Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
Those Who Can, Teach

It may be that mentoring the young doesn’t fit into the five year plan when time and money are such numinous obsessions. After all, there are businesses to run, clients to serve, overhead to manage. Fend for yourself, kiddies.
—Sanjay Khanna, Communication Arts, March/April 2004

My freshman year in college was horrific. I went from a tiny, suburban, football-obsessed high school to a university in upstate New York with over 20,000 over-achievers. I sat in badly lit amphitheatre-sized lecture halls with several hundred other freshman listening to a myriad of professors either barking out loud or talking to themselves about “rhetoric and communications.” I ate alone in the cavernous dining halls with sociology and philosophy textbooks piled in front of me (requirements in my liberal arts education) and squinted as if somehow looking at the material differently would increase my odds of understanding the content of the pages. In a word, I was overwhelmed.

I went from having a nearly all-A’s high school record to barely scraping by that first long and lonely year. I remember one particularly gruesome evening calling my dad in tears informing him that I was quitting college and was taking the next bus back to New York City, where he lived. It didn’t matter that it was 2 in the morning—the buses ran all night. As the bus pulled into Port Authority at 5 am, I saw my dad before he saw me. And I saw by the look of his furrowed brow and the deep circles under his eyes that he was genuinely worried. It was one of the first times I ever felt that I objectively saw my father, and that vision has never left me.

Somehow, he convinced me to get back on the bus the following day. I struggled my way through the rest of my freshman year, and after spending the summer back in my suburban home working at a supermarket as a cashier and in a factory putting mascara brushes together, I reluctantly made the trek back to the dorms.

My sophmore year began differently, as I was able to take more of the courses I was ultimately going to major in: art and literature. I walked into my second-year art history class and came upon an unusual sight: a chubby woman in jeans and a sweatshirt sitting crossed-legged on a desk with a thermos of tea in front of her. She had a lovely, exotic accent and encouraged all of the students to come closer. Then she took a sip of tea and started to laugh. “My, my,” she said, “don’t you all look so serious! Let’s try and have some fun.” There was only one rule in this professor’s class: everyone had to contribute. The previous year I spent in lecture halls hiding behind a stack of textbooks, praying that no one would notice me. Now I had to call attention to myself—she demanded that we participate.

We were studying painting by the “New York School.” Pollack, DeKooning, Rothko. I had never seen a Rothko painting before. It made my knees weak. I thought that his paintings were blueprints for love and longing and loneliness and loss and hope. I still sat rather quietly in this class, but was rapt with attention for this engaging, funny, smart-alecky, quirky and happy professor. One day, she called on me and asked: “What did Rothko mean to me?” I looked up at her, nearly paralyzed. I remember thinking: how I could I adequately describe how much I loved this artist and his paintings? How could I tell her that they made me cry? I don’t remember what it was that I stammered, and I know that it was not terribly eloquent or meaningful, but she waited until I was done rambling, looked at me and told me that what I said was wonderful. That she liked my point of view. I was shocked. I felt happy. And this is how it started between us. My professor would ask me questions, and slowly but surely, I came out of my shell. She encouraged me. I flourished. I became more confident. And this newfound confidence seeped into my other classes. It got so that I would continually have my hand waving in the air. I started to love being in university, and ultimately, that never waned.

This professor profoundly influenced my life and shaped the adult woman I was to become. Through her, I saw what encouragement and hope and respect could do for a person. I saw that inspiration was as important as perspiration, and way more important than brow-beating. Now, twenty years later, I am teaching. I consider my college professor my role model.

Last year, the New York chapter of the AIGA sent out an email to their membership about their mentorship program with the High School of Art and Design. I had vaguely remembered some years back getting a gorgeous brochure in the mail illustrated by Maira Kalman, inviting participation. It piqued my interest, but busy-ness and life got in the way and the brochure went into a file. The email jolted me. It was time to give back. It was time to fully realize what my fine professor had given me. I responded to the email. A small, terrible voice somewhere inside me said, Debbie! What are you doing? Do you know what you are getting into? The time alone! But I pushed it away, and when the co-chairs of the program, Kris Angell and Emma Presler responded, I confirmed my attendance and went to the kick-off. There I met my “mentee”—15 year old Alexandra. Alex who is so, so cool and lives in Harlem and is incredibly talented and loves anime and horror movies and her friends, and has one of the most extraordinary sketchbooks I have ever seen. She’s had a vastly different adolescence than I had, and I find that I am learning a lot from her. I wonder if she feels that way about me.

Mentoring is more than just giving back. Mentoring is learning about yourself and the world. Mentoring is hard work and great fun and a big responsibility. I believe that mentoring is necessary. In this month’s issue of Communication Arts, there is a provocative, compelling article about mentoring by Sanjay Khanna. In it, he poses tough questions about the role that experienced designers have (or don’t have) for young designers. One of his key issues is this: “Young designers need encouragement. It needs to be reinforced that as young people they have a unique way of seeing and that they carry the images, hopes and fears of their generation within them. They are intrinsically important and their vision requires a good measure of support from their elders (us).” And in the same article, Paula Scher states, “I hire students from my classes as interns. I teach, hire and mentor them, closely observing their progress. I stay young because I get to borrow their eyes. In fact, I get more out of it than they do.”

So here I am twenty years later trying to “do” for someone what someone did for me. I hope I can come close. I haven’t kept in touch with my professor, but every now and then I Google her to read about what she is doing. Many years ago I went to London specifically to see the Rothko retrospective at the Tate. I was so moved after I saw the show I called New York information and asked for my professor’s home number. She was listed. I called and left a message telling her I was in London looking at the Rothko exhibit, and that I wouldn’t have been there if not for her. And I did something I am not sure I had ever done: I thanked her.

Yeah, I know—this is one wicked-long post. But I need to know: What about you all? What do you think of mentoring? Did I just get lucky back in college? Has mentoring—either as a mentor or a mentee done anything for you? Anyone out there hiring and fostering interns? Do you think it is a responsibility we have as practicing designers and graphic artists to influence and inspire design students? Can we really make a difference to the generation of designers following us? And should we?

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Mar.30.2004 BY debbie millman
Armin’s comment is:

Great post, nicely written (since we are talking about writing and such).

I haven't had a mentor. There was one teacher at college that really made a difference and opened my eyes a little bit. He taught product and industrial design and I took his class the last two semesters, I was the only graphic designer to have ever taken a product design class at my college (yeah, that says a lot doesn't it?). So, the teacher was quite intrigued and paid a bit more attention to what I was doing. It was the first time somebody talked to me about design as a general discipline, rather than design as only graphic design, which was what I was getting at my other classses. It was cool, but it wasn't exactly a mentorship relationship.

As far as being a mentor, I would love to. Maybe in five years or so, when I have more experience. If possible, I would love to have a great internship program in my future, hypothetical design firm.

Slightly related, last month Bryony and I were invited to give a workshop at Marwen with the AIGA to 30 teenagers… man, I was scared. Teenagers are a tough crowd, however the feeling that we were showing them something new, that was very close to us was very rewarding. So, I think I can take on one teenager/young adult at a time, not 30.

On Mar.30.2004 at 10:55 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Great post, Debbie. Made me shed a tear.

I also had years in college when I felt lost -- I think it may be a part of being that age. Then, I found design, and had the fortune of connecting with a number of seasoned designers who, in part, all served as one collective mentor. I had a professor who later became a boss, who in hindsight, I've modeled my career after. I also had a wonderful art director, Cynthia, who showed me the potential career I had in front of me. And lastly, I had a creative director, Frank, who inspired me to have professional ambitions and drive. They've all had part in creating me as designer.

I started teaching part-time about five years ago because I just wanted to try it. I thought it would improve my presentation skills and help me to organize and present my design methods better. But it ended up being more rewarding than I could ever imagine. It was inspiring to see how my teachings and influence had changed my students. And as they graduated and entered the workforce, it was nice to keep in touch and see a select few succeed in their careers. It has made me feel like I've made a difference like nothing else has.

Alas, I've had to take a sabbatical from teaching recently due to my work schedule. I'm going to miss it immensely.

We definitely have a responsibility to the generation of designers following us. In many ways, that's why I participate on SU as well.

On Mar.30.2004 at 11:44 AM
Greg’s comment is:


I think you forgot to thank God and the Acedemy. :) I kid, I kid.

I completely know what debbie's talking about though. I had a rough time in school at my first college, but then transferred and found a teacher who I wanted to be like. Role models are important. I'd be afraid though to say what Armin said about it, "I'll wait until I have more experience, more time, more money, etc...." because that cycle won't end. To be fair, though, Armin, I think you're mentoring with this site a lot more than you could just one-on-one.

They say that those who can't do, teach. I think it's the other way around.

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:40 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I'm agnostic. Come'on - it wasn't that bad.

Besides, didn't you hear? I condone the exploitation of junior designers and operate a bunch of design sweatshops in Indonesia to get to where I am today.

Deb asked about mentors, Sarcastro. What a tough crowd :-w

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:50 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

I've never had a mentor, at least not a real one. While doing my graduate work, one guy kinda came close but then I realized he was more about money and prestige and didn't exactly have my best interests in mind. Following that, in my first job, mentoring was unheard of and simply...wasn't done. Ever. That annoyed me. And now, I still don't have a mentor but its as if by swimming through two pretty isolating experiences (graduate work and first job) and not quitting the industry, I don't feel intimidated by anything. When something crosses my priority list, I do it--I do it well, and I do it quickly. I like the position I'm in, interacting with people from different disciplines, amalgamating thoughts, ideas, notions, putting stuff together, creating what needs to be created. There's a lot of value to that for me.

But I really wish I had been mentored because I think there's been an unusual and unnecessary amount of misery that I've had to swath through--it was a path I walked alone, and while it wasn't necessarily lonely, I was definitely on my own. I appreciate the fact that I'm "stronger" and whatnot because of it, but I also catch myself being a bit of a jackass and way, way, way too hard on people sometimes. This is design, folks, its important but its not worth destroying people over...mentorship should challenge you, but it should also support you and encourage you. Some people, perhaps, look at a desire for support and encouragement as a weakness. That's too bad. It's so typically American, its another of way of just playing to win, instead of playing to play.

I sat here reading Debbie's post, and while it didn't remind me of college much (college = booze and weed and parties for me), it did remind me of what things were like when I actually decided to grow up. It wasn't easy and it wasn't much fun; I hate seeing people not getting the attention they need, so, it wasn't hard for me to volunteer my time in whatever way I could to my undergraduate institution recently. I think I'm too young and inexperienced to make much of a difference, but what the hell. I feel its something I should do.

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:51 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> because that cycle won't end.

Greg, I see what you are saying, because it could simply be used as an excuse. However, I do think I still have a lot to learn, a lot to mess up and a lot more to find out to feel like I'd be making a valuable contribution to a young 'un.

> To be fair, though, Armin, I think you're mentoring with this site a lot more than you could just one-on-one.

Maybe, but it's different. This is more of a group effort. And I/we don't have to deal with your problems at home with family, school, etc. Taking somebody as your mentee implies a sense of responsability that is not easy to, well, take on.

On Mar.30.2004 at 12:57 PM
eric’s comment is:

why doesn't anyone use the word 'protege' anymore?

On Mar.30.2004 at 01:07 PM
Kris’s comment is:

There's an intrinsic dilemma here, is being a great designer the result of having a mentor/role model at the beginning of your career? Is it necessary to mentor to have a new generation of creative (successful) professionals?

What happens to those that aren't mentored and that have no role model(s)?

Is a college education and the drive to succeed enough?

On Mar.30.2004 at 01:10 PM
Paul’s comment is:

Thank you, eric!

"mentee" is a positively homely word. It's possibly even worse than "incentivize," which I really loathe.

sorry. as you were...

On Mar.30.2004 at 01:24 PM
Zoelle’s comment is:

I've never been too proud/shy to ask for help. The way I see it, if someone has successfully traveled down a path that you wish to take, why not ask them for directions?

On Mar.30.2004 at 01:28 PM
Chuck’s comment is:

I've been watching this site for a bit and this is my first post, because I wanted to comment on Kris's post.

I think that it may not be "necessary" to have a mentor to be successful, but from my experience it certainly helps.

My educational experience was rich and I felt I had connections with many instructors that fully supported me and my work. However, there were a few students on the fringe of the class that had difficulties connecting on a personal level with the instructors and as a result fell behind.

The relationships I had with my instructors gave me confidence to go out into the design world. Confidence that I'm certain was not shared by some of my less fortunate classmates.

In the end, will I be more successful than them...maybe, maybe not. I suppose that has to do with how you define success. Career-wise, though, I do feel I had an initial push.

On Mar.30.2004 at 02:03 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

why doesn't anyone use the word 'protege' anymore

I blame Seinfeld.

I'm not sure I've had a true mentor. What I have had are teachers and creative directors that were willing to impart some knowledge other than "move it to the left 2 pica" and "add some drop shadows." Those relationships have influenced my work and life immensely and continue to do so. I wouldn't be the designer I am today without them. When I worked in a larger studio, I tried to transfer some of my knowledge to the newer designers, whether it was helping them navigate through office politics or selecting them for my design team. Every little bit helps, I believe.

On Mar.30.2004 at 06:23 PM
Sarcastro’s comment is:

Sorry Tan. (to be read in a five-year-old apology voice)

why doesn't anyone use the word 'protege' anymore

I think Donald Trump holds the copywright and is charging five cents a use.

On Mar.30.2004 at 07:07 PM
marian’s comment is:

I never had a mentor, but man o man would i love one, even now.

I think I've been one though! I didn't really know I'd been one but both of my former designers say very nice things about me and claim I influenced and helped them a lot. Who'd'a thunk? I thought I was just letting them do their own thing.

On Mar.30.2004 at 07:25 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>Sorry Tan.

Greg, greg, greg....first rule on SU is that there's no need for apologies bro. Especially for smack talk. Hopefully I can take it as well as dish it.

>Protege/Donald Trump

Eventhough I hate that show, the women did come up with a great name for their team.

(In his voice, with Trump pucker and stylish combover...)

"For today, you'll gonna get the chance to visit the best blog in da world. Cause it's my blog..."

On Mar.30.2004 at 07:59 PM
justin m’s comment is:

I wish I had a mentor right now. Some would think that I am probably too old (24) but I need someone who is actually working to kick me in the butt.

I'm to the point that I want to drop out of school everyday when I go to class. I'm one of those "fringe students" that Chuck mentioned except, I don't struggle, I just haven't made any connections with the other students. A couple of grad students enjoy my presence but that's it.

Even though I'm still in school, I feel like Bradley. I'm way too hard on other students. The main reason being a few years ago I wanted to be a superstar web designer. I learned how to use Flash, get dirty in Photoshop and be weird 24 hours a day. I made huge collages that took forever to download and looked like total crap. Then I woke up. I realized that although I could make half decent looking images and knew more about HTML, Unix, and the internet than everyone around me, it didn't matter because I didn't know what I was doing in a lot of ways (not just the "work").

I started reading and continue reading today. I realized I suck and wanted to do something about it. I could make stuff that imitated WWFT, GMunk, Carson, and the handful of others that I wished I was at that time, but I didn't understand what it was I was doing or why.

Unfortunately, a year ago I was still in that place. "Making the Invisible Visible" changed that. I started looking at the things I was doing even more critically and truly realized it was horrible. Today I am studying "Grid Systems in Graphic Design." Why? It's not required by any classes I'm taking. None of my teachers seem to recognize the bright orange cover, at my school it would be a suprise to see someone carrying such a book. I go to school with students that think being a graphic designer is all about the pretty pictures.

They had their junior portfolio review this past week and the work is still on the walls. I want to cry because some of these students' work is considered "excellent." I look at the mock annual reports and shudder. I stare at the corners of posters that are peeling off their mat board and laugh. I notice the pieces falling of the wall altogether and sigh. Most days, I just feel sorry for the other students around me.

But like Bradley, I've worked hard to get to the point I am at. I know Comic Sans, Curly, and Kirsten should not be used unless you're making a birthday invitation for your girlfriend. The grid involves more than grid paper, it requires work. I know how to accept criticism and appreciate it, even if it hurts.

I can't mentor anybody today but I do donate quite a bit of supplies and other things to various classes. I feel I am as responsible for the others' educations as I am for my own education. When I graduate, I plan on donating things like new drafting and light tables, working to set up a library for the department and doing things like that specifically for the design section of my school. I also plan to mentor and hire students from the school (yes, I have high ambitions). However, I have to manage to stay motivated and finish school while I work full time, fix my house, and spend time with my fiance who, I get to see about 30 minutes a day if I am lucky.

If anybody wants an anal-retentive, perfectionist, work-a-holic graphic design student to guide and abuse and would love you for it...

On Mar.31.2004 at 07:55 AM
eric’s comment is:

justin, beautiful and painful post.

however, if i tried to make a birthday card using Comic Sans, my girlfriend would kick my ass.

On Mar.31.2004 at 09:07 AM
amanda’s comment is:

erin, that made me laugh out loud.

my husband would kick my ass as well.

On Mar.31.2004 at 10:13 AM
amanda’s comment is:

when i said erin, i meant eric. sheesh. (go grabs coffee).

On Mar.31.2004 at 10:14 AM
maruchi’s comment is:

Hi Debbie,

I read the print out of your article this morning, I was crying in the subway car! I keep in touch with my college mentor in Puerto Rico, she still teaches art. My mentor from 1rst grade in Puerto Rico passed away a couple of years ago, but I think about her often- Srta. Navarrete!

Keeping in touch with your mentors, it's good for the heart.

On Mar.31.2004 at 10:42 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Thank you Maruchi, and welcome to Speak Up.

I also remember my first grade teacher...Mrs. Mayer. And my sixth grade science teacher, Mrs. Van Alst and my 12th grade trigonometry teacher, Mrs. O'Brien. So many people giving so much of themselves and asking for so little back.

>There's an intrinsic dilemma here, is being a great designer the result of having a mentor/role model at the beginning of your career? Is it necessary to mentor to have a new generation of creative (successful) professionals? What happens to those that aren't mentored and that have no role model(s)? Is a college education and the drive to succeed enough?

Great, important questions, Kris.

I do not think that being a great designer is the result of having a mentor or role model at the beginning of your career, but it sure does help. I think that talent and ambition can be nurtured by people willing to provide time and guidance and advice whether they be mentors, teachers, role models or good, honest friends. I personally feel very strongly that successful designers should reach out to the next generation of designers behind them. We all owe it to each other. Who better to provide inspiration, information and a point-of-view on the complex and multi-faceted issues we all have to deal with? I don't think that a college education and the drive to succeed is enough--it is critical to have a balanced perspective on the outside world, and how to relate in it. Ambition and a degree is not going to provide what needs to be learned from the heart.

On Mar.31.2004 at 11:57 AM
Paul’s comment is:

...successful designers should reach out to the next generation of designers behind them.

...or alongside them, Debbie. Our peers may need us (and often we them) too. The Speak Up community frequently acts for me as a surrogate mentor, providing perspective, useful ideas, and the wisdom of experience. Sounds a lot like mentoring, doesn't it?

I wish I had an actual mentor, but at this point I'll take it where I can get it.

On Mar.31.2004 at 02:26 PM
Jerel’s comment is:

I've never really had a mentor of the design persuasion. Perhaps, it was because I didn't take any design courses in college or grad school (where I did find mentors, but for other things).

Clearly, I have had help along the way. If it wasn't for some folks who took me in and let me work their front desk, then I wouldn't have been able to pick up the skills or seize the opportunity to design my first interface, to get a taste for the work, and to move forward from there.

I've found it to be vital that there be people who show you the potential career that may be available to you if you put in the work, make the sacrifices, etc. and many examples have already been cited in the discussion. To second Paul, SU also adds to this in another way because many examples are the posters generating the discussion as well.

On Mar.31.2004 at 03:25 PM
alex’s comment is:

debbie, alex here, i loved the article, i truly enjoyed and yes, yes debbie i do feel the same way about you.oh yeah sorry about the misspelling if i have any. ^_^ okay well. yeah that's about it.

On Mar.31.2004 at 04:25 PM
graham’s comment is:

"Can we really make a difference to the generation of designers following us? And should we?"

absolutely: through the work one makes, the things one says, ones desires and ambitions-the wishing and willing for progress, change, understanding, encouraging through galvanising and encouraging, causing experience, learning and understanding through experience.

i don't recognise many of the college experiences on here: i know of college as college-as art college-not as another version of school, not as something-like-something-else, but something different-4 or 6 years of only letterpress if that's what you wanted, tempered by peers and/or the person you chose or happened upon who would be a tutor throughout that time-and tutor as inspiration, drinking partner, devils advocate, collaborator, opposite, instigator.

can the designers going through college be inspired? yes. by the world, international, thinking doing without distraction-and by the drawing out of their ambitions and marking out the signs and pathways along which they may find fulfillment of them.

in design, this means one simple thing only; working with students on the assumption that they are at college in order to undertake their own concern when they leave.

there is no need for someone to go to college if that is not the intention.

On Mar.31.2004 at 04:49 PM
graham’s comment is:

no-forget that last line. too extreme, but the intention of it more than the sense . . . to get to the fundamental desires, emotions, needs that brings someone to that place at that time; to encourage and perhaps inspire and that is almost all, because even in the wildest of possibilities resides the mundane and the very very practical.

On Mar.31.2004 at 04:58 PM
Beth Tondreau’s comment is:

it is critical to have a balanced perspective on the outside world, and how to relate in it. Ambition and a degree is not going to provide what needs to be learned from the heart.

Debbie makes a great point in response to Kris's question. A great education and ambition are a helpful start; but validation and support in the real world make a huge difference. In my first job, my boss told me he thought I could do anything--and asked how he could help me achieve my goals. That's powerful stuff --and decades later, that early coaching and trust carries me through many a dreadful day.

Seasoned or successful designers--and just plain old civilians--owe it to to younger colleagues to smooth the way. They also owe it to themselves. I've learned as much from my mentee/protégée/student/friend as she has from me (she just phoned today from college; what a compliment). I've also learned as much from my younger colleagues and younger mentors as I've learned from my seasoned peers. It works all the way around.

On Mar.31.2004 at 05:10 PM
Josef’s comment is:

Two Thanksgivings ago I volunteered at this soup kitchen that provided turkey dinners for the homeless in NYC. I struck a conversation with one of the volunteers there and, as it turned out, this guy was the art director of Metropolis magazine. He gave me plenty of advice but there was one thing he said that completely changed my life from that point on: "You have to make things happen yourself."

Within the span of the two years since that moment I've worked on design projects with the UN, designed a catalogue for an artist (which managed to get him a gallery show in Belgium), and currently I'm in the process of launching a magazine. And to think I'm not even out of school yet (I'll be a senior next school year). But none of these things would have happened if that art director had never mentioned to me those seven wondrous words. That one simple nudge took me (and still is taking me) to many wonderful places.

On Apr.01.2004 at 08:31 AM
bryony’s comment is:

formally, I have not had a mentor, but many people have been and are very importan in my formation as a designer and a professional. Had it not been for my high-school art teacher introducing me to design and it’s potential I would not be here today. Had it not been for my artist mom pushing me to be creative every day of my life, who knows, I just might be a lawyer instead.

Mentoring is extremelly important. Something to keep in mind, is that mentoring can take two paths: long-term and short-term. After a few workshops and teaching sessions, I have been surprised at how much you can affect a person(s), be it in the way they perceive themselves, the creative process, the way they approach problems and solutions... who knows. Anything is up for grabs,and you never know if the one sentence you said in the middle of your introduction will have a life changing effect on somebody. Long-term would be what Debbie is doing, when you engage with a person or group for a prolong period of time and have a chance to cover many subjects and aspects of design and tailor your words and suggestions to a specific individual.

On Apr.01.2004 at 11:28 AM
Emma’s comment is:

It works all the way around.

Beth's comment on the circular nature of mentoring dovetails nicely with your post, Josef.

As you probably know, the art director you mention is a mentor in the AIGA Mentor Program.

It is critical to have a balanced perspective on the outside world, and how to relate in it. Ambition and a degree is not going to provide what needs to be learned from the heart.

As Debbie says, there is no substitute for the larger "life lessons" that augment one's design skills. Smarts in dealing with people, business issues and a host of other unexpected challenges we all encounter come a lot more readily when you're learning from someone.

On Apr.01.2004 at 12:03 PM
Jeff Cochrane’s comment is:

Hello all. I am currently at college in London in my first year of a graphic design degree. I am 31, so my position is a very unusual one as most of the students around me are in their very early 20's. It took me quite a while to work out what I wanted to do and I had to wait for several years to get into college as I am from New Zealand and only recently obtained residency in the UK. I was very lucky over the last couple of years as I managed to work in an extremely good and well known design studio, first on a placement and then in a paid position. Up until this point my interest in graphic design revolved around looking at stuff that I thought was cool. I had never considered the 'critical' in design, and was only really interested in the surface. I would love to have a mentor, and desperately wanted my boss to give me more time and encouragement. This didn't happpen, and much of the work I did was quite tedious such as scanning and image re-touching etc...However within this daily grind, for three days a week I was surrounded by 4 extremly good designers who were all constantly engaging in an ongoing and critical debate about design and its consequences in the world. So although I felt my contribution was low, I did an enormous amount of listening and looking. And I can say that this completely changed my approach to design. So I guess all these people became my mentors in different ways, in that I think as a collective they influenced me in ways they were probably not aware of.

Now i'm at college and I can easily say that this is the best thing I have ever done. Although I came from a working environment and am fluent in computing languages, I was completely unaware of the most basic of design ideas, such as the importance of a sketch book, and I spent much of my first term learning to use one. Now I can recognize a complete transformation in my work. Where as I think I used to use the computer as a substitute for ideas, I now think of the computer simply as a tool to help me further progress with an idea. I've learned to love going about things the long way, of actually making things with my hands rather than a computer, which is perhaps a luxury one can afford at college. I think a lot about processes and although I sturcture my work I also appreciate the uncertanties that a working process allows, as often these result in different and unexpected pieces. Anyway i'm always looking for people to mentor me, but it's not so important to me what area of study they come from. So long as I feel thay can inspire and offer me something, from critical feed back to new ways of looking at the world. I certainly don't have one mentor, but i've located, and am still doing so, the people in my college that inspire me. I always try to make contact with these people as often even brief conversations can spark an idea or inspire a thought which can turn into something truely inspiring.

So I guess i'm saying that mentors are always around me, and us. It's not some kind of formal arrangement, but more of a casual exchange, an exploration into what we can learn from each other. I do like the idea of having one mentor, but I think that we are all capable of mentoring each other and ourselves, simply through seeking out the people that you feel you can learn something from, and talking to them...

On Apr.01.2004 at 01:52 PM
bryony’s comment is:

As important as it is to mentor (although this is not something we are all born to do), is wanting to be mentored. It is people like Jeff who can make a difference for mentors, by showing enthusiasm and interest in what the mentor has to say.

You can have as many people on your plate to mentor as you want, but only those who are wanting will create an enriching relationship for all involved.

On Apr.01.2004 at 04:51 PM
Jen’s comment is:


I stepped into college being average. Not even a spelling bee trophy or county fair blue ribbon. Just regular. I was going to be a teacher...maybe an attorney...maybe a mother of three...but probably average.

I was happy, for the most part but had no idea about passion. That feeling of being drawn through the hardship to something that matters more than the hurt, hard work, self doubt and general stretching that it takes grow.

My father, who has struggled as a starving artist for his life, scared the crap out of me and only told me stories of why I should never choose creativity as a career, despite my regular out of the box thinking, ability to take imaginative risk and relate it back to the world with a small thread of connectivity and the apparent inability to draw a straight line. So the day I walked up the stairs of the art department to change my major, I knew I was about to start a journey that to everyone involved didn't make sense.

Then she showed up...this amazing woman with wild curly black hair and a passion for seeing things in a new light, gave me an education.

She taught me detail, she insisted success was a matter of commitment; she was ruthless about hard work, close observation and intentional decisions. She never let us get by with "I don't know". All of us...those 30 unruly teenagers...would do anything not to let her down. She taught us to care, she showed me passion.... she showed me that place in all of us where passion resides and is a wellspring of commitment.

She showed me the door and told me I had everything she could teach (something I couldn't believe). I was armed with a black book full of proof that I could use a ruler for a straight line and a glimmer of talent. I had a title for what I wanted to be, I had a passion for doing it, and I had a mentor.

She wasn’t the last mentor I would have. I had a mentor so fascinated by the space between letters and the grace of a beautifully designed serif that her face would light up so brightly I was compelled to try to understand the magic that she could see. But what I began to understand about being mentored was that it is all about trust. You have to believe what they tell you. You have to have faith, respect and a little risk.

On Apr.02.2004 at 11:10 AM
justin m’s comment is:

After more than a few emails, a little bit of discussion with various people, and some serious thinking, instead of wishing and whining about my education, I'm heading in a new direction with my frustation... anybody have tips on starting a student AIGA chapter?

On Apr.02.2004 at 03:35 PM
Justin’s comment is:

Starting a student AIGA chapter? Good luck. I ran one for a while and it was a trial. You have to put a lot of time into it to get results. You'll probably have to badger the local aiga chapter (if there is one) to get any info from them. The minneosta chapter offers money (if you get a certain number of students signed up) if you have an event of some kind. You might have some luck getting some funding from your school, too. That was more of a help to me than the AIGA. We just threw parties with it though. :)

As for a mentor, I can say without a doubt that I would not be anywhere near as good of a designer as I like to think I am without the guidance of Piotr Szyhalski. He is a brilliant teacher, friend and mentor, and has taught me much. I can only hope that I can influence someone as positively as he has some day.

On Apr.04.2004 at 05:06 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> anybody have tips on starting a student AIGA chapter?

I think our own Brook Lorntson is involved in something similar?

On Apr.04.2004 at 10:32 AM
Peter Levinson’s comment is:

I never heard of graphic design until I was in my 20’s, in the mid-1970s, and selling transfer lettering at an art supply store. It dawned on me that I could make a living playing with type. Eventually this led to my first job as a paste-up artist. My boss was Julie, who was the daughter of a printer from Bombay, and she practically lived at the studio, along with her family and her sister — a print broker with whom she constantly battled. She was my first mentor—and she was a brilliant and intuitive designer.

I learned how to design from Julie—her method was best characterized as “any port in a storm”. Confronted with a client, a deadine, and project, I learned to look for any entry point I could find to solve the problem; and given my deficiencies as a comp artist, use anything I could to present my concept. (This of course, was pre-Mac). She taught me that creativity is inherently chaotic. After working for her for four years I further learned while creativity was chaotic, business did not have to be—four years of all-nighters, or getting in at 4am was enough. Still, it was wonderfully quiet at 4am…

Regards to all my fellow AIGA mentors.

On Apr.11.2004 at 06:23 PM
Emily’s comment is:

Please! Those who can teach, TEACH! I have never respected anyone more then my English professor, Mrs. Pearson, I had at a private college in Idaho. Her opinion, her lessons, the time she spent to really help and understand meant the world to me. I am so thankful for her. She loved what she did, and she loved to see us succeed, isn’t that what teaching is all about? I have been in design school for about 4 years now, and have yet to come across a professor that loved to teach as much as they loved design. I wish there was that fire of Mrs. Pearson in my current design teachers, …that, �you know what, we are here to learn, discover, and inspire, forget about what is happening at the office and let’s focus on what is happening here in the classroom.’ Sometimes that excitement coming from the front of the room about a certain typeface, or that subtle, yet meaningful encouragement uttered during a critique, is all that we need to become that confident designer that so many professors want their students to be. We need mentors, we need teachers and professors who love what they do, who have that fire.

On Apr.11.2004 at 11:08 PM