Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Really interesting and useful post here by Mind Design. Not seen this amount of thought and attention paid to the subject of interns by a studio or designer before...

The dilemma with internships.

We had many interns in our studio over the years and learned as much from them as they hopefully learned from us. We always treated them like everyone else in the studio and paid at least £350 per month (even at times when we were struggling). We followed their careers and are still in contact with most of them. Until recently I thought internships are good arrangement from which everyone benefits. However, nowadays there are so many student's, graduates, even post graduates entering the internship circuit that the situation has started to affect (and change) the design industry. Not necessarily for the better. So what is the problem with internships?

1) The industry is becoming dependent on interns.
Especially in difficult economic times design companies might recruit interns as a cheap short-term workforce. It is worrying to see how this has already developed in the fashion industry where there are sometimes 10 interns to 1 designer, working long hours and weekends. The other problem is that when the cost of 'staff' becomes less design agencies can charge low fees and undercut each others prices. It doesn't take long until even clients figure out how the game works. We have been asked to complete projects for ridiculously low fees where the clients have already suggested 'maybe your intern can do it?'. Those clients should approach graduates directly, not design studios. Without any overheads a few hundred quid might be ok for a graduate and could mean a first step towards self-employment. We all started like this.

2) Interns are killing off the very jobs they want.
I am not saying it is the interns fault, they are in a catch 22 situation. However, from a purely commercial perspective why should a design agency still employ a junior designer when they can have three equally qualified interns doing the same job for free? Many interns are far too qualified or have been doing their rounds for much too long. There seems to be real pressure on graduates too to complete as many internships as possible in order to increase their chances in finding a real job. This might not be about gaining additional experience anymore and becomes just a trade-off of adding another studio name to the CV in exchange for a bit of unpaid work. Especially internships of just a week or two seem completely pointless, what can someone really learn in a new environment in such a short time?

3) The colleges are not taking their responsibilities serious anymore.
Why do so many graduates still feel the need for more experience? Are the colleges not responsible for preparing students for 'real life'? Colleges nowadays are taking on far too many students in order to fund themselves through fees. Many courses have three times the number of students than they used to have 5 years ago but the number of tutors has not been increased. With that many students it becomes difficult to teach real practical skills, like designing grids, print preparation, etc. It is much easier to let students loose on developing ideas and concepts. Certainly this is an important point of studying but then again who needs so many clever little geniuses? In real life only around 20% of a project is developing the actual idea. I do not really see why design studios should compensate for the shortcoming of the colleges, neither should the colleges shift their responsibilities towards the design industry.

4) Small studios are not a training camp for the big world.
Most interns want to work in a small studio because they assume that those are more 'creative' and somewhere between art college and the big agencies. What they often forget is that small those studios hardly ever employ new staff and usually struggled quite a bit themselves to achieve their 'creative' status. All small studios started at some point with very little experience from nothing with just one or two semi-reliable clients. They took risks, made many mistakes, worked through quite a few bad jobs and put up with difficult clients in order to pay the bills. Instead of assuming that there is a shortcut to great creative freedom or a half-way house between college and the big world graduates should just be braver and start their own thing. It actually seems easier nowadays to find your first client than getting a full-time job. The more small design studios there are the better and we have always been happy to help if someone asks for a printer recommendation or how to structure an estimate. The sad thing is that many interns after they have done their rounds through the small studios end up in a big commercial agency because they need to earn money and those are the only ones hiring (and firing once the project finishes). In a way small studios come into a position where they are training the future staff of their own competitors who put profit before creativity.

We have not fully decided where we stand on the subject of internships but felt the need to expresses some general concern in the interest of the interns themselves and the design industry. Many interns we spoke to had very positive experiences. In future we may only accept interns while they are still in education, or try to introduce real 'mini' jobs, or organize a regular pop-in portfolio day. In the meantime, while we are still making up our mind here some general advice for consideration:

- If you do an internship but you are actually after a real job always ask if there is a possibility of employment and clarify things from the start.
- Do an internship at a print workshop, an accountants office, a sign maker, learn really practical stuff that might become incredibly useful.
- Never work for free. Even if the studio is small and has little money there should be some sort of payment.
- Forget about internships, get real, find some clients, start working, start making mistakes, start enjoying your achievements.

— posted by Holger

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