Mentoring designers and setting objectives

A framework to help anyone set objectives for the designers they are mentoring

In this article I will provide a Figjam Framework ↗ that enables you to set objectives with any designers you are mentoring (or managing).

I developed this technique through managing my direct reports at POP, but also use it to add structure to the sessions with the designers that I mentor outside of the org. It’s a work-in-progress - but so far I’ve received excellent feedback and it’s really helped me to structure my thoughts.

Side note: if you’re a product or UX designer that’s seeking mentorship, get in touch view email: mail [at] johnhayn.es

The process involves three steps, over a six month period:

  • A skills audit; to determine the areas of focus
  • A programme of sessions designed to progress the areas of focus
  • A session to review evidence of progress made against the initial skills audit (then the process starts again)

The timeframe can be adjusted to suit, but I’d highly recommend starting with a six or twelve month cycle as it provides time for the designer to evidence a meaningful change.

Skills audit

First, I ask the mentee to complete a quick skills audit, to get a sense of where they’re at.

This is achieved by getting them to rank design and design-adjacent skills by their own relative proficiency.

It’s important to note that we’re not comparing the individual to anyone else. The purpose of mentoring is to enable self-development and so relative scoring is an adequate approach. In a management context, I will start with this approach and then align their personal objectives with that of the business.

Framework template

I’ve set up a Figjam document ↗ (that you’re welcome to duplicate). I will duplicate the document for each mentee and set it up ready for them to fill in before our first session together.

This should be completed independently before your first mentoring session. Once they have their own document, you can share the link and instructions - the aim is to arrive at the first session having both reviewed their choices.

Your first session

The objective of the first session is to review and agree their skills audit, visually identify areas of weakness and help them set personal development goals in a number of specific areas.

The agenda of the meeting is as follows (it’s a lot clearer if you view the Figjam in another window ↗ for reference):

  • Review their ranked skills, from 5 (very proficient, can do this unassisted) to 1 (not sure what this is, or how to start), interrogating their decisions; if everything is in one column, more work is required to understand where they’re truly at
  • Compare their skills against the skills required by your (or their) organisation by plotting them against the design matrix and colour-coding with their stated proficiency
  • Pick key areas of focus; once you’ve got a heatmap of their skills, work with them to identify the key areas they want to focus on. In a management setting, I will offer more of an opinion on this dependent on the business needs.

The visual artefact created during this session (their unique Figjam file) can then be used as a reference by both the mentor and mentee to set (and follow-up on) their objectives.

What you do next is up to you.

The skills/topics they narrow can be used to set a specific programme of mentoring sessions where you cover each topic in detail, or you can simply use the objectives that are set as objectives to review as you would in a monthly 1-to-1.

Summary

I’ve found that, by completing this exercise, both I and the designers that I mentor are left with a clearer picture of the things that are important to work on. As the Mentor, part of your role is to provide clarity and this framework provides that.

By revisiting this process and getting the designer to complete the skills audit six to twelve months after the first session, you can demonstrate their progress a succinct and visual way.

If you find this at all useful or have feedback about how this could be improved, please get in touch with me. I’d love to hear from you.

Mentoring designers and setting objectives