Mentorship is Essential

A couple weeks ago, I attended Vancouver Island University’s graduate design show, which got me thinking about mentorship. I think it’s important to make time to not only mentor others, but to also be mentored. One of my mentees graduated (yay Alyssa!), and the process of mentoring her through the creation of her portfolio these last few months reminded me of how many mentors I’ve had throughout my career. Photo above shows both Jackie and Sebastian receiving thank you gifts from their students as they currently teach in the VIU design program.

I consider a lot of the designers that have worked with me over the years my mentees, and I truly enjoy this part of my job. I think the best designers love to learn from each other. I’m inspired by all the great teachers I’ve had along the way, and to highlight a couple, here are a few who’ve really made a lasting impression on me:

Peter Cocking from Douglas and McIntyre, whom I worked with for a few years (and who was one of my favourite teachers at Emily Carr). Peter taught me the details of book publishing, to be persistent in arguing for my creative ideas, the best ways to collaborate with editors and project managers, and what the designer’s role is in the whole process.

Shannon Chadwick, a senior production designer at Nature’s Path Foods, was invaluable to me as I learned prepress and file preparation, skills I still use today. She took the time to make sure I did things right, and raised the technical bar for me in many ways.

Margot McLaren, a fellow designer I worked with at Science World (and years later, when we shared collective studio space in Vancouver) was always patient and transparent with me. She explained how things worked, and was such a valuable teacher for me as I learned to work with a wide range of materials and vendors.

Shelley Gruendler from TypeCamp inspired me (and still does) to be creative about how I create my own job, and my role within the industry. Early on, she saw something in me I didn’t quite see in myself yet, and it helped me focus on becoming that person.

And last, but not least, I currently have the privilege of being mentored by someone I’ve admired for years, Lauren Bacon. Many years ago, I took Lauren for a drink after being introduced to her by my then business coach, Lisa Princic. In the last few months, Lauren and I have been connecting regularly and I’m always surprised at how much value I get from our talks, even when I’m not looking for any specific insights. She asks great questions and has been a crucial sounding board as I look forward with long-term planning for my business. Read her blog and work with her — she’s fantastic.

People often forget how hard it is to run a business, and that it’s OK to not know the answers. Even though I can give great advice to young designers at this point in my career, I know I still need to learn and continue to grow and be mentored myself. I am so grateful to the generous mentors who have inspired and supported me throughout my career.