Prepare to Design the Future
March 19–20, 2017: Training
March 20–22, 2017: Tutorials & Conference
San Francisco, CA

Taking off the training wheels: How to hire, motivate, and inspire the next generation of designers

Billie Mandel (Design Equation)
2:05pm–2:45pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Building & Managing Teams
Location: Tower Salon A
Level: Intermediate
Average rating: ***..
(3.50, 2 ratings)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Design managers and leadership
  • Junior designers

What you'll learn

  • Learn how to evaluate junior designers and hire for a great fit
  • Understand what junior designers need in order to flourish and what pitfalls to avoid
  • Discover how to cultivate your strengths in mentorship, for junior practitioners and beyond


We’ve all witnessed the explosion of the design industry and the surge in demand for design professionals. In response, schools from degree-granting university programs to trade schools to accelerated boot camps are churning out astonishing numbers of grads. Yet when designers emerge from their studies, they often find themselves at the edge of the chasm between education and industry, unable to get a job without some experience and unable to get experience without that first job.

Assuming they actually make the leap across (without plummeting, figuratively, to their professional death), junior designers’ first years can be frustrating as they flail wildly between insufficiently challenging “grunt” work (hey kid, can you grab me a coffee?) and thrown-in-the-deep-end possibly career-ending obstacles, often due to a lack of support and guidance. Furthermore, even though our industry touts the benefit of failure, in a highly competitive market, failing is often a recipe for getting fired.

From the perspective of the design manager, hiring junior can be daunting enough to avoid altogether. Junior designers as a whole have uneven skillsets buried behind portfolios that all look the same. Once hired, managers often don’t know what these designers are capable of or how to provide the right environment and guidance for their success. What’s more, many companies who are willing to take a gamble on junior designers do so for the wrong reason—to cut cost—assuming that product management can do all the design thinking while the junior designers happily crank out wireframes. Either way, companies often wing it when it comes to growing their junior design staff, to the detriment of employee productivity and retention as well as product quality.

Luckily, there is a better way. Billie Mandel has devoted the last few years of her design career as an educator, mentor, and business owner to developing the next generation of designers. Continually impressed by what her students and mentees have accomplished with proper care and feeding, Billie believes wholeheartedly that hiring junior is a great investment both in your design team and the industry as a whole. She demonstrates how to select qualified junior design candidates, sort the diamonds from the rocks, and shares tips on how to coach these designers into greatness, growing your own mentoring skills along the way. Finally, she shows how these lessons apply to anyone experiencing being junior again, particularly newly promoted design leads, managers, or directors. You’ll leave with new skills, tools, and passion to invest in the future of your teams and the industry. Like cycling without training wheels, it will be an exhilarating ride.

Photo of Billie Mandel

Billie Mandel

Design Equation

Billie Mandel is a design strategy and management geek with nearly two decades of experience leading global teams of software creatives—in teams of up to 50, in four time zones and three continents, and in startups and established companies. Billie recharges her batteries teaching design to adult career changers at General Assembly and teaching the hard value of soft skills to her mentees and corporate clients. She is the creator of the Embodied Critique method, which helps designers, developers, and other creative professionals bring their whole selves to work, give and receive actionable feedback, and iterate their way to more effective designs and more productive work environments. Billie’s recent speaking engagements have included giving a talk at Designtrepreneurs (a lecture series at the intersection of LGBT leadership and design leadership, as part of SF Design Week), teaching Embodied Critique as a preconference workshop at Interaction16 in Helsinki, and curating a literary reading for San Francisco’s Litquake LitCrawl. Billie likes origami, anything flavored with lavender, and making tech a better place for women, queers, and folks of color.