Tips for maximizing your learning as a UIUX intern

Congratulations on the new chapter of your life! I believe you and your company are mutually excited about your upcoming internship. You may even feel a little bit nervous or apprehensive. Therefore, I want to share some thoughts on how to maximize your learning as a UIUX intern, in case you feel not knowing where to start or where to grow.

At the very beginning of your internship or even before it starts, it is important to think about what you want to get out of the internship. You may want to learn how to focus on users, understanding their needs and designing a solution that resinates with them. Together with your team, you may want to build a product and craft user experience to make an impact through great design. You may want to have a balanced amount of work between research and design, as well as tactical tasks and strategic work. Also pay attention to design principles and methodologies, while at the same time, take opportunities to put the theoretical knowledge into practice. During your internship, try to immerse yourself in the entire process of UX practice, including discovering, defining, brainstorming, prototyping, testing and iterating.

What to Learn

With the following “curriculum”, I hope you could get some idea of what to do and learn during your internship. I’ve divided them into different categories, hoping you get some hands-on experience from both technical side (research, design, prototyping, etc.) and soft skills (communication, presentation, meeting, etc.). Besides, give yourself some time to reflect and bring your tactic work into a level of strategy and principle. Originally, I tried to put this curriculum in a calendar format so you could have clear goals for each week, however, it was quite hard to do so since the timeframe for your project are not likely to follow a predefined schedule and many steps of the process should be iterative, which makes it hard to say when exactly something should take place. That being that, I still put them in an order as the rows grow. Yet keep in mind that although this is a sequential flow, your design process should be iterative.

  • Get your machine up and running, get office supplies if needed, get your badge and do the paperwork, AND get to know your team!
  • Engage in a fast-paced Design Thinking Bootcamp (if your company offers) to experience the collaborative, iterative, human-centered and customer-outcome-driven design approach. Ideally, you should be able to get a sense of how the team gain empathy for the users, to discover meaningful problems to solve, and to design a solution that resinates with their genuine needs. Then, put your learnings into your own work.
  • Learn the foundational principles of Lean UX, Design Thinking and Agile methodologies.
  • Participate in project planning to understand the goals of your project, the assumptions and hypotheses, problems you are trying to solve, and the user outcome you are pursuing. Those questions will help you understand how the team prioritize their work.
  • Before you get familiar with the product, participate in a usability test as a test subject to get a hands-on experience of the product and the “build-measure-learn” methodology.
  • Participate in customer visits/interviews to understand your users and hear their feedback. Get meaningful insights of who they are, what tasks they are performing with your product or service, the context of how they are being used, and what pain points your users have. Always remember
You are designing for people, not features; you are creating outcomes, not deliverables; you are delivering values, not artifacts.
  • Create user personas for the project you are working on. (Don’t spend too much time on it.) Focus on their pain points and needs and list potential solutions for the problems.
  • Engage in a collaborative design session. Articulate your ideas of potential solutions to the problem and get feedback for iteration.
  • Take the consensus your team reached in the design session to create tangible prototypes with proper fidelity, so that you could put it in the hand of users and see how they interact with it.
  • Present your design, and run a design review session with your team.
  • Run usability tests with your prototype to test your hypotheses, analyze the test results and come up with actionable plan to solve UX issues exposed, and iterate your design based on the feedback you collected.
  • Contribute to the Style Guide of your product.
  • Before you complete your internship, do a intern graduation presentation to summarize the work you did and lessons you’ve learned, as well as any feedback for your team and company.

Photo by Kimon Maritz

Rules of thumb

Set your goals early and communicate It

At the very beginning of your internship, it is important to identify appropriate goals for yourself. Think about what really motivates you, what career goals you have, what methodologies you want to apply into real work, what skills you want to improve, etc. Being clear about what you want to do will guide you through your learning experience, find the right people to talk to, pick related tasks, have realistic expectations, and ensure that you “graduate” with rewarding results.

Additionally, once you have the goals in mind, communicate with your manager/mentor to get some consensus. Your internship should be a mutual beneficial experience. Make sure you hear what your team and the company expect from you; while at the same time, let your manager/mentor know what you want to gain, so that they can better guide and help you. Don’t be afraid to voice up and take initiatives!

Follow Agile methodologies

Many design teams follow Lean UX and Agile methodologies to help them collaborate more effectively and efficiently. Get familiar with the concepts of scrum, user story, backlog, standup, sprint, retrospective, planning, and follow the procedures and standards in your daily work.

  • Go to your project’s daily standups to keep updated with what everyone is working on, and report what tasks you are taking and what’s in your way.
  • Go to your project’s planning, review and demo sessions to get a more holistic perspective of what the team is targeting for and what has been accomplished. However, sometimes you may feel you are not highly engaged in those meetings the entire time, still try to go to those kind of meetings as much as you can. You want to make sure UIUX is represented in the cross-functional collaboration. Besides, you will leave the meeting with clear scope and goals, instead of having your coworkers take time explaining to you, if you were not present in the meeting. (Make sure you get the invites to those meetings in Outlook from your scrum master.)
  • If you have schedule conflicts during standup time, send an email to your team to update your status.
  • Get familiar with the whatever tools your team use (Jira, Confluence) to track your stories and update your status. If you are creating your own story, make sure you not only cover what the task is and what you are expected to accomplish, but also who are you targeting at and what is the value/benefits in there. Use the template like: As a [user type], I want to [accomplish something], so that [benefits happen].

Be proactive, take initiative

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe

Being someone from college, someone in the booming field of User Experience or HCI, you are bringing fresh blood and energy to your team! Take advantage of your refreshing and unique perspective to offer constructive feedback to the products you are building.

Besides, whenever you see an opportunity, take an initiative to make an impact. Don’t let the thoughts of “I’m just an intern. I’m a newbie” to stop you! The more engaged and proactive you are, the more you are going to learn and contribute.

I assume your coworkers have various backgrounds and skills, and they are likely willing to share their experience and help you grow. However, everyone is also dedicated to their work, so they might not come to your desk to check on you frequently. Therefore, to maximize your learning experience, you need to be very proactive! Make an effort to get know folks and ask questions, or set up a meeting to exchange thoughts and ideas. You are going to miss huge opportunities to grow if you work quietly behind the monitors .

Communication, communication, and communication!

Communication is Key! Start your internship by talking with your manager/mentor about your expectations and goals, getting to know your coworkers, sharing your opinions and thoughts on various products, etc.

Don’t spend days working in silos. During your daily routine work, keep your status transparent to everyone on your team. This is important because 1) some developers might have their development tasks depend on your design ; 2) if you run into problems, you can get help in time when your team is aware. Don’t hide the issues, instead, communicate with your team and look for solutions.

Have you regular One-on-One meeting with your manager/mentor. Getting timely feedback is the key to learning and also ensures you are on the right track.

Thank you very much for your time. I hope you find some value in this article. Now it’s time to get started and have fun!