Five Rules for Mentoring New User Experience Professionals


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This presentation was an IGNITE session at the UXPA 2012 Conference and is accessible here:

Being a successful mentor requires an organization’s support for a mentorship program; getting buy-in from all parties before committing to a mentoring project; structuring the mentor-mentee relationship to the benefit of everyone involved; and pinpointing the methodology or best practices for mentoring. How can you make mentoring work for you?

Mentoring is different from managing. It’s different from teaching. These are important skills to have, but they usually involve managing projects and people, or teaching skills and behaviors. They maintain a manageable status quo or have a limited scope. On the other hand, mentoring involves a social contract, where the mentor wants to set up a one-to-one relationship to effect a change in the person being mentored. As a mentor, you want to bring the mentee to a higher level, say from a Junior Designer to a Senior Interaction Designer, a Business Analyst to a Usability Researcher, or a nervous UX Practitioner to a confident UX Moderator.

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  • As someone who’s established a UX practice in my company and someone who graduated from Bentley’s program in Human Factors, people do reach out to me(In many cases, people observed a usability test and got excited about it.) “What’s all this usability stuff everybody’s talking about?”
  • As your mentor, I can show you – in 3-6 months - how to run usability tests with participants, which is about 75% of the usability testing work I’ve done You enable your mentees to shadow & observe, then note take. And, after training, moderate sessions by themselves …
  • What you’re ultimately giving your mentees is confidenceSo this relationship can work if both parties concentrate on UX as a *PURE* learning experience. why is this important… because…
  • … because One thing all bosses have to focus on are the overall goals of the company, and these are driven down to employees as performance-based objectives. And you, the mentee, are the performer.These objectives can introduce conflict.
  • A mentee might ask questions like, How can I break into this field? Is now the time to switch careers? Any classes you’d recommend?When there are no right or wrong answers, a mentor is there to present options, based on the goals laid out in the social contract
  •  some times the mentee is technophobic, or unable to listen, can’t collaborate, or is incapable of moderating usability sessionsIn these cases, you have to tear up that social contract. As a mentor, you have to be prepared to accept failure.
  • Because Let’s face it: we can’t make carbon copies of ourselves. And anybody who tells you otherwise probably needs his ego re-aligned. … a UX community, we benefit celebrating differences. For example, in usability research, Some people want to try new methodologies, while others master tried and true methods.
  • By mentoring, we’re enabling people to share with us their unique points of viewThis collective perspective gives us a better outcome. I wouldn’t be standing up here today if I didn’t learn from my experiences as a mentor and as a mentee
  • Thank you very much. Again, I’m Bob Thomas, Manager of User Experience at Liberty Mutual. You can e-mail me at or contact me on Twitter @bobthomas
  • Five Rules for Mentoring New User Experience Professionals

    1. 1. 5 Rules for Mentoring New User Experience Professionals Bob Thomas Manager of User Experience, Liberty Mutual @bobthomas
    2. 2. What Does It Mean To “Mentor,” as Opposed to “Teach”? ๏ “to teach or give advice or guidance to (someone, such as a less experienced person or a child)… − Merriam-Webster Dictionary ๏ However, teaching (or coaching) is related to tasks and often comes with a specific agenda (the teacher’s) ๏ Mentoring is related to personal choice and also comes with an agenda (the mentee’s)
    3. 3. What Does Mentoring Mean to Me? ๏ Developing a relationship where both mentor and mentee benefit ๏ Being a leader in our field
    4. 4. User Experience Opportunities U IA D Usability Research/Testing Information Architecture Visual & Interaction Design
    5. 5. Rule #1 ๏ Sometimes, your boss can be your mentor
    6. 6. If You Establish a UX Practice, People Will Seek You Out
    7. 7. Mentors Can Provide Learning Opportunities for Mentees
    8. 8. Mentors Can Give Mentees Confidence
    9. 9. Rule #2 ๏ Sometimes, your boss can’t be your mentor
    10. 10. Performance-Based Objectives Can Introduce Conflict
    11. 11. If Your Boss Is Your Mentor, Your Objectives May Not Match Up Your Boss’s Performance- Based Objectives for You Your UX-Based Objectives A X B Y C Z
    12. 12. Rule #3 ๏ A mentor is responsible for guiding and assisting the mentee, based on a social contract
    13. 13. A Mentor Is There For You When You Have No Right or Wrong Answer
    14. 14. Rule #4 ๏ You can’t mentor a stone
    15. 15. You Cannot Successfully Mentor Everyone. At Times You Will Fail.
    16. 16. Rule #5 ๏ Perspective is additive
    17. 17. Let’s Face It: We Can’t Make Carbon Copies of Ourselves
    18. 18. Mentors Enable Mentees to Lend Their Unique Perspectives to the UX Community
    19. 19. Summary ๏ Rule #1: Sometimes, your boss can be your mentor ๏ Rule #2: Sometimes, your boss can’t be your mentor (in other words, find someone else) ๏ Rule #3: A mentor is responsible for guiding and assisting the mentee, based on a social contract ๏ Rule #4: You can’t mentor a stone ๏ Rule #5: Perspective is additive
    20. 20. Thank you very much Bob Thomas Manager of User Experience Liberty Mutual E-mail: Twitter: @bobthomas