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The power of membership and community

the-power-of-mentorship-and-community-by-giles-airey

Giles has been in the design industry for over 20 years, graduating in 1999, and is now working in Manchester as a senior UX designer in a team of 4 people.

Giles started off in packaging design which taught him about some very practical nuances and what it takes to actually produce something which is fundamental to any design role.

He then got in to branding, marketing and advertising in New Zealand and moved back to the UK to take a job managing brands online. This morphed into UX, and since then he’s given multiple talks at speaking events across the country.

I would say that by being a mentor, you get to find your own voice, you get to speak with confidence, and you get to help people. Who doesn’t want to be given that responsibility?

Giles Airey

What have you created during lockdown?

We all sadly went into lockdown in March 2020 and I was sadly furloughed in April which was gutting quite frankly. I had been with the company for 8 years and I was fairly senior, I was the design director there. The company lost a lot of clients due to the pandemic and I had hoped I would have been kept on to turn the company around. But I wasn’t, and that was quite disappointing.

So, I licked my wounds for half a day and then I thought, there must be other people out there that are in a worse position than myself. I was actually mentoring a young chap on LinkedIn at the time who had reached out a few months prior.

He was looking to get into the design industry, and it made me think – there are lots of people effectively confined to their bedrooms, who are unable to get into an office and learn professional skills and carry out live projects. I just thought I would see if I could help those people.

I contacted the places who I’ve done talks and speaking events for in the past (i.e. UX Crunch and Ladies that UX etc) and said “I’m going to post on LinkedIn that I’m looking to help anyone wanting to get into the UX industry – please could you support and share the post for me?”

And they did!

I ended up getting about 10 people show interest and we had our first zoom session where I said I would help them put together a live project. Because, as a senior designer, when I interview someone, I like to see that a project has been thought through and has gone through certain stages and been considered.

The idea was that the project would be led by myself, and the group would be there to support each other.

What were the main things you wanted to teach your UX community?

I developed a 5-step-process where the first week would concentrate on Project brief writing: I think is a massively under rated and underused part of the industry. If you don’t fully understand what it is you are doing or you don’t ask the right questions, how on earth are you going to answer and find the right solution?!

Once the group understood what they wanted to do, the second week would be spent carrying out a level of Research: Such as vertical research (e.g. what’s happening within this industry), Lateral research (e.g. What are others doing within the digital space that could help us? Such as a government portal using a swipe-right feature famously used by Tinder), then finally we would look into user groups.

Week three would move into basic user personas and journeys, and those three things all work together and feed into each other at the start of any project.

Week four would concentrate on wireframing to demonstrate a journey and bring it to life a bit and then the final week (week five) concentrates on the UI (user interface).

This 5-step-process would produce an industry-level project for you to put in your portfolio.

What worked and what didn’t?

The weekly constraints I put on things didn’t work because some people needed more 121 sessions between the weekly meetups on zoom. People also worked at different speeds and I had to accept that people were going through things in their own lives such as mental hardships, suffering from anxiety, or getting ill so I just offered my services as much as possible. And the group has just grown and grown!

After a few weeks I realised, I’ve got a lot of contacts in the industry, and I don’t know everything! I know enough to help people, but some specific questions were coming up and I could only offer a partial answer. So, I went on LinkedIn and asked if any of my contacts wanted to help out, and I got loads of people offering their professional services. From recruiters to UX researchers, to senior artworkers, all sorts of people.

They were able to give the group more context of what roles they might sit in once they got a job so that the students could tailor their portfolios to best suit a particular role and demonstrate what they were good at.

What have you learned about the power of mentorship?

On a personal level, starting the group has given me a purpose. When you feel a bit lost and demoralised, it helps when you have to be strong for other people. Because it stops you from licking your wounds.

I was unfortunate enough to be made redundant in late July – I’ve picked up a job since and that’s great – and I think the work I’ve been doing with the group actually helped me to get that job.

I’ve now got people queuing up to get involved and to learn about being a mentor because I think the people who have presented have seen the difference they actually make, and some people have come back time and time again.

The group is for everybody, but the majority are career switchers. I have noticed that the students and graduates in the group have actually benefitted from being around the slightly older members who have more world and life experience under their belts.

What do you get out of being a mentor?

A lot of personal growth. I think sometimes, especially if you are working in a larger business, you come out of a meeting feeling like you’ve not really been listened to and you get a bit down and lose direction or your motivation, and that can be a dangerous spiral to get into as that’s when things like imposter syndrome can sneak in.

But when you’ve got people relying on you and listening to you – as long as you do it correctly, prepare, and do your homework – you start to realise just how much you know and that you’ve got a lot to offer. And this is backed up by the feedback you get.

It gives you a great sense of self-worth when you help these people and you see them get jobs and you think – that’s cool. I’ve helped them on their way.

And there’s nothing better than that really.

I would say that by being a mentor, you get to find your own voice, you get to speak with confidence, and you get to help people. Who doesn’t want to be given that responsibility?

How can people connect with you and get involved in your group?

Just send me a message on LinkedIn (Giles Airey)

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