Pay It ForwardMentorship
Chicago has many advantages for a designer based here, from renowned architecture mixed with distinct and ever-changing street art, to world-class artists and performers coupled with intimate and spontaneous meet-ups. With so much going on each day, I am constantly trying to absorb all of the design influences around me.
A few weeks ago Elevate hosted a meetup featuring a talk by the talented and inspirational Mig Reyes. He is currently the digital lead at Trunk Club. He also started the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings and serves as the president of AIGA Chicago. Over beers and pizza, Mig started with his education and career path and talked about the twists and turns that led him to his current position at Trunk Club.
Mig modestly implied that his success was based in part on a little bit of “right place right time.” But having seen his work and witnessed his work ethic, I know that’s not the case. Instead, what I took from Mig’s path is that he isn’t afraid to take risks and speak up. Throughout his career, Mig has pushed the boundaries of what others think is within his job description. This has simultaneously helped him improve his skills and made him more valuable to his companies and clients.
I’m applying this to my own career, in which I recently became a lead interactive designer here at Elevate. In this more senior role, I am tasked at times with leading a team of Elevate designers. More broadly, however, I need to remember the fantastic mentorship and guidance I received along the way and pay that forward to the next generation.
To bring it full circle, Mig spoke to some of our team after the event with a special story about Elevate’s founder Larry Bak. Many years ago, when Mig was still a junior designer, he went to a similar industry meet-up event. That meet-up’s topic was design inspiration, and the speaker was Larry Bak. To me, this story demonstrates the power and impact mentorship can have on those just starting their career.
For similar stories, check out Mig’s video blog collection of designers giving career advice and talking about what inspires them.
And here is a collection of Elevate’s mentors and people that have inspired us through our career:
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
Name your layers. Name. Your. Layers.
—Bruno Pieroni, Creative Director, @brunopieroni
The most important thing I learned was from my first day of full time work — ever. The CMO (at the time) for Newell Rubbermaid spoke to our incoming class. He said, “If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s to always be consistent at work. People at work want to know what to expect when working alongside you.” It was the best advice I’ve ever gotten, and I’ve followed it since that day. I think it’s paid off because I’ve won a handful of Culture Leader awards — four at MillerCoors in my three years there, including “Living the BIM,” which is our culture leader of the year award.
—Jen Naye Herrmann, Marketing Manager at MillerCoors, Founder of Millennial Martha
I feel fortunate that early in my career I was able to collaborate with other creatives I looked up to and really respected. To be able to learn from them, see their approach and process, completely shifted me and the way I led my firm. Collaboration is an integral part of our creative process.
—Justin Ahrens, Principal & Creative Director, Rule29, AIGA National Board Member, @justinahrens
I’ve learned in my career to try to look at every situation, every person I encounter, and ask myself, “What can I learn from this person?” Even someone who consistently screws up will teach you, at the very least, how NOT to do something.
—Fernanda Bürgel, Associate Creative Director at Walton Isaacson, @fegabi
- Be a great listener and understand that just because you listened, doesn’t mean you heard. Ask the question again in a different way.
- Take chances and don’t be afraid to fail.
- Failure is a very powerful teacher.
- Seek opportunities that will connect and utilize your talents.
—Douglas Reddington, Architect & Planner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Enjoy what you do and you will do it well.
—Walter Berman, Sr. Web Developer at United Airlines
I think the most important thing I’ve learned while working as a designer is how absolutely valuable it is to work as part of a team and how much I learn from my coworkers or creative directors. When I started, I was freelancing a lot and working on my own, which you get used to having all the control of your project. Joining a team where there are talented designers on board and listening to them and their critiques or insight has been so much more valuable than any book I’ve read or class I’ve taken. I guess that’s what I’ve learned really: you’re never done learning. You can have a great eye and be a kick-ass designer filled with great ideas and since we get recognition for our work, whether people post your package design on Instagram or whatever, it’s really important to stay humble because none of us know shit and design is so subjective (even though there are very important rules). There’s always so much more to learn that will make your work even better.
—Jenn Kwiecien, Graphic Designer at Snaproducts
I learned to listen and observe before I draw an opinion or act.
—Anna Palmisano, Owner & Director of Trilogy School of Performing Arts
Knowing what you don’t know is equally as important as knowing what you know. Don’t bulldoze through things just to get ahead.
—Ken Hamilton, Internist, M.D. at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital
The most important thing I’ve learned in my career is that it is vital to learn and grow. Ideally, you’re in a career that naturally inspires you to develop your knowledge and apply it to your field. If you’re in a career that you’re lukewarm about, find something that you are interested in; it may be a hobby, a sport, or a subject that sparks enthusiasm and curiosity. Even if the thing you’re learning has nothing to do with your career, it will indirectly have a positive effect on your work because you will feel happier. Growth directly relates to fulfillment and when we are fulfilled, we bring the best version of ourselves to everything we do.
—Shweta Shyamani, Mindset Mastery Coach, Personal Point of Power
At Amazon, the mantra “Think like an owner” really resonated with and inspired me. Ironically, it’s one of the reasons I left — I didn’t see how it related to me and the job I did there. Now, in my senior role in a much smaller company, I use it often. With that lens, I can quickly see when team members don’t feel engaged or that their work is important to the team. Employee buy-in to company goals is key to its success. Those who don’t think or act with the owner mentality are most likely to take a shortcut or make a decision that’s not in the best interest of our clients.
—Reese Rowe, Director of Sales & Events, Herban Feast Catering and Events
It’s all about relationships. When you have strong, real connections with the people you work with, anything is possible.
—Marina Karassellos, Digital Creative Director at ULTA Beauty