Why You Should Intern While In Design School

June 21, 2010

Why You Should Intern While In Design School

I'm about a month into my internship at DOXA and I can already say that it's been an invaluable experience for me. The reason I think it's important to intern while you're still in school is because it's hard, if not almost impossible, to really understand or prepare for the "real" world of design without experiencing that world first hand. I knew it was different than school before I started. Everyone knows that in theory, but actually grasping that reality and what comes along with it is something entirely different.

For instance, an inherent flaw I've begun to see in my design education is that if design is about communication, then school projects are the equivalent to talking to myself. When I work on a project in class, I ultimately end up being the designer, client, and the audience. That's great to do whatever I want, just because I want to, but that's not how the real deal works. Since I'm in a fine arts program rather than a client-driven design program, much of the work I've done in school so far has been projects that were personal, in which the professor pushed us to center them around subject matter that we were invested in. I'm not saying that's a terrible idea in itself, it's still a good one. It's true that I'm more likely to produce good work when I'm interested in the subject matter. The problem is, it's unlikely that my entire career will be made up of only clients whose business is one I'm personally interested in. As design students, we have to learn how to communicate ideas that we may not be exactly interested in, to groups of people that we may not have much in common with. That's a lot different than designing a poster for our favorite band or the school organization we're vice president of. It's a lot harder.

Also, design is a service business. It's goal is to deliver something...a message, an idea, a value, a perception, to other people. School makes it easy to forget, or not even realize at all, how important the business aspect is. When you're doing real work you can't disregard that. Sure I can come up with a good solution but can I come up with a good solution that the client can afford? That's a different story and one that you won't fully grasp until you're in the real scenario. I've never worried a professor would scrap my idea because it was an expensive one. I don't think I should worry about that. Maybe that's not a lesson for school, but it's still a lesson that has to be learned somewhere.

For example, here's a shopping bag concept from one of my school projects. Cool, sure, but probably pretty pricey to actually produce in mass quantity for a client.

Real world design and school design are both important, but very different. The sooner you realize this for yourself the better off you'll be. There are a lot of things school can't, and probably shouldn't, teach you. That doesn't mean you don't need to learn them though, which is why I'm glad I'm doing this now. I really feel like an internship is more of a necessity than an option.

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Anna Jacobs

Anna Jacobs

Hi, I'm Anna. I'm a student at the University of Arkansas, majoring in graphic design. I'm currently interning this summer at DOXA, a brand and communication design firm here in Fayetteville, Arkansas. You can check out some of my work on my Behance profile here.

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