General News / April 9, 2019

MASTER AND APPRENTICE: Kim Mackenzie & Zie Kirk discuss the role of the mentor in modern design.

General News / April 9, 2019

MASTER AND APPRENTICE: Kim Mackenzie & Zie Kirk discuss the role of the mentor in modern design.

Innovation never stands still, and neither does this Irish micro-distilled gin “tasting expedition”. To help celebrate the launch of METHOD AND MADNESS gin, we’ve created an interview and portraiture series exploring the dynamic of master and apprentice.


These well-known mentors and their apprentices highlight the ethos and creativity of METHOD AND MADNESS; where master distiller Brian Nation works closely with his apprentice Henry Donnelly. In working together, they are “able to combine the knowledge and tools of the past with the skills of the present to create spirits for the future” at their Midleton distillery. In this edition, designer Kim Mackenzie’s past experience has led her to become a mentor. We sit down with Kim and her latest mentee, the talented Zie Kirk.

Kim is the creative mind behind WhyDesign, a collective of female designers who showcase their work, and the influential work of other female designers living and working in Ireland. It provides a space for career testimonials from successful female designers about how they achieved their goals. Founder, Kim Mackenzie, is hoping that WhyDesign will inspire younger generations to pursue careers in design. Kim also works on Voxgig, a tech startup where she works as the head of marketing and product.

“The culture of the company is family first,” she explains. “It’s fully remote and that was very attractive to me, I wanted a job where I can brush my daughter’s hair in the morning and I can be there for when they come in from school.”

As well as this, she’s also an advocate for those with experience in their field being mentors to the bright stars on the ascension.

“I’ve mentored people who have gone through my course in college, because I’ve travelled that same route. I almost reach out to people who have been like me to make sure they don’t do this, this and this and make the mistakes that could cost you years. I’ve probably pushed myself onto people rather than be invited in when I can see huge potential and talent. I want to give them the steps to take.”


When Kim was in college there weren’t any female lecturers in her Product Design. There were also very few females in her course, and when she began her post-degree journey, she says it was clear it was men she was competing with to get a job.

“I didn’t know any practicing female designers, I wanted to work with Design Partners, who are the best product design company in the country and there were no female designers there. I’d really stick my neck out and say that you have to work harder if you’re female. I wouldn’t say I was the best designer in the class, but I was the most determined.”

In an industry where leadership is 89 per cent male, Kim says as well as unconscious bias in hiring there are also very few role models that young female and non-binary designers can look up to.

“I think it’s about visibility.”

And that’s what led Kim to Zie Kirk. A multi-disciplinary designer based in Ireland who’s “mad for all things visual and bold”, Zie studied in DIT Mountjoy Square and is interested in how communities take shape, grow and what designers can do to facilitate these unique connections. Currently working as a freelance designer, under the tutelage of Kim Mackenzie, she says things are beginning to change for the better.

“From my experience there’s definitely always more women than men in the classrooms and we also have more female lecturers. I went to college in Cork for a year and it was pretty much 50/50 there, then I moved up to DIT and the majority were girls.”

Kim says that’s not where the problem ends though.

“Something we found is that there are more women studying graphic design, but it’s not transferring into the industry, so there’s a gap there and we need to learn why. Because they’re not getting hired, yet they’re applying for the jobs. Where do they go? Do they change career or can they just not see themselves in those roles.”

Kim and Zie have developed a relationship in which Kim hopes to share all of her “bad decisions that wasted my time”.


Risographic print above by Ór Studio

“I’m ambitious for other people now, and I want Zie to be ambitious and be more confident. There’s a huge issue where women don’t have the confidence to even speak or get their voices heard. I’m probably a little bit left field because I don’t mind being that vocal, it’s taken me years, but I’m used to it because I’ve had to have those vocal battles with male colleagues and it really is a case of he who shouted loudest got heard.”

One of the things that Kim finds most inspiring is that designers like Zie are actually seeking out guidance.

“I think even someone applying to have a mentor is really special. I’m always kicking myself that I didn’t do that back in my day. So I think it’s brilliant that Zie took that step and that’s the first step on hopefully a really successful path for her. A mentor is one of these really important roles, it’s not exactly a friendship role, it’s more of an advisory role where you’ll get that really honest critique. Zie is going to have a harder time in this relationship! She’s going to have to absorb quite a lot of information, quite a lot of which might not be so comfortable and might be a little bit hard to take, but it’s all for her benefit to get her on her chosen path.”

Zie interjects, “I want to have less fear and just do things without overthinking.”

Kim says with a smile, “I get super excited about being a mentor, for Zie, I’ll be her cheerleader, I’ll be her biggest pain in the ass, but it’s all to support her. I can’t wait to see what happens, and if she doesn’t take over the universe, I’ll be very disappointed in her [laughs].”

There’s certainly a sense of ‘pay it forward’ when it comes to their partnership and it’s Zie’s intention to pass on the experience she gains from Kim.

“Of the work that I’ve done in the past, it’s always the projects where I’ve experienced particular pain points that I’ve then gained knowledge to pass on to others. So that’s where Kim will be able to help me. With The Design Kids, we’ve been able to bring students into the industry and a couple of the students have gotten jobs through that which has been absolutely amazing to hear.

“By sharing your own experience and what you’ve gone through you can you help somebody else. With the mentorship programme you get this guide book and on the first page it says what’s your five year plan and I couldn’t even tell you what I’m going to do tomorrow let alone five years down the line.”


So finally, what do they both want to have achieved when it’s finally time for Zie to fly solo?

“For me, it’s for Zie to know what she wants to do,” explains Kim. “It’s a really difficult thing, in college I had a life shock where I found out what I wanted to do and I was very privileged to have that, I want to be a little bit of that shock to Zie where she has a direction. In establishing that direction it might take a week, it might take a while, you don’t know but it’s going to be fun to explore that process with her.”

Zie says she’s simply relishing the invaluable advice she’s getting right now.

“Kim’s knowledge of being in challenging situations and working her way out of it is amazing, I’ve recently had a similar experience and I just didn’t know how to deal with it because on the one hand you don’t want to do anything to upset things, but on the other hand when do you know when to draw the line?”


The Other Mentoring Programme aims to provide practical solutions to the everyday reality of the glass ceiling by facilitating connections between women at both ends of the career ladder.
The Other Instagram 

WhyDesign website

Voxgig website
Kim Mackenzie Twitter

Zie Kirk Instagram 
Zie Kirk website

The Design Kids Instagram
The Design Kids website 

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