “You go to school and learn your craft then enter the field to do your work. However, this straight edge process has left out a middle phase for the educated people that need to learn by doing (because the jobs they want are only available for the already qualified candidate).”
But where can you find mentorship? Joseph found it online within Dribble, Martina discovered it in her local meet up, and I was hired into it. But being hired might not mean you’ll get a mentor. Within the same company, especially at large companies, can prove difficult. Andrew Hwang at Facebook says to network as much as possible. He wrote, “collaborating on the same project is a great way to learn from and find mentorship in a designer you admire.”
What if you don’t work at the same company? Cross-industry and company seekers might find one within the AIGA design community with many local chapters hosting mentorship programs of their own. Join a local Meetup group to find other designers in your specialty. Online, Re:Create looks to be an online mentor-matching service.
We have curated an online group to mentor and support designers in their growth, called the Varsity Team. Our Varsity Team knows the value of mentorship well. We are a small group of designers with different specialties; brand identity, print, UX, web, packaging, etc. supporting each other in improving typography skills, design process and even career direction. We are enrolling now for the Fall session. If you’re interested in joining us, fill out the application to get started, enrollment closes on September 1.
Who knows, mentorship may be found in your existing circles, if you just look. Be sure constantly seek out those who you can learn from, and also teach. Not doing so means you may miss an opportunity to grow.