Mentoring: A two-way street

March 20th, 2018

As a student in the 90s, I never had a mentor. There were no opportunities to get to learn from people in the design industry. Even getting in contact with someone for advice was a long shot – you had to post your mini portfolio, hope it would land on the right desk, wonder if it ever got opened, then wait weeks for the not-so-likely response. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then.

These days, mentorship programmes at unis and art colleges – along with the brilliant Graphic Design Festival Scotland – create a direct link with students and the industry in a way I could only have dreamed of as a student. So, when Glasgow Caledonian University’s digital design tutors asked Front Page to mentor, I was delighted to be able to offer some practical advice and assistance that I missed out on when I was studying.

Our mentoring involvement

Part of our involvement in the programme was to create and present a brief to the entire course. The project needed to be doable within a six-week deadline, and as long as it had a branding focus, pretty much any sort of brief was allowed. We wanted to create something that would challenge, excite, and hopefully result in a portfolio piece every student would be proud of.

We didn’t want 18 students all working on the exact same brief, so we worked closely with the senior lecturer to devise a process that meant no two students got the same one.

We started by creating a list of events, including an exhibition, pop-up, festival, and even a new public holiday. Next, we formed a range of target markets – spanning everything from under 12s to the rich, and over 55s to refugees. Finally, we added subjects like freedom of speech, inclusiveness and even bee conservation. Each student chose one of each – an event, a target audience and a topic – at random. That combination made up their individual brief.

We were hoping the students would be open to a challenge. And, despite a few shocked faces, they got on board very quickly – even the poor guy who managed to choose a virtual meetup about cannabis awareness for children under 12…


After six weeks of university visits, Slack conversations, and a week-long snow-storm, the students came into the studio to present. Not only did each and every one of them fulfil the branding aspect of the project, they also created a whole host of experiences that the world would be a better place for having. Like a welcoming public forum for finding common ground between opposing political viewpoints, a programme bringing video gaming to the elderly to improve wellbeing, and a fun online mental health platform for underprivileged children.

There was also a festival to empower and give voice to the unemployed, a music exhibition to remind refugees of the happiness of home, and a new national day highlighting water usage and shortage. And as for the student who was dealt the worst hand imaginable? Not only did he tackle it with passion and confidence, he created an event pitched perfectly in its tone and sensitivity to the target market.

With the feedback we got, I realise now that having a mentor isn’t just a luxury – it can have a huge impact on the start of many career journeys. But as much as I’d like to say it was the mentoring that led to these amazing ideas, it’s not. We might have started them on that path, but there’s no doubt these students have all the creativity and eagerness needed to nail projects like this – and in the real world.

Good at leading creative briefs, collaborating and annoying people with his presence.