Mentorship over merit badges

Mar 15, 2024

“What is the path to success?” is a question I hear often from junior designers. My answer is simple: prioritize mentorship. As you begin your career, shift your focus from merely stacking your resume with skills and brand recognition, which can end up feeling like collecting trophies for display rather than real growth. Instead, look for organizations that cherish genuine makers—people who aren’t just passionate about design but embody it, generously sharing their passion, creativity and expertise freely.

True innovation in product development is not charted through a rigid process but is driven by a deep-seated desire to create, an openness to failure, and a continuous curiosity in experimentation. Aim to align yourself with mentors who grasp that “design is how it works”, rather than shipping features, aspiring for rapid promotions, or gaining executive visibility. As you progress in your career, recognizing such mentors will become clearer – allowing you to continue growing and steer clear of becoming a stagnant, delegating figurehead.

More often than not, the most profound mentorship and opportunities to grow often lie outside the glamorous realm of big tech. Such mentorship can significantly propel your career forward, serving as a pivotal element in your development in unexpected ways. My own path, both in seeking opportunities and in my role as a design leader, has been deeply influenced by the never ending value of mentorship. Aim to discover this sense of value early on, resist the rush to climb the career ladder merely to validate your skills or escape the shadow of imposter syndrome. The balance between compensated growth and expectations will never be more in your favor. Soak it in. Cherish it.

Achieving greatness as a designer or creating an exceptional product isn’t confined to following a set path or breaking into the ranks of FAANG. It’s not about completing some crossword puzzle of buzzwords – that’s the wrong goal – the goal is to embrace the simple joy of making with others who share your passion.