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Graduate Mentoring Case Study #2: Nina Moeller and Aidan Donovan

With support from The Radcliffe Trust, in 2020 Design-Nation ran a pilot Graduate Mentoring Programme. In the second of two interviews we asked designer Nina Moeller and furniture maker Aidan Donovan how they got on. (Our first interview with Jennie McCall and Annita McKee is here.)

Since Aidan and Nina completed this mentoring relationship Aidan has successfully applied for full membership of Design-Nation.

The mentor: Nina Moeller, London

Design-Nation: Please give us a brief outline of your practice; what you design or make; and what you like about this kind of work.

Nina Moeller: I run a boutique interior design practice transforming spaces with contemporary design. I started out as a designer maker. After 5 years I handed over the production side to other workshops which have better machining facilities.

DN: What attracted you about becoming a Design-Nation Graduate Programme mentor?

NM:It was a joy to give back and a great distraction at the start of the pandemic. Mentoring gave some focus to my reshaped weeks.

DN: What did you hope to get from being a mentor?

NM: It is always exciting to see when a young business steps out into the world!

The mentee: Aidan Donovan, Manchester

Design-Nation: Please give us a brief outline of your practice; what you design or make; and what you like about this kind of work.

Aidan Donovan: I am a designer and maker of bespoke wooden furniture and homewares. I call my practice ‘narrative-led’ as I try and use each piece to tell a story of sorts. I love my work, making things with my hands to create an object that tells a story and solves a small problem for someone.

DN: How and where did you start as a designer/maker? Has your practice changed since you started?

AD: I started my business as a designer/maker in 2019. I would say that my practice is constantly developing and I hope to keep it that way. The more I know, the more I realise there is to learn. There will always be new ideas to explore and different clients and collaborators with their own particular perspective and story to share.

DN: What were you hoping to get from the mentoring process?

AD: Through mentoring I was hoping to broaden my knowledge of what it means to do this kind of work in the long-term. I was particularly interested in the nuts and bolts of running a creative business as well as learning from someone with experience about what has helped and hindered them over the years.

DN: Were there particular challenges or issues that you wanted to explore through this professional relationship?

AD: I suppose my primary focus at the start of mentoring was on making sure my business made sense financially, and ensuring that I can secure a future for myself with my work. It can feel quite overwhelming coming as somewhat of an outsider to running a creative business so I wanted to try and make sure I  was setting off on the right foot.

DN: How did you start off the mentoring process? What happened in your first session, and how did you agree to work together?

NM: After listening to Aidan about his career path to date – I shared my path from the early days to the place where Nina Moeller Designs stands today.
 I recall we had a casual chat about Aidan’s business and the products he has designed. This was important for me to understand what Aidan wanted to get out of this mentoring.

AD: We began the mentoring with quite an informal getting to know each other, sharing our stories to date and discussing how we might use the sessions.  We agreed a schedule to meet initially weekly and then less frequently when we felt a longer period between sessions might be more useful.

DN: What did you focus on and how do you think this went throughout the mentoring process?

NM: The focus was to create a viable business plan. This should serve as a manual for later.

AD: Through our discussions we ended up primarily focusing on developing a business plan. This was something I was a little resistant to at first, but it has been an invaluable exercise. The plan covers such a breadth of topics that it served as a really useful structure around which to discuss specific points such as pricing and marketing. I think this sort of structure helped us keep focused following the first few sessions which were more informal. Having a mixture of less structured chats and a firm goal of completing a specific piece of work over a DN: number of weeks was really helpful.

DN: Did you encounter any issues in working together, and were you able to resolve them?

NM: Aidan’s research was very resourceful. I cannot recall any issues.

AD: Unfortunately due to the pandemic all of our sessions had to take place on zoom. That obviously has its limitations but it also means it was fairly easy to arrange and meet when the technology was behaving itself.

DN: Now the pilot is over, what was the main benefit of taking part? Have you changed anything in the way that you work?

NM: The mentoring made me realise how much I have done and achieved.

AD: The main benefit for me was having the privilege of someone taking such a significant amount of time to share their experience with me. Having an experienced mentor who has followed a similar path take an interest and encourage you is really motivating. Some of the benefits have been direct, such as specific discussions on pricing and writing the business plan. Other changes have been less material, but I’ve definitely had a change of perspective in the way I approach my work and feel a good deal more confident as a result.

DN: What are the next steps for you?

NM: Too early to say. Currently life is about juggling our ways through the pandemic – being endlessly patient and resourceful.

AD: It’s hard to say what the future holds right now with the current global situation. That aside, I’m hoping to look specifically at how I market my work and win new clients. I also have a few new projects in the pipeline, though I think remaining open, flexible and responsive to new opportunities is key right now.

DN: Any final reflections on being in a mentoring relationship? Would you recommend it to others, and why?

NM: Yes I do recommend this to others. As I have had mentoring in the past myself – I see this as a way to grow, learn and appreciate.

AD: Our sessions were quite an anchor in a very uncertain time. The sessions really punctuated the strange first half of this year and apart from the benefits to my business, I’m also grateful for that. I would definitely recommend mentoring to others. Nothing really compares to free and open discussion with someone experienced. For many people, it’s just not straightforward to develop that kind of relationship on your own – if someone offers you the opportunity, you should do it.


Work by Aidan Donovan: Dioecious Candle Holder in Ash, Games Cabinet in Five British Timbers, ROBUSTO Tables.

Portrait of Aidan Donovan in studio.

Portrait of Nina Moeller in Richmond Park.

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Liz Cooper


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