What it’s like being a design intern @ NAVER

Hi, I’m Hillary! I’m a senior at Stanford University majoring in Symbolic Systems with a concentration in Human-Computer Interaction. This past summer, I interned with the Incubation Studio at NAVER, a South Korean technology company specializing in internet-related services and products, as one of nine UX and UI design interns from around the world.

For the first eight weeks, I worked alongside other interns (shoutout to my wonderful team T-Recs — Daya, Jessie, and Dawen!) and under the guidance of UX and UI designer mentors at NAVER to design and prototype an original service for millennials. For the last two weeks, I helped the Incubation Studio iterate main features for their latest experiment, Focusbot (an app that mutes notifications and intelligently auto-replies to messages and calls to let users focus on what’s important).

Here’s what it was like, through pictures!

The Office (Korean remake)

The internship was located at the Green Factory, NAVER’s headquarters in Seongnam, southeast of Seoul. My first impression of the Green Factory was that it was like a small city. Seriously. What kind of office has a two-floor library, an exercise center with personal trainers, a healthcare center, a shower room, a recovery room with beds for power-naps, a 24-hour convenience store, a postal service, and a bank?

One of the coolest floors in the Green Factory is the 4th floor, which has lego tables, large bean bags for when all the beds in the recovery room are taken, a café, a food truck, and casual LINE FRIENDS-themed meeting rooms where employees meet for coffee breaks or foreign language classes.

Peek inside Green Factory

There are many cool things about being a NAVER employee. Two of the coolest are (1) your magical ID card you can use to pay and get employee discounts and (2) free breakfast from vending machines.

The first thing I did when I got to the office every day was go to the vending machine on our floor and grab my go-to, “morning dubu,” a pack of tofu. I got it so often that Daya, my teammate, once joked, “No morning dubu, no Hillary,” as in, if there’s no morning dubu in the vending machine, I wouldn’t show up to work. She was right! (Just kidding.)

The second thing I did was attend Breakfast Club, one of my favorite things about the mornings. My team would gather at a table behind Daya and Dawen’s cubicles and eat breakfast together, and sometimes Steve, the leader of the Incubation Studio, would join us. It was a nice way to start the day!

After the most important meal of the day (morning dubu) came lunch at the basement cafeteria. The menu changed every day, and there were usually four different yummy courses featuring one main dish and several side dishes. Some main dishes the cafeteria served included Korean classics like samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup) and bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables) as well as international cuisine like fajitas (Tex-Mex tortillas and grilled meat) and udon (Japanese thick wheat noodles). And, with the employee discount, they were all under 2,000 won (~$1.80)!

Top left: breakfast from the vending machine; Top right: the stairs you take when you eat too much morning dubu and have to reflect upon your choices; Bottom: curry lunch set.

We go glamping

One of the highlights of the internship was the overnight retreat to the Connect One training facility in Chuncheon, which was around two hours away by bus.

This was moments before everyone fell asleep.

Connect One, a series of buildings that have been designed to integrate into the surrounding landscape as well as uphold NAVER’s commitment to energy-efficiency and sustainability, was absolutely breathtaking. It’s home to Data Center Gak, where NAVER stores all its digital data. Fun fact: the data center harnesses mountain breezes through specially designed angled exterior wall slats and circulates them among its servers (which run 24/7) to help cool them down!

NAVER’s Connect One and Data Center Gak in Chuncheon, South Korea

At Connect One, we workshopped side-by-side with the mentors to further refine our project direction and ideate possible features. Seeing the mentors in action and participating in rapid-fire exchanges of ideas with them was absolutely incredible!

All the workshopping made us hungry, and the Connect One kitchen did not disappoint. The kitchen even sent us snacks during our workshop, like a cart piled high with tteokbokki (spicy rice cake, a worthy rival to morning dubu for the title of Food of My Heart), sundae (blood sausage, pronounced soon-dae), and little cartons of juice.

We didn’t just work — we also got to unwind and spend time getting to know each other. For dinner the first night, we tried dakgalbi (spicy stir-fried chicken), a Chuncheon specialty. One group of mentors and interns then went up to the roof and watched the stars together, while another group played 2v2 basketball, Team Interns vs. Team Mentors.

After two lovely days, we said goodbye to Connect One and boarded the bus back to Seongnam.

Bonus: We were at Connect One at the same time as the orientation for new LINE employees, so there were several LINE figures set up for the occasion. In the left picture, can you tell which one is Yung, my mentor, and which one is James, the LINE character? 78% of people get it wrong.

A slice of Seoul

Another highlight was leaving the office one afternoon for a group outing to check out the arts scene in Seoul.

We first headed to the Amore-Pacific Museum, which was full of thought-provoking interactive exhibits that explored relationships between art and technology, physical and digital, and art and audience.

Next we explored the Yongsan neighborhood, home to cool restaurants, street art, an arcade, and, as you’ll see in the GIF below, the optimal backdrop for a crash course in making Korean finger hearts.

How to do the Korean finger heart in two easy steps. Step 1: Put fingers together. Step 2: Burst into giggles.

We then enjoyed a barbecue dinner in Itaewon, followed by a tournament with three rounds of different games hosted by MCs and mentors Jeongmin and Sumin. For one of the games, Sumin ran pictures of everyone through a surprisingly realistic filter and we had to guess the identity of the people in the altered pictures one-by-one. Hands down the best makeover was our boss Steve’s — he became a grandma!

Clova, play Work by Rihanna

When we weren’t scoring layups against our boss or running his picture through a grandma filter, we spent our time going through rounds of research, ideation, and prototyping, as well as attending meetings with our mentors to help prepare for weekly critiques. The critiques were an invaluable way to get timely, rigorous feedback, which helped us stay on track and refine our projects.

We also had opportunities to take a Korean language class, taught by a employee at NAVER certified in teaching Korean, and a Framer class, taught by Jeongmin, an Incubation Studio designer who actually wrote a book on Framer. Jeongmin was a great teacher. Thanks to him, I went from not even knowing what Framer was to being the main Framer prototyper in my team.

Left: Framer class; Right: A weekly critique, where teams presented the week’s deliverables and got feedback from the mentors.

Behind the scenes: Here are some pictures of my team in action! The last picture is us practicing our final presentation.

Ending Thoughts

The internship was an intense learning opportunity from start to finish — I was constantly challenged to learn and grow as a designer, to let go of my preconceptions, and to find my role in a team-design setting.

It was also a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed getting to know the other interns and the mentors. The mentors were hilarious and kind and basically spoiled us all rotten by constantly treating us to coffee and meals and taking us to cool places. I always felt comfortable asking them for advice and help (about everything from UI patterns to what I should do with my life).

Because of the internship, I’ve been inspired to finally, completely pursue design (I used to concentrate in artificial intelligence). I hope to become a designer-developer one day. When that day comes and I’m at my desk opening a pack of morning dubu, I’ll think of the people I met during my time at NAVER and know everything they taught me helped me get where I am.

Interested in joining the next cohort of international interns at NAVER or curious about the innovative experiments created by the cool folks at the Incubation Studio? Follow NAVER Alpha on Instagram for the latest updates or check out their website to learn more.