Earlier this year, I moved to Eindhoven, Netherlands to intern at Philips Lighting. As an experience and visual designer, I had the opportunity to work with amazing people and learned a lot from my time there. Here are some takeaways from my four month experience.
— Take initiatives to move you closer to your goal.
As an intern, sometimes you don’t believe you have a say in what projects you get to work on, or that there are no other options — truth is, your employer probably wants you to be productive and happy in what you do and will support you the best way they can to make that possible.
My internship at Philips Lighting was set up to have two different projects, one after the other. Once I started my first project, I quickly realised the company was more open-minded than I assumed and that projects weren’t set in stone. During my time here I really wanted to work on something I was excited about, so I introduced myself to the Design Lead for Philips Hue UX to see if there were opportunities to help their team on any projects. Shortly after, I was given a brief to improve the interface and experience of an interactive page — a project that I was more eager to be apart of and where I believed my skills would be better utilised.
For me, developing this ‘just do it’ attitude took a lot of time, self-confidence, and positive thinking. As a result, I practiced my resourcefulness and showed others that I was looking to succeed. I’m still learning, but I’m a true believer in taking one step at a time, and celebrating the small wins of personal growth. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and at the end of the day it’s up to you to hold yourself accountable.
— Your mentor isn’t always your manager.
Mentors can come from all different backgrounds and levels of expertise. In my experience, some can be more conceptual, speaking to strategies and higher level thinking, while others may be more technical, ready to provide pieces of feedback on parts of your process. At this point in my journey, it was important to spend time with someone who I felt was knowledgeable and interested in the type of work I was doing, being able to give insightful feedback based on their own experience.
For my project I was tasked to update and reframe a mobile-web interactive experience, with the challenge of changing the UI to incorporate the current branded elements. I found a mentor on the Philips Hue team who was a user experience designer. She introduced me to the visual language and more importantly explained why the team made those decisions and it was during those moments where a lot of learning happened. Not only was I impacted by “what was being said”, but “how it was being said”. My mentor was very eloquent in the way she walked me through her thought process, and I learned that an effective way to communicate ideas is through a bit of storytelling through the eyes of the customers.
In addition, being a considerate mentee is key to making the most of your time with your mentor. While being open to feedback is a must, I think it’s also about coming to the table with clear objectives that help both people focus in on an area of question. What I enjoyed most about having her support was that during challenging times she encouraged me to continue exploring ideas and share my thought processes where we could discuss them together and iterate on more promising directions — remember, don’t expect answers from your mentors (they don’t always have them anyway).
— Take your time.
It was a privilege to be able to work in the Netherlands, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be in a space that supported the freedom to manage your own way of working and learning.
I think the Dutch culture is fortunate to have fostered an appreciation for a healthy work-life balance. It’s evident in the simple things: serious get-out-of-the-office lunch and koffie time, 2–3 day workshops with refreshments, interest from others in on-going personal projects, and no strange looks when you leave before 5. This different way of working was refreshing, and definitely took time to get used to.
With such a short amount of time to do work as an intern, it was only natural for me to get caught up in trying to ‘do it all’. However, this mentality stunted my creativity so I tried to adjust my pace to others, which left me with a lot of time to explore other things I’ve always wanted to try: animate with After Effects, code my portfolio from scratch (again), practice my prototyping skills, and more. Ultimately, a slower-paced culture influenced my curiosity to explore ideas, allowing for more focused, intentional work. I also felt very happy when I was making things unrelated to work, and if you’re like me and you don’t know exactly what you want to do just yet, it helped me find out what I was interested in fiddling around with. Overall, an aspect of this internship I really appreciated was the encouragement to be creative in other areas and take time on developing skills I wanted to work on through side projects.
— Learn how to communicate design in a business context.
Communicating your craft and value to other departments can be tough. I found it very challenging especially since pretty much most of my time I was interacting with other students or designers who were well-versed in the design language. In the real working world however, sales people, marketing teams, project managers and the like are introduced into the equation, and it’s a different language designers need to learn how to communicate in.
At Philips I had another project in which I faced many moments where I needed to reframe the way I communicate my role and what I do to bring value to the product. After a few meetings, I felt like the business department was not clear on what we (the experience designers) were there to achieve. We needed to show the project manager that experience designers go beyond what they believed to be “just the look and feel”, and that we in fact conduct research, iterate through processes to find insights and craft solutions, and test to validate ideas. This helped us gain the support we believe we needed in order to be successful in moving forward; for example, setting up interviews with experts, getting in contact with users, and connecting with stakeholders.
I’m definitely still learning how to do this effectively and started by talking to other designers about their challenging experiences, and to business friends about their thoughts on matter. I think Bobby Ghoshal from High Resolution Podcast does a good job in emphasizing why it’s important (listen to him talk at AIGA). I believe this is a challenge that all designers face today, and slowly but surely, together we’ll level the playing field.
— Continuous effort to cultivate collaboration and transparency across departments is a must.
During my time at Philips Lighting, I found that quickly setting up collaboration sessions wasn’t very accessible, and if it happened, it took a long time to schedule. In comparison, I had a very different experience during my internship at a start-up called, thisopenspace, where the very nature of it was being able to turn to the person next to you (be that an engineer or customer service agent) and ask them for their opinion, feedback, or help. By including people from other departments for things like, ideation rounds and feedback discussions, it helped me understand everyone’s perspectives on the matter, and uncovered new ideas I wouldn’t have thought of (you can read more about my internship experience at thisopenspace here). Though this isn’t something an intern can fix overnight, I think that through with your own project, being proactive for your own benefit, and exemplifying the fruits of your labour as a result from collaboration is a good start to making changes in work processes.
There’s no denying that as companies grow, it becomes extremely difficult to do this. Especially Philips Lighting. It’s Philips. It’s huge. Which is why they are in the process of restructuring as part of a plan to strengthen new functions, concentrating on smart lighting and the IoT applications. Alas, with such big changes in store, I’m excited to see what’s next for Philips Lighting (now known as Signify).
For next time:
There’s so much more worth saying, but here are some things I’ll be thinking about for my next journey:
- Talk to more business thinkers about their thoughts on design. What’s in their head? Do they have suggestions for me as a designer?
- Mental note to take extra time to learn from future coworkers; how do you go about framing problems and work to solve them? Can you walk me through your thinking? What’s their favourite short key/design hack?
- Ask future employer to describe their internship program/workplace culture, in order make sure there’s (what I believe to be) the necessary support for the things I do want to do and learn.