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4 Things You Need to Know as a Product Design Intern

Written by: Nick Amirkhani, Product Designer

Illustrations by Joyceline Nathaniel

Before TribalScale, I had never worked as a product designer. I was new to my team, this organization, and the field of design. My only prior experience with product/UX design was from my college courses. Even then, I felt I lacked experience compared to my colleagues who had backgrounds in graphic design. However, I knew that I was passionate about design and design thinking, and I was determined to learn as much as I could from whichever organization gave me a shot. After working as a TribalScale design intern for 2 months, I can confidently say that I have been making the most of my experience and am happy to share what I've learned in my journey so far.

If you're new to the field of design or just landed your first internship, this article is for you! Let this list serve as a guide on how to conduct yourself as a new member of a design team and effectively collaborate with others to create the best possible solutions for users. Following this guide will help you to extract the most value from your internship experience, and at the same time, provide the most value to your company and team.

Man in shorts thinking about wireframing, Figma, and UX.
Illustrations by Joyceline Nathaniel

1. Make your voice heard during meetings!

Speaking up during meetings can be difficult, especially when you are new to a team and everyone around you has more experience. Here's how you can contribute ideas effectively:

  • Share ideas that haven't already been thought of or addressed. If it helps, take mental or physical notes of the points brought up during your meeting and refer back to them before you speak up. You don't want to accidentally repeat another designer's idea or bring up an idea that is not directly addressing a user's needs.
  • Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Even if your idea is a bit unorthodox, the originality might be appreciated. It's better to share something a little bit 'out there' than not contribute anything.
  • Focus on facts, not emotions. Always have facts to back up your ideas. Your team and clients will appreciate designers who are logical and use facts to back up their choices. It's a quick way to gain respect from your colleagues. Plus, it's better not to assume what your users need. You can ground your statements with facts by phrasing your point in two parts: "This is what I think" and "this is why." Speaking in this manner will also help to build confidence in the ideas you are bringing to the table. — 15 Ways You Can Find the Confidence to Speak Up, Forbes article
  • Always give credit where you can. If you want to share ideas during a meeting, start by acknowledging the ideas of others that spoke before you and stating what you liked about them. This demonstrates you've been listening and acknowledging your teammate's ideas, creating a positive, collaborative environment. If you are sharing an idea inspired by a different source, give credit where it's due. A little shoutout proves to the team that you respect others' creativity, and your team will respect you for it.
  • Don't be scared of other designers' feedback while sharing your ideas. Designers are collaborative people, and it is their duty to provide the best solution possible for the user. Any feedback will either be for the betterment of the project or valuable insights that can help you develop your skills, so there is nothing to be afraid of. Being a new designer, I welcome all feedback from my teammates as I know it is imperative to my growth in this field.

As important as knowing how to contribute to design meetings and the right times to speak up is also equally essential to know when NOT to. Don't speak up if…

  • You are only providing negative feedback to another designer's work. It is more productive to give constructive criticism that includes both the positives and areas for improvement.
  • You are planning to have a lengthy discussion. It's better to let other designers share rather than discussing time-consuming topics not relevant to everyone. If it's something that requires a one-on-one conversation, you can say, "I'll touch base with you later" or simply "I wanted to chat about… I'll slack you" (assuming your team uses Slack to communicate).
  • It's not your turn to talk. But also, don't wait forever. If the discussion is lively, do not hesitate to jump right in — that's a sure-fire way to build better chemistry with your team, which is key, especially during remote work. — How to Speak Up in a Meeting, and When to Hold Back
Man in shorts sitting at t a desk with a megaphone, looking at a computer screen with a camera and multiple people on a video call.
Illustrations by Joyceline Nathaniel

2. Be the expert. Leverage your skills!

As a product/UX designer, you have a wide range of skills in your arsenal. This includes research, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, usability testing, visual design, UX writing, and more.

As an intern, your skill set might not be as refined as the seasoned vets on your team. However, the key is to understand where YOUR strengths lie, even if it's in just one of these areas. Everyone on your team may have different specializations, and it's up to you to figure out where your strengths lie and how you will leverage them.

When I first joined TribalScale, I knew I wanted to improve my visual design skills because I didn't come from a graphic design background. However, having come fresh out of my UX Design program at college, I knew I was very familiar with design research methodologies and practices and felt ready to apply these skills.

I showed my team one of my favourite methods for affinity mapping, provided knowledge in scripting interview questions and other research tactics. By doing this, I was able to gain credibility with my design team and bring value to a client project in a meaningful way.

Warning: don't oversell your skills. It's better to admit to where your weaknesses lie rather than claiming to have strengths you don't possess. This will also help you to gain more trust from your design team.

Man in shorts adding a puzzle piece to a puzzle.
Illustrations by Joyceline Nathaniel

3. Get involved in side projects and other tasks

This one's pretty simple, really. Get as involved as possible during your internship. If you don't have a project to work on, seek out other ways to assist the team with internal projects or present ideas on improving the way the current workflow is managed. There's always work to be done, whether it's the company's website or social media marketing.

During my time, I used some of my web development knowledge to assist with improving the SEO of the company site. I sorted through the company pages and made a design file outlining where the HTML code and accessibility could be improved. I also volunteered to create a new onboarding document for junior designers to make designs ready for engineering handoffs. I wanted to understand this and figured it could benefit future new hires joining the team.

Getting involved in social events and other company initiatives such as morning stand-up meetings will also help make a name for yourself and establish you as a core member of the organization. This is beneficial, especially if you hope to be offered a full-time role after your internship ends.

Man sitting at a curved desk with six computer screens.
Illustrations by Joyceline Nathaniel

4. Work at a company with a Human-Centered Design culture

If you get the chance, join an organization with a culture that respects Human-Centred Design (HCD) principles. Coming straight out of college, it felt like a blessing to join an organization such as TribalScale, which emphasizes HCD. Every day that I worked here felt like a chapter out of my textbooks.

As a new designer, you should be somewhere with a strong culture of learning and collaboration, where everyone is respected and included. I appreciate TribalScale because there is no emphasis on hierarchy, and I can feel it during team meetings. Senior designers and interns are all on the same playing field, and it's present in how we speak to each other and carry ourselves. No one appears to act 'above the rest,' which is invaluable as a newcomer to this field.

Having a solid culture and a team that follows the design and research methodologies is perfect for any design intern. I attribute a lot of my confidence to the fact that I'm at an organization allowing me to thrive.

Illustrations by Joyceline Nathaniel

Thank you for sticking around and taking the time to read. If you are a product design intern or just an intern in general, I hope you have found this article useful in your journey! Remember, your work experience will only be as impactful as you make it, so make sure to get involved, be enthusiastic, empathetic, and have some fun!

Nick Amirkhani

Nick is a Product Designer at TribalScale. He works on product design and user research. When he's away from the screen, he can be found making music or hiking in Muskoka.

TribalScale is a global innovation firm that helps enterprises adapt and thrive in the digital era. We transform teams and processes, build best-in-class digital products, and create disruptive startups. Learn more about us on our website. Connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook!



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TribalScale Inc.

TribalScale Inc.

A digital innovation firm with a mission to right the future.