Professionals and students have everything to learn from each other. In the creative industry we crave new impulses, young enthusiasm, idealism and drive. You students want to learn from the best and have an opportunity to work on projects with actual customers and real results. Win-win. This is why I think internships are a really good idea! For students - that is.

I’m going to tell you why you should be looking for an internship during your studies, not after you finished your degree.

For graduated designers it’s different. Some disciplines, such as interaction designers, are swallowed up like freshly baked donuts these days. In other parts of the creative industry we still occasionally see graduated students asking for internships. The issue arises when you, hat in hand, tell me that you are willing to work for little or no pay “just to gain experience”.

Don't downgrade yourself

In my opinion, this is comparable to saying “I have a worthless education, will you let me stand in your way for a while?” You don’t mean that. You should consider the chain of events that will happen (and that actually happens on a regular basis out there in the real world), when you go about bargaining away your time:

  • First, an agency will fall for the temptation of cheap high-skilled labour, and hire you.
  • Next, you will do an awesome job, your new colleagues will be impressed, you will be enthused and happy, working over hours to make that delivery even more perfect. The world is about to discover what a talent you are, and they are so right.
  • Then, your experienced colleagues nail the presentation to the client, who is in turn amazed at what is possible to achieve in such short time. Everyone is momentarily happy, and you have beers and feel pride and belonging.
  • Three months later, you end your internship. Soon after, the client calls the agency again, and want them to deliver again... The agency realises their mistake. 
  • The agency ends up hiring a new intern. And history repeats itself. It’s fine, they think, because everyone else is doing it to.

It's not fine! This is devaluating design. This is why the world has labour unions and wage regulations which you for some reason think doesn’t apply to the creative industry. There is a reason why you don’t see lawyers offering free services, and doctors treating patients in their spare time.  

Like lawyers and doctors you are a highly competent resource, and the currency of competence is time.

You are valuable

In every context I have ever worked as a designer, including in-house and agency work across all kinds of public and private sectors, designers add enormous value! Designers achieve results that amaze the executives, project managers, engineers, marketers, and the number crunchers. A part of their amazement comes from the designer's inexhaustible attitude to finding improvements, pushing for the extra mile, challenging the existing, and we should never stop improving. But, the one thing we should never question is the value of our time. Look around and you will see the proof: Governments are looking to design and innovation communities to rework public services. Businesses are betting their bucks on future services developed by designers.

You, dear students of design and innovation – you are valuable!

Don't put yourself in an awkward position

You are going to be our navigators, businesses will depend on you to change and survive, regions will depend on you to develop new activities, and countries will look to you to point out new directions. You shouldn’t go sneaking up on that responsibility with the attitude of a lost and embarrassed lapdog! Now, if this isn’t enough, on to the second reason why internships are for students.

Consider another scenario:

  • Newly graduated, you propose and internship to an agency, which is yet again tempted by the sweet apple of cheap labour.

  • After a 6 month internship period, the agency doesn’t have enough projects to offer you a fixed position, and you’re on your own again.

  • Thinking that you at least have 6 months experience on your CV, you enthusiastically start searching for positions elsewhere.

  • What you don’t know, is that the people looking at your CV are asking themselves why you were NOT offered a fixed position after your internship. There must be something wrong..

The point is, while student internships have happy endings, internships for fresh graduates risk ending in heartbreak.

This is what you must do

Here are my 50 cents: aim for a 4-6 month internship, during your 4th or 5th year of studies. You say it doesn’t fit into your jam-packed curriculum? Well, an internship in the right kind of company, with the right kind of tasks and a good follow-up by a colleague will triple-boost the effects of whatever brainfuel your school is giving you. If your school is serious about giving their students a career platform, they will accommodate your wish to get field experience. Maybe they even will let it count as a semester given that you reach your learning goals.

Here’s what you do:

  • Establish a relationship with an agency – and wow them with your clever portfolio.

  • Land an internship – getting paid something reflecting a fifty-fifty situation between learning and contributing – enough to enable you not to have a second job on the side to pay the bills.

  • When your creative leader tells you that you can spend as much time as you want on a project, you refuse, and insist on using the same hour registration regime as everyone else.  

Bam! Respect achieved. Experience achieved. Design valued. Expectation level maintained.

Appreciate the value of design

I hope I’m not coming across to moralistic, the fact is that I am myself am guilty of having hired graduated interns. But, having learned the hard way, I hope all of you awesome creative leaders and wonderfully talented students out there will never again consider devaluating design.

Curious about working with me, my colleagues and great clients? Check out our vacant positions.