The Communication That Makes an Outstanding Design Internship

| Carol Liao

Many people who’ve worked with me know that I’m extremely passionate about the quality of internships. When I was studying, I had worked with mentors on all ends of the spectrum — engaging designers who gave me real-world experience, demanding directors who barked for personal errands (you think picking up coffee is bad?), and much in between.

As The Artificial grows, I’m taking on more responsibilities — one of them being mentoring our new intern (yikes, sounds so formal). Needless to say, I want to make sure I pass on only the best from my previous experiences.

Internships are often a student’s first chance to dive into an industry and that experience can be so important to her future path.

Of all the exciting things to create, and of all the places to learn it, they chose your industry, and deemed your company fit to learn from. Whether this is pushed by a school curriculum or by pure ambition, I believe that mentors should be eager to take this opportunity to share their passion and show what makes this line of work so rewarding.

There are plenty of good design internships, but an outstanding design internship needs to tick more than just the “learn”, “paid”, and “fun” boxes, and I believe that lies in the communication.

A personal welcome over a long wait

Can you remember a single “first day” of anything where you weren’t either excited or anxious? Today might just be an ordinary day for you, but your intern is starting something completely new. If you don’t have the time to welcome her and show her to her desk, you probably wont have the time to teach her anything.

Company integration over segregated environments

Similar to how expats gravitate towards each other in foreign environments, interns might be lunching together because they don’t feel integrated. A big part of understanding what it’s like to work in a company is understanding what it’s like to socialize in a company. While it’s great that your interns are getting along, make sure they’re also getting along with full-time employees, managers, and directors well enough to feel comfortable joining for beers.

Demonstrations over LMGTFY

I sincerely hope no mentor has ever explicitly sent a LMGTFY as anything but a joke, but you get the idea. Yes, your intern could easily Google a tutorial, but for some things, demonstrations are far more efficient, and you can feel confident that she learned the process correctly. No time for a demonstration? Providing a high-quality source or showing previous work for reference is much more constructive than blind Googling, and your intern will appreciate the guidance.

Coffee excursions over conference room meetings

It’s easy to forget that while we’ve gotten used to 8+ hour work days in front of a computer, they’re not the norm for a student. Having light meetings and informal check-ins at a local cafe helps break up the day. Not only does it give you both a nice change of scenery, but it could help a nervous intern feel more relaxed and feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly.

In-person conversations over digital messaging

Yes, we all know that email, Slack, HipChat, or what have you, are all easier ways of communicating with colleagues. But whenever possible, try to make the time to discuss things in person. This is especially important in international companies, where ‘English as a second language’ might manifest itself differently in conversation than in quick writing. Both sides understand that your schedule is busier than hers, but by carving out time for in-person conversations, she won’t feel the need to restrain from asking questions.

All in all, I believe that interns should be welcomed into the workplace as if they were a permanent employee. The temporary nature of internships can sometimes be what discourages people from investing in those relationships.

The sole difference should be patience. We should keep in mind that they are still students—naturally things will take longer, there may be miscommunication, and more instruction may be needed. They are looking to you for guidance, so let that bit of flattery drive your patience!