7 Rules To Follow When Hiring A Design Intern

Four years ago, after some intensive work on portfolio polishing, I succeeded in landing my dream internship at Atrissi Design, a multi-cultural design studio with offices in the Netherlands and Barcelona. The studio focuses on typography with a cross-cultural approach. Atrissi himself has become a trend setter in the Middle East, and his influence on the contemporary design landscape is unquestionable. Looking back at my experiences, I can clearly say that my internship there helped shape me into the designer I am today. I am very tempted to turn this post into a personal thank-you letter to Tarek Atrissi, but instead I will focus on giving a few tips for those of you who are about to hire new design interns. These tips are based not only on my experience as an intern in the Netherlands, but also on how I am structuring our design internship programme at HipHopDX. Hoping that my experience can contribute to other design establishments and newbie designers alike.

Make sure your on-boarding process is flawless. Makes sure you got all those documents signed, and that your newcomer is properly introduced to the team. Have a swift talk to manage expectations and make clear what you want them to get out of the internship and what you expect from them in return. Most importantly, listen to what they want to learn.

Grant your intern autonomy. In the real world, they are on their own. Therefore, granting them autonomy will allow them to learn how to approach problems and how to solve them, how to manage projects, and — most importantly — how to make ideas happen.

Ask them what they are interested in. Our recent design intern at HipHopDX loves illustration and wanted to practice. I made sure that I can incorporate his skills in some of the new ideas we had at the studio. Everyone at HipHopDX was thrilled when they saw the custom illustrations he created for a few articles.

Prepare one project that will be fully intern’s responsibility. Depending on how hands-on your intern is, these projects are meant to teach them how design works, from start to finish, and how design is about much more than design. It will also ensure that the internship is much more focused.

Lay the groundwork for an environment that is receptive to ideas. I have come to notice that many recent graduates have a lot of great ideas, but no means to carry them out. Make sure to listen to them and help them assess which ideas are executable or relevant and which are not. Guide them through your thought process so they can learn how to work with the available resources and assess ideas independently in the future.

Overshare. Share your process, share your thoughts, brainstorm together, allow yourself to be messy and experiment with ideas and sketches. You never know which part of your thought process will ignite an idea. This also allows interns to see how messy things are in the real world, and how planning and processes work.

If they decide that they like print more than web, it’s OK. Don’t panic (I did at first). Your job is to show them what options they have out there, and how vast the design world has become since they started their studies. The choice in the end is theirs alone. Remember that the initial goal of the internship is to help interns learn more about the field, as well as their own strengths and interests. Being able to choose a preferred field is also a type of internship success.

My experience as an intern at Atrissi Design has helped me see the internship experience from the intern’s eyes. Through the process of hiring interns and working closely with them at HipHopDX I am still learning much more. I hope that you have found these tips useful in setting the ground for your newbie designers to jumpstart their careers.

Would love to hear your feedback! Drop me a note @sunbird3000