Ilise Benun: Mentoring Creatives to Help Evolve Their Businesses

One of design’s greatest strengths is its far-reaching impact. Design is present everywhere we look. It’s incorporated into our daily habits and it’s carved a niche out for itself in every industry. Wherever you turn, design is there. In the case of Ilise Benun, one of this year’s Evolve Design keynote speakers, she’s found a way to integrate design as a key component in her marketing career.

As the founder of, a leading online resource for creative professionals who want better projects with bigger budgets, Ilise is a group coach and one-on-one mentor for creative professionals to help them build their business. For creatives — anyone really — marketing one’s business doesn’t always come naturally. Throughout her more than 30 years in business, however, Ilise has made it her mission to take the guesswork (and intimidation) out of marketing yourself or your business. 

A national speaker, business coach and author of seven books, as well as the Marketing Mix Blog, Ilise also somehow finds time to host the #HOWLive podcast and the Marketing Mentor Podcast. Additionally, she is a program partner for HOW Design Live and an adjunct faculty member at Maryland Institute College of Art. Passionate about design and marketing? We think so. 

Design has infiltrated all aspects of Ilise’s career, making her a great resource for other creatives who are looking to move forward in their own respective disciplines. Here’s a quick snippet of some of her career advice:

Tell us about a project or accomplishments from the past 10 years that had a major impact on your life or career.

would not be where I am today without (the magazine that published my first article in 1990), the conference that gave me my first speaking gig in 1993, the publisher that published my first (of seven) books in 2001, and the event since 2008 that provided the platform (and podcast) to connect with designers at a higher level than I would have been able to achieve on my own. Thank you HOW. Without you, I wouldn’t have evolved along the trajectory it did, that’s for sure. 

What design or career advice would you give to your younger self?
    • Don’t pretend. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not, to know something you don’t or to understand things that make no sense to you. There’s no reason to pretend and ultimately, it can be very damaging. Don’t be afraid to let on that you don’t get it. It’s better to ask questions, even if you think they’ll make you look stupid. Questions are the answer to everything!
    • Get help. Don’t go it alone. Yes, we all have to have our own experiences, but we don’t have to make all the mistakes. Guidance — good guidance from someone with no stake in your success — is priceless and worth every penny because it will save you years of error. However, to be guided, you must trust — not everyone, of course, but the decent ones who actually do want to help you. That means you have to open your eyes, be vigilant and exercise quality control over what gets in and what doesn’t. 
    • Focus on learning. Learning is everything. Nothing else matters. Your biggest project or client doesn’t matter. Writing books doesn’t matter. Speaking engagements don’t matter. The only goal should be to learn from absolutely every experience and then move on to find better.
If you were given the opportunity to see into the future, what would you want to know?

Will our species survive long enough to continue to evolve or will it destroy itself?

How do you think design impacts your everyday life? The community?

There is more awareness about design than ever before but it’s often not conscious. So the impact of a product or a package or a document that is designed (or well designed) versus one that is not is huge, but often goes unnoticed. So designers have to make the argument and show the data to prove how important their work is. At the same time, too many people can’t tell the difference between good design and mediocre design and therefore don’t value it and aren’t willing to pay for it. That’s why the design community itself needs to do the educating, as John Maeda does, for example, in his annual Design in Tech Report.

For the rest, you’ll have to hear her speak in person! We encourage you to learn more about Ilise’s accomplishments and her take on how design impacts everyday life firsthand at the Evolve Design conference, which takes place on October 12 & 13.

Story by Breanne Krager