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Internships get you the industry experience you need

What I learned from my graphic design internship

It seems like not too long ago I was in school. During 2006 - 2007 I was applying for internships to get real world experience. I had no idea what I was getting into and had a few options that I was considering at the time. I ended up making the best choice that's led me to where I am right now, and it's fun looking back.

Recently with Jackson Wynne's graphic design intern Olivia coming into the picture, I'm reminded of my internship experience. It helps to hear from someone who's been there and this is my attempt to pay it forward. Every situation and experience is different, but it's always nice to hear from someone who's already been there.

My journey begins as I was attending Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, getting my BAA in Illustration. The program is a total of 4 years and we had our internship year 3 as part of the curriculum.

jack-shepherd-illustrationA snapshot of some artwork I produced during Sheridan's BAA Illustration program

Illustration is an excellent program with a lot of learning packed into 4 years. That's enough content for several blog posts right there, so I'll focus just on the internship portion for the sake of this article.

The following story is not a guide or how to, but you might learn something from my experience.

The hunt for an internship begins

The search for your internship is a mixture of emotions including excitement, worry, and wonder. You're not sure what you're capable of until you get out there and interview at a few places and get a feel for what it's really all about. There are some opportunities that come up that are really exciting, but often because of popularity, there is a lot of competition for that dream position. What you think is ideal, may not end up being what you had expected.

I highly recommend doing your own search in your local area to see what is out there. There are too many hidden gems out there to count and you could be missing out if you just wait for a list that everyone else has access to. Not any instructor, counselor or otherwise will hand you something perfect, unless you get really lucky.

Apply frequently and often to places not found in any directory. Think about where you'd really like to be and give it a shot. Soon enough you'll have interviews lined up.

Finding the right fit

Never apply anywhere you know nothing about. I recall approaching a big name agency in Toronto as part of one of my "see what happens" tactic. Ends up I was not a right fit and I wasted my time and the interviewers going in blind, however, I received a lot of really good feedback and it helps that they were super nice about it.

Employers know you are inexperienced and really good ones often point you in the right direction, and sometimes a harsh answer is what you need to keep looking and try harder. Keep your options open and apply to many places, having multiple offers is a real possibility.

Landing your first internship

I ended up working with Paul from Lucid Design even before the official intern search, and I already had an offer to work there for the summer. I applied to several places and was fortunate enough to have a couple good offers. I ended up really liking working with Paul and committed to a full time summer internship. As internships go from what I have heard from peers, they don't come any better.

Though I had some previous design and web experience, I was nowhere near a proficient level, but Paul saw potential in me. At Lucid I was taught everything from graphic design, to web design and experienced first hand how a business ran. Paul's patience, hands on approach and mentorship taught me a lot of key points that I still put to use today.

I got really lucky.

Failing, or "Learning" on the job

As cliché as it sounds, you really do get what you put into it.

Being an intern is not an easy job. There is a lot to learn in a short amount of time. Expectations can sometimes be high and you have to realize that an employer invests a lot of time in training you to be ready for a working level position. You can't get upset easily and have to be willing to put in the extra hours and show that you're really passionate about what you're doing.

Paul and I knew where my strengths were from the beginning - illustration, print, and some basic web. I really dove into CSS and learned a lot about that. Mistakes were made along the way. I recall a really bad logo concept that stands out in my mind as the lowest level of accomplishment I can think of. If I could find a copy, I'd show you, but it's so embarrassing. I'll follow up if I can find it. Let's just say - swamp creature.

Perhaps my greatest internship accomplishment was building Lucid's website alongside Paul:

lucid-website-internshipA screenshot of the now defunct interactive Lucid Flash website

Acting as an interactive portfolio for the design studio we went above and beyond the traditional website into a one of a kind experience. We integrated some illustrations I put together in a fluid environment and brought it all to life in Flash.

I learned how to do some basic animation, use after effects and some Flash coding (which was still really big at the time). At one point I even got to do a painting for a client.

Willingness to learn

Willingness to learn is the only thing you need, next to your willingness to work hard at it. Going above and beyond by putting in the effort and improving some of your weaker areas outside of work will give you a better grasp on the subject matter the next time around. This is how you show your eagerness, without having to say it.

You're not just there to learn, you're there to improve and hopefully gain the experience that leads you to the next part of your career. You might find you don't necessarily like a particular part of a job that you thought you would really love. That's all part of the process.

On the other hand, you might find you really love something you never really paid much attention to, until you dove right into it. For example, it sounds crazy saying it now, but I was on the fence about websites for a while until I realized how fun and exciting they are to work on. You never know until you actually try it out.

The design process is a journey of lessons in things that work, things that don't and many other insights behind the scenes you don't often get to learn in school. Failure might be seen as a negative word, but in the broader sense it's how you learn to move on to better work and better things.

Your potential to grow

Not only did I come out with a lot of experience and a great graphic design internship under my belt, but I also learned how a project goes from start to finish, produced interactive websites, worked with clients, among countless other lessons on the job.

After the internship I was offered a part time position while I finished up my last year of school. With a bit of luck and hard work, you will get noticed. Right place, right time, right work ethic.

interactive-website-exampleA website produced while at Lucid of an interactive environment for an up and coming rap artist

School finished and it was perfect timing when Paul offered me a chance to join Lucid full time. I gladly accepted and many years later, things were going really well. We decided to create a new company as partners.

Go with the flow, it's just the beginning

Everyone's experience is going to be different. Though not all surprises are pleasant, you'll sometimes be amazed where you can end up. More people should share their internship experiences. You might be able to find a few articles online, but do you get to see intimate details of another persons journey? Often times you just see the end result of a long journey.

As an intern, make sure you:

  • Ask a lot of questions, don't be afraid to speak up
  • Keep an open mind to learn new things
  • Find out what type(s) of work is right for you
  • Build relationships with a team
  • Remember, feedback is important - learn to listen!
  • If you can get hired afterwards, amazing - but don't expect it
  • Make lots of mistakes, and learn from them

Reflecting back on everything, it's been quite a trip - a big thank you to Paul for putting up with me all these years :). It's been a great journey with lots more to look forward to.

What was your internship experience like and what did you learn?

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Jack Shepherd
Written By

Jack Shepherd

Co-founder, Partner and Design Director at Jackson Wynne @jacksheps