While mentorship schemes are abundant in the creative industry, there are several barriers to entry for many who might need them: location, free time, money and connections, to name a few. This spurred on digital design director Myles Palmer to create Pair Up, a platform that connects creatives who need to chat through a problem or idea with other professional creatives who might be able to offer advice, or simply be a sounding board. While still in its early days and being developed “alongside the day job,” the site has grown exponentially in popularity since launch, and turned up results Palmer didn’t expect.
“The project had been on my mind for a really long time,” he tells It’s Nice That, “ever since I met one of the founders of With Associates over five years ago in a similar way.” Having taught at universities and taken part in long-term mentorship schemes, Palmer says he appreciated “how valuable this kind of advice can be for creatives,” but discovered that many people who wanted to offer their help as a mentor didn’t due to lack of time, the pressure of a long-term commitment, the connection to institutions, and other various reasons.
“At the end of 2019 I decided to take a bit of action and offer my time to anyone, for half an hour, every few days,” Palmer says. He offered sessions on his website and it took off straight away, with all ten slots filled within a day or two. Seeing potential to help more people in the industry, he began to build Pair Up, a platform where others could offer their time “on their terms, locationless, based on good faith and trust and not for financial gain,” suggesting video calls last just half an hour.
While Palmer was struggling to build an ultimately overcomplicated first version of the site, the Covid-19 crisis hit and he thought “right that’s it – I just need to make it in the quickest way possible to give people the chance to use it”. Pair Up was born, and though Palmer would have been “stoked” to have ten people sign up, in under a month he already had 150 creatives offering their time.
“The feedback has blown me away and the different people across the globe engaging with it has been incredible to see,” he says. “It’s given me a bit of faith back in humanity, as it’s just people genuinely wanting to help others.”
Expecting many mentees or “pairees” to be students and graduates, to Palmer's surprise none were in that position; all the people who signed up were working professionals with a few years experience, “who had hit a problem, whether needing UX advice or people struggling with their creative identity”. Mentors or “Pairers” span digital design, video game design, strategy, photography, architecture, branding, 3D, sustainability, business building, music, the struggles of freelancing, and more, and include the likes of Mills from ustwo (an outspoken advocate for the site) and CEOS of big start-ups. And many “Pairers” end up asking to be paired with another, becoming the “Pairee” themselves.
To sign up, creatives just have to submit their details and “as long as you look legitimate and not like you're trying to sell something, I will list your time,” Palmer states. He doesn't want it to become about networking or finding work, more platform for advice, discussion and something sought after while working in isolation – an objective point of view.
“Everyone has something different to offer, a different perspective or viewpoint on problems, and for me the fact that we aren’t prioritising one persons opinion or sessions over another is really great.”
Palmer is currently managing the site in his spare time, and developing functionality along the way – such as building a filtering system for creative disciplines, which is now in place, and working on an improved way to book time with Pairers, and give Pairers a profile page of sorts. He's also started to record podcasts including interviews with participating creatives.
Palmer concludes: “There are many long-term goals for the project and having a contained, safe and secure platform where you can find, meet and chat with creatives is at the core of that.”
Artwork by Chris Golden