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Team collaboration on design

Academy Xi Blog

Four types of design training – how to choose the best fit for a team

By Academy Xi

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Team collaboration on design

You know that good design leads to better team performance, enhanced creativity and a closer connection to your customer, but what is the best way for your team to learn its practises? There are a number of providers offering a range of design disciplines, including Human-Centred Design, UX Design, Design Thinking, Service Design, Customer Experience Design… Where is best to start?

We’ve pulled together a list of goals that we think a manager might be looking toward in order to help their team achieve and mapped these goals against our various learning experiences. Hopefully this will help you navigate some of the most effective digital design options currently available. 

For raising design awareness and building lasting confidence

 Good design principles can be applied in any team – but first we have to demystify them. Unfortunately, design often lives in a ‘black box’. Insider jargon and complex methodologies  can make it seem inaccessible. High functioning design doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it works best when it is uncomplicated. If we strip it back, design is a vehicle through which creativity and innovation can be systematically nurtured. We know that when this is properly implemented, it will inevitably impact the bottom-line. According to a study conducted by Adobe, companies that foster creativity enjoy 1.5 times greater market share (2016, Adobe, ‘Design-Led Firms Win the Business Advantage’ report). Short introductory experiences can illustrate how good design can remedy static BAU thinking. With this in mind, we’ve developed a suite of intro courses and upskilling workshops designed to build lasting competence and confidence in foundational skills.
 
Matched learning experiences:

For tackling real business challenges and building technical capability

In pre-pandemic times Australia was already in the early stages of a digital skills crisis. The sudden halt imposed on skilled migration has led to shortages in certain roles (product managers, software developers, UXers and other digital specialists), particularly at a senior level. If and when you do manage to find people with the right talent, they often demand  very high salaries and can be poached by other companies trying to solve exactly the same problem.
 
Businesses undoubtedly need these kinds of digital experts to carry their growth strategies forward. When struggling to access the talent they need, they are often forced to be creative, cultivating their technical capabilities in-house. 
 
 Matched learning experiences:

For scaling and embedding organisational change

Many of the biggest challenges facing businesses are essentially design problems. Design maturity and digital maturity come when innovative ways of working take root and are used reflexively across an organisation. Every modern business has this forefront of mind. When done well, this looks like obsessive customer focus, creativity across business functions and  a collaborative ability to respond appropriately to rapidly evolving competitive environments. The impact of these kinds of agile organisational behaviours are consistently felt at the bottom-line level too. According to a recent McKinsey report, design-driven organisations outperform their competitors by 2:1 (2018, McKinsey & Co., ‘The Business Value of Design’ report). Having supported major corporates and government departments with their transformation programs, we’ve learned that the most successful approaches will incorporate everyone, from front-line staff through to executive teams. You want your people to excel instead of being left behind.
 
Matched learning experiences:

For addressing changing talent needs

Sometimes training your people in new design practices comes off the back of shifting priorities. These changes can impact hiring practices, development programs and talent management. Maybe Design Thinking is fast becoming an organisation-wide priority and you’d like every new-starter to receive foundational training so they are immediately brought up to speed. Perhaps a group needs to be deployed and their focus trained on digital design initiatives. Read our digital workforce transformation piece on how we developed the Australian Department of Health’s new team of digital leaders. 
 
Interviewed by the Harvard Business Review, former PepsiCO CEO Indra Nooyi claimed that design had a voice in nearly every crucial decision the company made while she was at the helm. The impact was enormous, as sales increased by 80% throughout her time in the role.  With these kinds of results, design in its various forms is here to stay. The question is, where is your organisation going to start?
 
Matched learning experiences:

 

Interested in learning more about how your team can harness good design and make great decisions? Get in touch to discuss how we can help you achieve your innovation goals.

Academy Xi Blog

We asked five design experts how they are progressing the design agenda within their e-commerce businesses. 

Key themes include: 

  • Steering clear of design jargon
  • Collaborative rituals
  • Team charters
  • Saying yes over no
  • Hiring for curiosity

James Ratsasane, Experience & Design Lead, Aesop.

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it? 

This is a great question, it’s also one of those jargon terms that has entered business vernacular, but for me design maturity is essentially an applied strategy. When I’m evaluating design maturity I look at three levels. The most basic is operational—designers are working on projects and creating deliverables for requirements. (Insert your favourite design thinking frameworks, artefacts and deliverables.)  It’s what would be considered base level expectation..The next level is tactical—the organisation is thinking about design practice as a function deeply integrated into product development. Good ways of working have been defined, tool kits and capability uplift activities are in place to ensure continuous improvement. Healthy collaborative rituals such as critiques and studios, playbacks showcase are bringing everyone in the organisation along on the journey.

Most organisations with a design team will have a handle on the first two, but I would argue that maturity goes beyond operational performance, the pinnacle is the strategic level where design influences decisions that impacts market differentiation. At this level, brands and companies have developed their own language of visual, interaction and service design that enables them to provide personalised and locally relevant experiences and ultimately extend their offering beyond the transactional. Their ecosystem is well thought out and seamless to their users. Eventually their products and services inform emerging trends and patterns and improve the lives of their customers.

Depending on the area organisations operate, whether its products and services, social good or government policy, their level of design maturity is underpinned by design ethics.
Practitioners at this level have an implicit understanding that design has consequences, both intended and unintended. Mature design is strategic because it considers a preferred future, and its impact on the next billion users.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

I’ve seen a few things work well. Design teams should have a charter, a social contract on how they will lift each other up. Having a knowledge base and knowledge transfer is crucial for uplifting your teams. Structures such as chapters, guilds or communities of practice can really help grow a design culture. Similarly, rituals for removing blockers and creating systems to increase efficiencies so people can focus on the true nature of design. I also believe in encouraging designers to show work often and early. Work needs to be made visible to everyone in the organisation, no us and them, and no silos please. I also like to prioritise programmes and feedback loops that enable the organisation to really understand their customer’s unmet needs. The emphasis should be on equity and inclusion. Finally, we’ve got to all embrace failure. It’s an opportunity to improve the design of your product or service.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

First, create a north star by working with your stakeholders and leadership to educate and define what good design is for your organisation. This alignment of principles will ensure standards and expectations, as well as make decisions easier. I recommend giving design a platform and ensuring that designers keep track of their UX outcomes, demonstrating how these cascade up to the team, portfolio and organisation objectives and key results (OKRs). Businesses need to empower their product teams to ideate wide, fail-fast, measure and learn often. The vision piece is key here. I always recommend hiring curious people with a growth and collaborative mindsets. The final piece is rewarding experimentation and continuous improvement. You need to nurture a design culture that is willing to innovate. This is how you get to market differentiation. Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive. It can happen with the smallest interventions.

Daniel Foulds, UX Design Lead, Kmart

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it? 

Let’s look at the various perspectives. Start by looking within your own team, then to the teams you regularly interact with and then the overall organisation. Within your immediate team, what does the UX practice look like? What are regular processes, activities and the rigour around them? For example, how are design critiques run, what’s the contribution like from individuals, what is the output like? What tools are available to UX’ers within their toolbox? How often are these tools used and referenced within cross functional teams? (e.g: journey maps, research tools, design system.) Zooming outwards, how does the practice work with these cross-functional teams? How are new teams/team members onboarded? How is the governance process of design run across teams? For these teams we partner with, how intune are they with what we do as a UX practice? What does collaboration look like? It’s got to be a partnership, we aren’t just a service. What is the broader adoption like of some of our tools? Do they see the value of building empathy via our personas? Are they adopting the qualitative and quantitative insights that we can support them with? Essentially, are we both pulling in the same direction? Zooming out again to the overall business. This often becomes a harder proposition. At this scale, there are a wide range of ingredients needed to embed a design culture. The key ingredients are persistence, coaching, unity, collaboration & time. 

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

Show the value. Take those you are working with on the journey. Business-centric staff can see things differently to a designer. Be respectful of that. Inclusion and partnership are so important. Talking the same language as a business is crucial. It often helps to speak about the size of the opportunity (dollars plus the customer impact) that relates to a UX improvement. For example, you may have a strong hypothesis as to why there is a cart abandonment at a particular part of the checkout. Do some leg work. Leverage the research tools you have and partner with other teams to get the necessary insight to support the hypothesis. Frame the opportunity in a way that helps them understand the value of the missed opportunity. For example, ‘based on our AOV (average order value), if we were able to remedy this abandonment by doing X,Y the return could be $Z…and we make customers much happier in the process.’

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

If the desire is there, that’s attitudinal and half the battle. Look to establish an approach that suits both parties and the goal of being more design-led. Partner up with key people. Get some supporters to help you drive this forward and focus on what can be done together. Can you set up an education series? What tools can you leverage – can you set up a Slack group or sharepoint for ease of visibility? How can parts of the business be included more regularly? Are there particular areas of interest that the business is more keen to understand eg: personalisation or AB testing for example? Capitalise on this interest initially.

Get to know Daniel and know what it’s like to become a mentor

Anthony Currenti, UX Lead, Catch.com.au

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it?

A lot of time is given to discussing design maturity in terms of methodologies, processes, design thinking, innovation etc. I believe that the key differentiator for businesses in achieving design maturity is when design informs rather than performing a function of a problem or product lifecycle. It is a matter of how operations are set up to drive a business in that direction. I also find those businesses that have a high level of design maturity prioritise iterative learning. The longer a business spends on a product, the longer they typically see it shift away from true customer wants and needs. Often it is better to get a product shipped and then improve it based on research and data iteratively.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

As designers, we in fact spend a lot of time with non-designers. Our role is often to bring teams of experts together to identify and address a problem. I find it is often easier to break down barriers when you speak in a language that is accessible. It is about open language. At Catch.com.au we have moved away from design jargon. Instead of using terms like ‘ideate’ and ‘prototype’ we’ve moved to using statements such as ‘What are some ideas we can come up with?’ and ‘How are we going to test these with our customers?’ This is a way of democratising design and is a vital step towards organisational design maturity.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

I would advise against automatically thinking that the only way to build a new product is to knock the old one down. Insead, I have often seen success when businesses use what they have as ‘scaffolding’ for their next project. The ‘holy grail’ of design is really in being able to give your work a currency that executive teams understand. For example, if we release a feature and need to hire a designer to bring it to life, we need metrics to show the value of the initiative. Say we then see a lift in customer ‘stickiness’, we then need to work out what that ‘stickiness’ translates to in terms of Gross Transaction Value or another key financial metric. If we can do that, we can then build a case around the value of design in language that makes sense to decision makers. This can be very challenging however as it requires you to have all of those metrics in place but I have seen it be successful if you can start to implement this over time.

Vida Asrina, Head of Experience Design, Endeavour X

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it?

Although it might seem counterintuitive, I think achieving ‘design maturity’ actually hinges on whether or not designers can unlearn design. It’s about showing empathy. When designers use complicated language, tools and methodology, they are actually creating an understanding barrier inside their organisation. What we have found works at Endeavour X is to avoid using typical design language. We have shifted the way we talk with other internal stakeholders so that we are focussed on outcomes rather than jargon. This works well because it allows us to invite those internal stakeholders into the world of design in a non-threatening way. Once we have built those relationships it allows us to take them on a design journey. This is an essential part of the process as, in order for an organisation to reach design maturity, the whole business needs to be along for the ride.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

I have a favourite saying: ‘Relationship’ over ‘ship’. If you have a good relationship, you can ship anything. If you don’t have a good relationship, you won’t be able to see any of your initiatives through to organisational adoption. In terms of building these relationships, I have a mindset that I encourage my team to use when engaging with other internal teams. Instead of saying ‘no’ to ideas that others have, I ask them to say ‘yes’ and go on to explain the potential risk factors. The moment you say ‘no’ to an idea, you construct a barrier. People feel rejected. They feel as if they are not listened to. When you say ‘Yes, and…’, people feel heard and communication can begin to open up.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

I would recommend finding a practice that works in terms of getting funding or design ‘buy-in’ more broadly. This is how momentum builds. Find an advocate internally who agrees to a short-term design commitment. For example, this could be hiring a Service Designer for a 3-month contract or funding a short-term design project. This initial buy-in allows you to show the value of design. Then things snowball. One design project becomes two. One service designer then becomes a team of service designers. You need to really find that first initial internal client that is willing to try a different design-led approach.

Gowri Penkar, Service Design Lead, carsales.com.au

Let’s unpack the term ‘Design Maturity’. How do you see it?

I see ‘design maturity’ and the role of a designer as having the ability to bring down the walls between design and the rest of the business. It is about being human centred to our customers but also our stakeholders who are tasked with hard-to-achieve targets. Designers working closely with product owners, technologists and multi disciplinary teams to change mindsets all with the goal of turning customer insights into tangible solutions to business challenges.

What have you seen work well in terms of raising an organisation’s level of design maturity?

Most businesses that I’ve worked for, know and understand that they have challenges. They often have legacy systems that create an extra layer of complexity. Some (designers) see this as an opportunity to introduce something entirely new and shiny. However, this is bound to have an opposite effect on stakeholders who are painfully aware of all the reasons why that cannot go ahead.  Good design is about helping our stakeholders achieve their goals and in the process subtly changing mindsets. It is encouraging people to look through different lens than they are used to. It is working within the constraints of the business while helping our stakeholders understand customer behaviour to better understand their needs and solve for them. In my experience, successful designers are the ones who are able to find the middle ground between what supports the overarching business’ objectives and what will make for a great customer experience. Organisations that have design teams that are able to strike this balance will be further down the path towards achieving ‘design maturity’ by virtue of the way they are able to communicate with the wider business.

What advice would you give to businesses wanting to be more ‘design-led’ in practice?

Having a customer/user/ member-first approach is the way for businesses to be design-led. The task of designers within these organisations is much deeper, though. They need to be a design leader by speaking the language of the business to communicate the value of design. They need to take the time to stand in the shoes of some of their stakeholders. They need to ask themselves – What is the organisation’s objective, goals and what do they want to achieve, and how can I help them, rather than just building something because they’ve been asked to or because it’s the latest / greatest new thing. They’ll need to inculcate in our stakeholders the values of design instead of spewing them with design jargon that makes little sense to someone who isn’t a designer. Good designers influence others in the team to think like them and bring everyone on a journey. By doing this, designers play the role of the sherpa to support stakeholders along their journey to a more design-led way of working.

Get to know more of Gowri and her design journey

Want your business to use good design to better solve problems? Arrange a 1-2 day training session to build foundational design capability in your team. Need something more bespoke? Our Signature Programs include project-based design training, customer-centric transformations and more.

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Julie Dal Santo

By Academy Xi

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After working for years in Human Resources, Julie was looking for something new to study to reclaim her ‘professional mojo’. Little did Julie know at the time, but training in User Experience Design was going to lead to her leaving her profession and starting up her own successful enterprise. 

What was happening for you before studying at Xi? What made you decide to sign up?

At the time, I had been working for about six years in my HR role, had two babies while working there and had loved it. Then there was a leadership change at work and an evolution across Human Resources in terms of employee experience, which I found really interesting. The human element really resonated with me: the connection and feeling, instead of it being just a transactional cyclical process. 

I had started to feel that lull in my career moment. I’m a big advocate for continuous learning and improvement and for not necessarily sticking to a linear approach. When we hear and learn from different perspectives we can broaden our own thinking, and spark creativity. So with that in mind, one of my incredible mentors and I workshopped a couple of areas I might be interested in learning more about. She was the first person to actually mention User Experience (UX) Design and Academy Xi, and had heard that it was well regarded and took a more innovative approach in terms of being practical and industry-led compared to a lot of other training options on the market. Xi put more focus on the skills and knowledge required on the job and was more relevant to the wider industry.

I looked around and did some of my own research. Looking at what Xi was offering, I really loved the principles of UX Design. What resonated the most was the project in terms of setting a problem statement and then looking at the practical sense of solving the problem – but with a focus on the human element of that journey. 

So I signed up to UX UI Design Elevate. I had just fallen pregnant with my third child at the time and work got really busy. The flexibility that Xi gave in terms of course start dates and the training itself made it easier to find a way to make it happen. 

What was your course experience like?

I was 25 weeks pregnant and working 4 days a week when I started the course. It was crazy but really energising. It was a challenge and if it was easy, everyone would do these things. But it aligned with my values, it was great. 

There were about 12-15 of us in our cohort and what kept me going was our two instructors, Berlin and Pedro. They were working in the field and had very practical, tangible advice. Their love and passion and interest in teaching really shone through. The course content was amazing, but to also be taught by people who are really passionate about what they do, it’s their bread and butter, it really just pushes you along. 

I’m not from a tech background and they opened my eyes. The support that they gave and the way they went about their teaching was extremely engaging and made it really enjoyable. They were both incredible. Very generous with their time. When people really know their subject matter intimately, they’re able to truly break it down and simplify it. It was a wonderful experience.

Can you recall any highlights within the training or content?

The user testing session we ran. I was really skeptical initially. It’s a good reminder – asking people and letting people talk uninterrupted instead of making assumptions. 

We had completed our prototype and then had to sit down and do user testing. Everyone brought a friend and we gave them our spiel and the instructions.  They then went through the prototype process, pressing the buttons, navigating what we had designed. 

I thought my product was great and it made complete sense.  I’d spoken to like minded people, they were all on board. Then there was this wave of phenomenal feedback from the user testing session! I’ve incorporated and held on to that even after the business has launched – I still go back and look over some of that feedback. 

As humans, we tend to assume that people either know something or have a similar experience to ourselves, and that we’ve thought of everything. We look for confirmation bias and we like being right, but the power of observation is so important – just ask the question and don’t interrupt.

Did you work on a real-life project within your training?

We could come up with our own personal problem statement that could be the basis for our project and prototype. For me, at the time, I was mulling over three different problems and I wanted to make sure that it was real life and practical. I chose a performance review process and my problem statement was:

 How might we empower employees to own and drive their lifetime career performance, feedback and development so that they are not constrained by organisational processes, timing and data management?”. 

Performance review is a process that many people have gone through across different organisations. So many people put so much effort into preparing for these conversations and getting some kind of rating as a result. All of that information goes somewhere – and it might not be recalled or ever used again. 

How do we empower them? I wanted to build a solution that would address that.

And that was the catalyst for your business, My Career Capital?

Yes. The problem statement I came up with for the project within my course has grown. I presented it at the end of the ten week training to a panel and there was a lady from a recruitment agency who commented on it, said it was a wonderful idea and product and then just before I had my baby I caught up with a few people and told them what I had been working on in the course and they were really supportive. They said that they loved the concept.

By this point, after the course, my focus was having my baby. About six months later I started having conversations about the idea again. At that point I wasn’t certain if I would be returning to my HR role either. 

We are more than our jobs – the moment you start identifying as being your job, that can be problematic in a number of ways. I think once you learn new things and have different experiences, it broadens your view of what is possible and expands the value you can add. I wanted to explore a little bit more. I began reconnecting and nurturing some of my network relationships and they really encouraged me to pursue this as well. So it started from the project at Academy Xi and it has now turned into a startup business. 

Can you give us an overview of what My Career Capital is about?

My Career Capital is a one-stop, all-inclusive platform to help you design, manage and grow your career, your way. 

The essence of what we do is giving individuals (all types of workers) and employers practical, tangible tools to build their know-how around managing themselves and their career capital. This is transformational and critical for one to navigate the future of work. 

How do we do it? It’s where users create, use and own an innovative personalised digital portfolio of their career capital to enhance employment outcomes and career potential. It can help them achieve their career potential and boost their success and fulfilment throughout their career. 

The biggest change in mindset within the current world of work we live in, is a push for individuals to take ownership of themselves and their career.

New research is showing the patterns of how people are career shifting – not necessarily staying within the same industries or organisations longer term but actually moving on every three to seven years. That’s huge for those just coming out of university at the moment, at the early stage of their career, having to continue to evolve. 

The ability for those early in their careers to navigate those transitions is all about learning how to manage themselves and their portfolio, so they can manage their transition more seamlessly, whether it’s a promotion they’re going for or a change in direction.

Research is also showing that if you want to be at the top of your game and be an industry leader, you need to be doing five hours of learning a week. It’s 2-3 hours just to stay relevant. Being active in our learning and knowing ourselves intimately can help us to navigate opportunities and challenges effectively.

Did you plan to start a business before training in UX?

Not at all. I came to study UX purely to get my mojo back, to immerse myself in something really interesting that would complement the skills I already had, but also to move me further along professionally. 

My mentor at the time was external to where I was working – which is really important to have someone outside of your work environment, to encourage diversity in thinking. I had no idea training in UX would result in me starting my own business. If someone had suggested that to me back then I wouldn’t have believed it and probably would’ve thought it was insane to even consider it. 

When you have the perspective and you can be the observer of yourself, you can make decisions that are more aligned with your values and therefore you have a higher sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. And that’s what has happened for me in studying UX Design and starting My Career Capital.

The brilliant thing with UX, is that it’s not job title or industry specific. This is where we need to break down those barriers. It didn’t matter that I was an HR professional without a tech background. The process is still the same, it’s how you go about applying it, that’s the beauty and the richness in the learning and what I found to be so interesting. 

Would you recommend studying UX Design?

The theme that is coming through is that a stronger human approach is needed, putting the human connection back into the processes many industries run. Human Resources for one, or any organisation working with people such as the legal industry or community projects, any role or industry that interacts with responsibility and accountability, I can’t advocate enough how important studying UX is. 

This process places you as an observer. You’re not making decisions all the time from your perspective. The process is very organic and pushes people to approach tasks and problems with more creativity. 

Feeling inspired yet? We are. Explore further the 5 reasons to invest in upskilling

If you think you might benefit from learning something new to help you in your role or side hustle, check out our range of Business, Design and Tech courses

Visit My Career Capital’s website and follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Academy Xi Blog

Community Spotlight: Gowri Penkar

By Academy Xi

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Senior Service Designer and Mentor, Gowri discusses the power of mentoring and shares how determination and community have shaped her 20 year career.

Hi Gowri, tell us a little about yourself and your professional background.

I’m a Senior Service Designer at Telstra, designing the end-to-end customer experience for 5G Home Internet, a strategic product. When I began my career some 20-odd years ago, I started as a web and UI designer. 

My early roles were limited to the aesthetics of a website or an application. But I always felt that something was missing and wanted to learn more. This self-awareness was a turning point for me and thus began a journey of lifelong learning. I taught myself by reading copious amounts off the internet because human-computer interaction courses (which was what they were called at the time) were either inaccessible or little known. 

I began to understand the need for a change in mindset, the critical need for quality customer research and empathy in my practice. In the meantime, I landed a UI role in a multinational company and used my position there to request a transition to the research team. 

My next move was to a design consultancy in Singapore, where I worked as a design researcher with multiple industries including banks, telecom, advertising and marketing agencies. Since then, I have held various roles across UX Design, Design Research, Product Design and Service Design – working with stakeholders across different areas in the business to come up with a shared vision. 

“As I look back to all those years ago, I can’t help but feel proud of where I am today, both as a designer and a person. It was sheer hard work, resilience and determination, but also the wonderful designers that I met along the way who shaped my practice.” 

Navigating a Design Career

What do you think are the biggest challenges in navigating a career in Service Design in your case? 

I think the challenges with Service Design are organisational and cultural factors. Service design as a practice is supposed to influence the organisation’s different functions, including its systems, processes, marketing, digital touchpoints, etc. However, most times it winds up having agency over just the customer-facing functions. This makes it difficult to influence the complete service journey and make meaningful changes.

There also are times where individual product owners and managers provide an environment that encourages human-centred design, but it ultimately comes down to the business vision. Sometimes organisations don’t have the budget to support true human-centred design and it winds up as a checkbox rather than a practice that ensures rigour.

In-Residence Program experience

You generously volunteer your time to mentor students at Academy Xi.
Why do you think mentoring is important?

To me, mentoring is important because it is a two-way street with many benefits for the mentor as well as the mentee. Being a mentor helps me articulate concepts that I’ve been reflecting on, or perhaps methodologies that have become second nature to me. Taking someone through my thought process and talking through the nuances of a design approach essentially solidifies my learning too. 

For the mentee, it provides the benefit of learning from someone else’s experience and their insights. It’s also a great time to be a mentee considering they have access to the industry’s best and brightest through Academy Xi, not to mention the relationships they get to build. 

What made you want to become a mentor with Academy Xi? 

When I started my career as a designer, I did it all alone and learnt the hard way. I love giving back to the community by supporting the next generation of people, especially considering the complex challenges that await them (if you’ve watched “Social Dilemma” on Netflix, you know what I mean). 

“I love to guide others along this journey of changing their mindset, because design education aside, it is a powerful way of thinking and being.” 

How have you found the process and experience of mentoring? 

I am in the process of mentoring my second Academy Xi mentee right now. What struck me about this program is how much mentees value the In-Residence program and how prepared they are for each session. It is indeed admirable. 

Another interesting takeaway is how different each person is – their backgrounds, their goals and what they hope to achieve out of the sessions. 

It makes me think of how to structure my approach to different individuals so they get the most out of the sessions. I have a structured approach to my mentoring sessions, where I ask my mentees to:

  • List their short term and long term goals
  • Prepare their questions for each session in the context of these goals 
  • Think about what they want out of each session

I find that this gives them time to reflect and identify what is important to them. 

“Mentoring, I feel, makes me a better designer and design leader.”

How do you approach mentoring? What would you say is your ‘style’? 

I take an ideation approach with my mentees, giving them room to grow and use their unique path. I like to inject positive energy into the sessions and focus on the strengths and learnings from missteps. Ideating with my mentee ensures that they develop the quality of seeing the big picture, always. 

In-Residence Program advice

How can one get the most out of a mentorship program? 

I believe that all designers should develop their leadership skills, and what better way to do this than become a mentor? Mentorship helps you to be a better leader as you get the opportunity to:

  • become an effective listener

  • extend your people leadership skills and

  • develop your communication skills

If you’re new to mentorship and need guidance with it, the brain trust a.k.a the other designers-in-residence, is a rich source of experiences, support and advice that is always interesting and informative. 

The Designer-In-Residence program is also a great opportunity for designers to articulate, express an opinion or ask a design-related question in a public forum, while in a safe space. They are wonderfully giving of their time and knowledge.

Finally, it is a wonderful community that provides an instant network of design professionals from across the industry.

Is there anything else you want to share with our community?

My advice to people who are starting on their journey as mentors is to use your engagement with this program to develop your skills as design and thought leaders. The first step towards that is to NOT prescribe approaches to mentees. Mentors are meant to create an environment for the mentee to support, guide and enable them to find their path. 

For mentees, the world is your oyster. It might seem that you are giving up your precious time for a mentorship session, but if you play your cards well, you’ll end up with a great relationship and a rich source of advice, guidance and design knowledge that is invaluable.