How to be a successful design intern

As my internship at the design agency comes to a close, I have decided to compile a list of observations, must-dos and learning experiences from my position as a Graphic Design Intern in a small, Seattle-based design agency for the last several months.

This internship experience was eye-opening to the field of design and truly reassured me that I am pursuing the right career path. Not to mention, my coworkers were some of the most creative and inspiring people I have had the pleasure of meeting. It has been a wonderful opportunity with learning experiences I will apply to my next position as a Web Designer at the Seattle Nordstrom Flagship Headquarters. 

Here are my tips for all you designers starting out:

  • Be assertive. If you are having a slower day at work, ask how you can help or what projects you can take on. This proves you are making yourself an asset to the agency and your coworkers will be impressed with your willingness to learn and apply yourself. 
  • Don't be afraid to say no. It is important to know your limits and sometimes if you have reached your project limit for the day, it is okay to say no. This was something I struggled with throughout the duration of my internship because I felt like I was going to disappoint my manager and coworkers if I refused to take on a project. But it really comes down to time-management and prioritizing. At the end of the day, budgeting your time and work load will allow you to get more (high-quality) work done and your coworkers will appreciate you being honest.
  • Challenge yourself and your skill set. If cutting straight lines with an xacto knife is not your strong suit or binding a creative concept book makes you sweat, make it a point to tackle these skills. I would ask coworkers if I could shadow them when they completed certain tasks I did not feel as comfortable doing solo and ended up learning some unique and handy tips as an observer.
  • Stand up for your work. The field of design is extremely subjective. Therefore, do not expect every person to like or understand your work. Sometimes, a designer will have to explain his/her work to get the point across and that's okay. Be comfortable enough to reassure yourself of your talent and skill set and give reasoning why you believe your design should be considered or what changes can be made to make it better. Obviously, being genuine is the best way to go about this. No one likes a cocky designer. Just remember that no matter how talented you are or how great the piece is, every design can in some way be improved for the better. 
  • Don't just insert the copy. Proofreading is all too often overlooked in the field of graphic design. Just because you are the designer responsible for the design elements does not mean you should avoid proofreading any and all copy that will be inserted into your work. If there is a typo chances are it will reflect poorly on your design too. If your spelling/grammar skills aren't top notch, have another set of eyes look over the copy once more before you submit your final design. This will prove you have attention to detail and that you think the little things matter--which they do.
  • Go out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you will be briefed on a project you are not initially excited about or you are asked to work in a medium or with a deadline that makes you struggle to see that silver lining. These are the opportunities you should embrace and soak in as a designer. Push yourself beyond your usual design habits and go-tos, chances are you will be happily surprised with the result.
  • Get to know the people you work with. Interning at a smaller agency provided me with the chance to work with a variety of people on numerous projects. However, there were certain people I still did not know extremely well. I took it upon myself to participate in office shenanigans, group lunches and other hangouts to get to know my coworkers beyond the office setting. This turned out to be a wonderful thing because not only did I make friends but I was able to work better with the people at the agency. I was able to gauge each person's personality and habits better and it helped me anticipate their reactions and feedback. 
  • Ask questions. Starting out in an agency you may not be as familiar with how things operate or of the general expectations. This is normal and you should never feel unintelligent when asking questions. In fact, your coworkers and boss will appreciate this. Even after months at the agency there would be certain things I would forget or not know how to do. So if I could not reference my notes or remember, I would ask. In turn, the task moved along swiftly and I was able to remind myself that even the most experienced designers at the agency ask questions and not to mention, we are all human.
  • Know the mission of the agency. At the end of the day you should be passionate about the field you are in and the work that you do. Finding an agency or firm that is a good fit is crucial in helping you thrive as a designer. When searching for a good fit, I generally always read the agency brief or mission and check out the creative work. Passion and internal drive generally start from the environment you are put in, so try and find that environment you will thrive in creatively and professionally. 
Allison WagnerComment