ArticleAugust 22, 2023 · 5 min read time
I work at Nitor as a Fullstack Developer. My daily tasks revolve around the development and modernisation of information systems together with designers. Thanks to the Nitor mentoring program and my mentor Paula Ikonen, I found an old spark to learn more about the work of the designers who I often collaborate with.
Before joining Nitor, I worked a lot on IoT applications, and my teammate at the time was a User Interface Designer. I followed their work closely and realised how important it is to design great user experiences. Already at that time, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to learn more about the field. I also started to think about how I could support the designers in their work and what kind of support they might need.
When Nitor's mentoring program started up again, I felt my chance had come. Paula, who works with us as a Principal Designer, is first and foremost a hands-on type with almost 30 years of experience as a designer. I knew she had a solid understanding of design, from high-level scenarios to the smallest user interface details, so it was a thrill to have her as my mentor.
Strong collaboration between developers and designers is the key to success
Paula and I went through the basics of design specifically from an interface and user experience perspective, and I was surprised at how many different roles can be involved.
Often projects start with the designer doing their thing and designing, say, a new feature for an application. Once that's successfully done, the developers start building the technical solutions needed to implement the feature. Without solid communication and collaboration, there is always a risk that the developers come up with something completely different.
"Seamless collaboration between the designer and developers is critical for the project to succeed. It is essential that both understand each other's work in order to reach a shared goal. Personally, I do a lot of technical specifications and participate in all areas of the process. A designer's job allows me to challenge myself, but that's the beauty of it - you're always learning and two days are never the same."
- Paula Ikonen, Principal Designer, Nitor
Paula gave me tools for my latest project, which I can now use to support the work of designers in a whole new way. For example, when designing new features, you have to take into account that technical solutions can be complex. It's a good idea for developers and designers to work together on technical specifications for future features, so the designers can easily grasp the big picture. This leads to better and more functional solutions from both the user and technology points of view.
Nitor's mentoring program and a tangible project to aid learning
In practice, the mentoring took place within the mentoring framework developed by Nitor. The program provided us with a total of 26 hours of professional development time. We had a structured 13-week framework, which included a kick-off meeting, a mid-check, and a closing meeting together with all participants. We also received a lot of good advice and tips on how to plan and implement the mentorship. Otherwise, all pairs had free rein to plan together the best way of working together.
Paula and I decided to meet weekly to keep up the momentum. In addition, Paula built a specific project for me to work on with her support. I believe that the best way to learn new skills is to put them into practice from the get-go.
My mentoring project was a small mobile application for which I had to design a new feature. Paula's idea was that this would allow me to see the design from different stages and angles, and to reflect on the best possible solutions at any given moment. Paula also gave me a lot of reading and background material that made it easy to get to grips with the topic.
"II enjoyed being a mentor! It was fascinating to go back to basics as, after 30 years of experience, you just work automatically by nature. Now I could think about what I wanted to tell a beginner and which tools would be useful for Marion. It also gave me new ideas and good methods I had already forgotten! Being a mentor was a wonderful reminder that the industry is constantly evolving and learning never stops."
- Paula Ikonen, Principal Designer, Nitor
In practice, we started by learning the basics of benchmarking by comparing how others have solved the same problem. This helped us figure out which solution would best serve our application and its users. We made wireframes and later used Figma to design the user interface. After that, we looked at the brand guidelines and monitored how well I could follow them in my design. It's important that even small features of an app provide a cohesive experience.
Developing competence within the work community pays off
Paula put a lot of effort into the mentoring project and her educational background really shone through. She always helped me when I wanted to learn more about anything - or when I was stuck wondering how to move forward. Working on the project didn't feel like a lecture, as Paula gave me the space to experiment and apply what I had learned.
Courses and lectures don't teach you what working on real-life projects is like. Paula, on the other hand, gave me some great insights into different types of projects and how the designer and developer worked together on them. This gave me a better ability to apply my new skills in my daily work. I am really glad Nitor made this learning experience possible and I could ignite my smoldering designer's spark. I learned a lot of new skills and I must admit I was left hungry to learn even more in the future.
The Mentoring Stories article series sheds light on our mentoring program that offers the possibility to learn and share advanced and cross-functional knowledge with fellow Nitoreans. At Nitor, we embrace the diverse and unique journeys of our Digital Engineers. Enabling personal growth paths and supporting self-development through concrete methods and social learning is one of our core values.