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Use Your Internship to Become a Kick-Ass Designer

Use Your Internship to Become a Kick-Ass Designer
When I was in school, I noticed a big gap in skills between my classmates who had internships and those who did not. The students without internships were missing a certain umph in their design choices. Their projects looked like… well, like they were made by students.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a student and your work looks like student work—that’s ok! But what happens when you graduate? Does your diploma bless upon you with magic fairy dust that transforms you into a sexy design god(dess)? Sadly, the future is not yet.

So how can you get an edge on the student competition to bring your skills above and beyond?

Here’s the secret: use your internship.

As a once intern now full-time designer, these are my top five tips.

  1. Start Early

The earlier you get into the #internshiplife, the more prepared you will be by the time you’re ready for that full-time gig. Apply for an internship while you’re still an undergrad. If you’ve already graduated but feel like some of your skills are missing, don’t be ashamed to take on an internship to fill in those gaps.

My first internship was the summer after my Sophomore year. It was amazing and terrifying. It made me realize how much more I needed to learn, but most importantly, it kick-started my quest to become a kick-ass designer. By the time I found Walk West, I was on my third internship. I probably would not have the full-time offer had I not acquired the skills I learned through my previous two internships.

  1. Look for Cool Places with Cool People

Do some stalking. To become a better designer, you must work with people who are awesome at what they do. If you find an interesting company, google the names of the designers. Chances are they have an online portfolio you can browse through and see the work they do. Are you impressed? Does their work show something valuable you may be lacking? You’ll be working with these people, so guarantee that they have something to teach you.

If you land an interview, remember to interview them back. Ask what their favorite project has been to work on and why, or what their dream project would be. Gauge their enthusiasm for what they do. Questions like these will help you see if the environment fosters positive energy and a chance for growth.

  1. Literally, Copy What You See The Professionals Do

As is true in any other field, skill is learned through practice and imitation. A new waiter is not expected to reinvent the art of taking orders. They’re going to observe the other waitstaff and do whatever the heck they do. After gaining some experience, the new waiter may then experiment with conversation techniques to get higher tips—but that was only possible by learning the basics. Design is no different.

As an intern, copy what you see the other designers doing. The fonts they choose to pair together, the way they build type hierarchy, the way they incorporate photography or choose stock images, the way they color vector illustrations, and the icons they choose. See how it differs from your own work and assess why one looks better over another.

  1. Use Downtime to Experiment

Sometimes work gets slow. And I get it—it’s awkward to keep asking your designer boss, “What can I do? Need help? Got a task for me?” If the person in charge has something for you that’s urgent, they’ll probably let you know. So use your downtime to experiment on your own while waiting for that next task to come in. Learn something new. Make a poster for fun, or maybe some icons. A good design leader will not fault you for that; if anything, they’ll admire it.

  1. Advice That Didn’t Fit Anywhere Else but Is Still Important:

Allow yourself to make garbage work in your internships. Don’t get caught up in feeling that you have to be new and different on day one. You, a unique human existing in this world, are already doing that. Good job. So stop fretting to come up with the next big thing. That will come. And the effort you make to get there may just be the ticket you need to get that offer letter.


We’re always looking for Walk West interns. If you’re interested in joining our team, visit our career page for a complete listing.

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