PEER MENTORSHIP WORKSHOP
Peer Mentoring Event
Research, Management, Leadership
2 Weeks Planning - June 2017 - July 2017
One day workshop
Rather than waiting for another organization to create an opportunity to learn and to teach, why not as creatives, (currently transitioning careers towards design for technology) create our own opportunities? The focus of this retreat was to improve the members' Experience Design knowledge in regards to design methods, tools, and design thinking.
One of our goals is to prototype a few versions of this Experience Design Peer Mentorship Workshop and to make our insights available publicly in order to inspire and empower other people to adapt this framework for their own workshop.
Between attending experience design workshops, design jams, as well as numerous lectures and panel discussions, I am not exactly sure when I started noticing a pattern. In any case, I started putting two and two together, which I will explain below.
The first Two:
The “experience” demand and limited experience opportunities:
1. Most employers these days are seeking “Senior” designers, or “more experienced” candidates. What does that really mean? Are they someone who has leadership certificates on their resume? Someone who knows “design process” like the back of their hand? Or someone who has simply worked in this field for a really, really, really long time? These different requirements are in reality, potentially very mutually exclusive.
Perhaps I will conduct a research study sometime and try to figure that out, in the meantime, it is a struggle for those of us in career transitions or just graduating college to find that first break. (But then again it is already difficult for the tech industry to agree on what UX really means.)
2. The reality is, we job seekers need more experience x patience x runway. How do we get more experience? What makes one way of getting “experience” more legitimate than others? Do we always somehow need to be paying someone to teach us, or volunteering our time for free?
The other Two: The concept of peer mentorship and teaching:
1. Inevitably, the “mentor” question would come up during a Q&A session. Interspersing the anecdotes about inspiring and influential mentors; a senior at the firm with a unique and invested involvement with their mentee; every now and then panelists cited their peers as great advisors and mentors.
After hearing this peer mentor comment on a few different occasions, I realized it answered a question I had in the back of my mind: Since mentorship is touted as a great thing to have, how do we start or sustain mentor-mentee relationships when we are afloat and working towards new careers in the great unknown future?
The answer apparently was that we probably already are in these relationships, and they are sustaining. We just need to give them credit. If it is true that our peers are often our trusted mentors, then it also means there are many things we can learn from them, and it is an empowering thought that we are mentors ourselves.
2. After speaking with a few friends of mine, all with creative backgrounds and also currently developing new skills for new careers, I discovered that for most of us, teaching was something we did in the past when tasked to pass on knowledge and skills to fellow employees by our employers, or something we did in college as part time jobs.
When did opportunities to teach and empower other people become so rare? Is it not commonly acknowledged that in order to become an expert in a subject matter, teach?
Although we may come from different creative backgrounds, and we did not yet consider ourselves “experts” in experience design or the related topics, we are very capable of teaching ourselves, and subsequently teaching others, or at least sharing our experiences with each other. Teaching others also helps us to become the experts we want to become.
It’s a win win situation!
One of my initial inspirations was another successful peer mentorship retreat that my studio-mate Emi attended. In preparation for this peer mentoring workshop, I interviewed her, to learn more about her four person peer small business owner makers retreat and what made their experience successful.
It was a 3 day retreat and members had been meeting semi-regularly over some months.
They had members with a wide range of experience, from 6 months to 10 years.
They taught each other subjects they wanted to personally improve on, i.e. "Although I may not be an expert, I want to learn more and by teaching the subject, I will become very familiar with the subject”.
They taught a variety of subjects, from personal development, goal setting, to tools for improving a small business.
They shared both their struggles, which members helped to troubleshoot, and their successes to celebrate together.
They were extremely organized with their scheduling, designating a certain amount of time for each speaker when sharing; 5 minute warning..timer goes off, moving on~
They scheduled time to go outside and enjoy nature.
They made meals together which helped everyone bond through teamwork.
I asked her if there was anything she thought could be improved for their retreat, and she said “no, everyone was super motivated afterwards and we all felt it was the perfect weekend retreat”
*In retrospect, I am sure there were probably some inconveniences or mismatched expectations. Given a more in depth interview, talking with more members of the retreat would create more well rounded insights to reference the next time around.
While the scope of the makers retreat was much larger than our group could commit to, the concept and structure seemed suitable for our needs.
We had one day, and although we also had a small group for the first installment of our workshop, some of our members only met recently and briefly prior to planning the workshop.
Many of the makers were somewhat established in their careers as small business owners while our design members were mostly still figuring out where we fit as creatives in the tech industry.
Our group had similar goals overall and a wide range of design experience as well.
For everyone to get a better understanding of the offerings and needs of all the members (our peers) I wrote a quick email survey for members to share their context in the form of a short introduction:
Their past related experience to Experience Design, where they are now, and their goals.
SURVEY RESPONSE INSIGHTS
It seemed that every person in the group was simultaneously working on personal as well as professional development.
We all had different aspects of design we could elaborate on and teach to each other, the difficulty was narrowing down the topics.
We are all looking for opportunities to connect with others and to develop our technical skills.
We decided to use BaseCamp as our platform for planning the event as it has an accessible layout for sharing and editing project materials in many different formats and viewing changes over time. I considered that it would be helpful to reference each other’s profiles in order to get to know one another and to help us customize the teaching and learning experience with each individual in mind.
Where you are now:
Where you want to go:
I plan on teaching at the retreat:
Bonus: What cause are you motivated by?
After the event: My takeaway from the retreat
During the planning stage, we also added a few pages to Basecamp and separated some pages for added clarity and relevance.
Changes to the schedule-We had planned this workshop soon after design week in San Francisco. I wanted to make time to discuss any insights we had from the week, since we all attended many different events. It was important for us to catch up with each other on our recent struggles and successes, while leaving time to help each other trouble-shoot as a way of building camaraderie and getting to know one another. We were each going to teach a 1 hour workshop to gain experience and to give back. And lastly, if there was time/energy we would do critiques of current projects.
A potluck list- It was initially attached to the individual profiles, and was separated since it was not relevant to the other content on the profiles and was of much lower importance.
A resource list-We discovered that we all have researched and come across many different articles, books, learning platforms and other design related materials. Now we can consolidate our findings for everyone to access and reference even after the workshop.
Jeremy teaching us about Network Theory and how it applies to technology products and interpersonal relationships.
Michael teaching us about the Value Proposition Canvas and integrating this process into a UX workflow.
MY TEACHING HOUR
What I taught during my 1 hour workshop:
Designing your Self-Presentation: Related to self discovery and networking
Understanding where and how we fit in as creatives, our roles in the tech industry, and how to present ourselves in order to make relevant and meaningful connections with others.
I curated exercises and references from a variety of sources to take my peers through a journey focused on empowering self-reflection and self-advocacy through storytelling.
Energy & Engagement Mapping from Designing Your Life leads into a discussion around awareness of our environments, understanding when, where, and how we perform at our best, and thus how we are able to design for situations best suited to ourselves.
The Unique Value Propositions exercise helps with thinking about context; where we fit into the situation, who is the audience, who are our competitors, and where can we focus more energy to improve and become more relevant for the work we want to do.
These exercises are meant to start conversations which we revisit over time. With those thoughts around understanding our context and our relevance, we dove into telling our story.
Along the lines of unique, I referenced Debbie Milman's Words to Describe Designers, a list of words identified as“table stakes”, which we should not to use to describe designers since they are already a given. Rather what other words can we use which are more memorable and specific to help ourselves stand out?
And the twist in my teaching hour; we next referenced our BaseCamp profiles, resumes, and Linkedin's in order to write an Elevator Pitch for ourselves and another member. It was an exercise in networking and professional relationships where a give and take are expected. It is important to hone skills in introducing ourselves as well as introducing others.
See examples of my elevator pitch and my peer's contribution below:
I was also curious how we may appear to others and how they may differ in their perceptions of who we are and what we do from our own perceptions.
THE WORKSHOP OVERALL
Even just three workshop hours seemed too much to take on in one day, especially since the content for each of those hours was very different, and there was very little time set aside to work individually or as a group.
Each of us contributing towards all aspects of the workshop was a little overwhelming and lead to more complexity than necessary.
In future workshops we may simplify responsibilities by designating all of one task to each individual; i.e. one person teaching, one person hosting, one person in charge of food i.e. ordering pizza etc, and one person with something to critique, leaving time to co-work together in between.
MY WORKSHOP HOUR
It was a lot of content and concepts to undertake in just one hour, I would perhaps focus on just one half per session next time around; Energy and Engagement mapping and unique value propositions or writing introductions for ourselves and others with time for critique. The feedback was that the information needed more time to soak in before we could fully grasp and harness it for the following exercises.
*We are looking forward to hosting the next installment of the Experience Design Peer Mentoring Workshop in January 2018.