12 Apr 2023 Frank Spillers


Why you might need a UX mentor?

Why you might need a UX mentor?

Do you need a UX design mentor?

Finding a UX mentor is a common problem new UX designers are trying to solve. The need is clear, gain a trusted guide to help with your professional development. However, a UX mentor can also be helpful to experienced UX managers and leaders. Why? Because it is a known problem that managers lose touch with day-to-day UX experience– they attend more meetings than user study sessions, for example. Many UX managers and Directors also have years of experience but very little range of expertise, namely in User Research (see Digital Library- User Research).

One of the reasons Frank Spillers created the UX Inner Circle was to share UX mentorship with emerging and existing UX designers, researchers and managers. Having access to a seasoned UX mentor, is also why people join the UX Inner Circle.

Why you need ‘negative expertise’

Want to become a UX expert? Do UX correctly, right? Not exactly: being an expert is not just about demonstrating you know what to do (positive knowledge). In fact, research shows that we actually learn as much from what not to do. Avoiding mistakes by learning from the mistakes of others is one way to gain this negative expertise.

Marvin Minsky, AI pioneer, believed negative expertise served a cognitive function to help steer you away from the bias of what to do, by giving you room to understand from failure modes or what not to do. Ever wonder why primary school children are taught spelling using nonsense words?  Because we find patterns by unlearning or identifying anti-patterns.

In this Anti-patterns Masterclass we learned good UI practices by designing bad ones for fun. It’s one of the most enjoyable activities from Frank Spillers’ 25 years of UX training.

How to use UX mentoring to gain UX expertise

So, it is safe to say UX expertise is gained by direct experience. That means lots of contact with users. How do we gain this UX expertise? In one of two ways: we do, for example, lots of user research (Ethnography and User Testing) and learn directly (such as How to Conduct Rapid Ethnographic Interviews), or we learn to avoid mistakes by learning from experts. One way Frank Spillers teaches is to provide examples things he has learned and un-learned (including what does not work) based on hundreds of UX design and research projects.

Make no mistake, UX design mentors are powerful. But how do you find a UX mentor?

Are UX design courses good places for mentorship?

Not directly. Why? Because you are busy focusing on the UX course content. UX design mentorship is about steering toward what you need to know, what you should know and what you are not even aware of knowing. UX mentors provide the “fill in the gaps” or honest assessment based on what you need. Courses alone do not support that.

In Frank Spillers UX Inner Circle, you have direct access to Frank, with 1:1 mentoring sessions (1 per quarter) and Slack channel direct messaging.

How about UX bootcamps?

UX bootcamps tend to be driven by the need to teach you the curriculum as the bootcamp thinks it should be taught. There is little flexibility, that a UX mentor in your pocket can provide. UX bootcamps homogenize knowledge and treat you as a UX designer that needs a job. That won’t help you solve complex problems that might get you a promotion or a transformational pivot in your UX career.

What’s more, a reported deficit of UX bootcamps, is that they are UX design focused and even pair you with mentors that have no clue about UX Research (yup, that’s a thing).

Instead, a UX mentor should help you cut to the chase, cut the crap and help you understand what problems you should solve next in your career.

Value of a UX mentor in summary

A UX mentor can get up close and personal with you and tune into your gaps and opportunities. Moreover, UX design mentors can provide quick and insightful ideas and suggestions about how to think about things, and what to ignore or not worry about– based on having seen it before– professional lessons worth their weight in gold.

Learn more: Why join Frank Spillers UX Inner Circle… UX mentoring and training

About the Author

headshot of frank spillers

Frank Spillers

Founder - UX Inner Circle

Frank Spillers, MS, founded the UX Inner Circle to share his knowledge and skills with his students from the Interaction Design Foundation where he has provided select trainings for the past 8 years. He leads UX and Service Design consulting at Experience Dynamics, an award-winning consultancy. He works with the world’s leading brands to deliver cutting-edge strategy for products, services, and experiences. Starting out in the mid-’90s in social VR, Frank has consulted on 600 UX projects including enterprise web applications, nonprofits, government and more. He’s an Inclusive Design evangelist, and expert in Accessibility, Emotion Design, VR/AR, Cross-cultural Design and UX Management. Frank brings 25 years of experience as a Sr. UX Director and Service Design leader. He has lifted conversion rates by 88% and enhanced revenue by 300% for firms like Nike, Intel, Microsoft, the City of New York, Global Disability Rights Now!, Four Seasons, Capital One, the World Bank, Women Enabled International, and many more.

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