My internship at New Design Studio and what I learned
Early in October 2020, I was jumping back and forth between UNIST design labs’ websites. It had been around seven months since I came back home from Korea due to the pandemic, and I was a junior by then. It was time for me to start my internship and complete my credits.
Taking product design courses, learning 3D CAD and how to sand a prototype for the past three semesters made me realize that I don’t really enjoy making physical products. I knew what I don’t like, but I didn’t know what I want to do, hence the jumping around between design lab websites trying to pick a lab to intern for. It went on for days and I still couldn’t decide.
Around mid-October, I was looking through my inbox and noticed one email. The Design Department had just become independent (previously Design and Human Engineering) and is building its own visual identity and website. The FUD (Face of UNIST Design) team was in charge of this and was looking for interns. Creating a visual identity and website is not like any other courses in UNIST Design, so I thought why not take this opportunity and try it out? I decided to shoot an email to join the team and soon enough, I started my journey in New Design Studio (NDS) — a service design research practice and laboratory.
Right then, I didn’t have a clear idea about what service design is. Designing a logo and visual identity is not something that immediately comes to mind when I think about NDS and service design. However, the project was fun and I enjoyed working with the team, so I decided to stay longer in NDS after my internship and explore further. It’s been two years now since I came to NDS, and my journey has been invaluable. Here are some things I learned.
You never know unless you try (cliché, I know)
Doing a lot of new things at NDS made me learn so much more about myself. For instance, I have never been someone who likes talking — I prefer to listen — and I don’t enjoy being in the spotlight. I disliked being interviewed in the past and the thought of having to talk to a stranger to lead one feared me.
However, interviews ended up being one of the things I enjoy most in the design process. Turns out interviews are really enjoyable for me who likes listening to people. Still nerve-racking sometimes, but enjoyable. That’s what they’re all about anyways — getting to know people and listening to what they think, want, and need. I guess the cliché “you never know unless you try” is true, after all.
Labs are a great place to learn and build your portfolio
Lab projects are a great chance for us to experience ‘real’ projects with real clients. I learned a lot of new things that aren’t taught in courses, like recruiting people for user study, facilitating co-design workshops, communicating with clients, presenting ideas, and so much more. This learning wouldn’t have been possible had I not divided my time properly between courses and lab projects.
Students here are always busy with courses, with some taking the maximum 21 credits per semester to graduate on time. Considering the heavy load of most design courses, we all know that it’s overwhelming to do lab projects while taking courses. It’s a good idea to strategize course taking and lab projects so you can make the most out of both.
Take less courses (15 credits or less. 18 max, only if you’re taking a lot of easy ones), maximize your learning, create great outcomes, and build up your portfolio. And never, never take 3 or 4 design classes at the same time.
Come prepared with a learning mindset
At NDS, students need to complete 100 working hours (8h/week) to receive three internship credits. That’s the minimum hours expected from interns. However, internship is all about learning, and 8 hours a week is not enough to gain new skills and develop them. I’d say forget about doing the bare minimum and focus instead on your learnings. Don’t limit yourself to 8 hours a week and do more when you feel you need to — it will only do you good! Just make sure you get enough rest and not overwork 😴
Also, always be open to do something new. You never know how much you can learn from it.
Don’t fall in love with your ideas too easily, don’t be afraid of change, and always keep a positive attitude
Good ideas don’t come easy. Heck, even bad ideas are hard to come up with. I’d spend hours on Miro board, reading through hundreds of post-its about insights from user research, and still can’t come up with an idea. When you finally come up with a good one, it’s easy to get attached to it. However, not everyone is going to love and agree with your idea.
An idea you thought was really good may make no sense after a good night’s sleep. The same way around, an idea you thought was bad may make sense in the later part of the design process. Sometimes, a team member finds a flaw in the idea you have been working on for weeks and you need to start all over. It becomes easy to defend the idea and say “let’s just go with it, we’ve worked on it too much to throw it away” — or at least feel that way.
But that’s just the nature of the design process. You will need to make a lot of changes. No matter how many changes you have to make, keep a positive attitude because those changes will only improve the results in the end. Design is all about iteration — going back and forth between the problem space and solution space. Sounds familiar? Yep.
Don’t be afraid to ask and talk to people
With demanding courses and lab projects, it’s easy to get lost and feel overwhelmed. For me, this is especially true when I’m doing an individual project where I’m in charge of the whole design process. There’s just so much going on — changes to be made, deadlines, and just a bunch of other things I’m responsible of.
I find it helpful to talk to somebody about your concerns and what’s going on. You will have friends and seniors in NDS that will be happy to lend an ear. And don’t hesitate to ask for help! We’ve all experienced burnout at some point and will gladly help you.
You’ll get to know what is or isn’t for you
At the end of the day, internships will tell you if that is what you want to continue doing. If yes, great! You can continue participating in projects and gain more skills. If not, also great! You now know what you don’t want to do, so you can start exploring other fields. You never know unless you try, right?
Soon, it’s going to be my turn to leave NDS. It’s been a wonderful two years working with everyone here. To future crews, welcome! I hope you enjoy your learnings here as much as I did. Some of you may come and stay a bit longer, and some may come and go sooner. Regardless of your decision, I’m sure you will find your way.
As for me — I’m glad I stayed.