Velvet Run — the story of a new type of internship programme and summary of the first run

Janno Siimar
Aug 30, 2018 · 12 min read

Translated from Joel Kotsjubas original post

Interns sprinting

In October, Velvet launched its new internship programme Velvet Run. Seven interns took part in the first half of the programme, called the Sprint Track — designers, a project manager, a social scientist, an engineer and an architect, and two interns participated in the second half, called the Long Track. The first run of the Velvet Run has ended and it’s time to offer an overview of how the internship programme started and give a summary of the first run.

Where did the need for a new internship programme come from?

The new internship programme started from the need to make internships efficient. The situation faced by Velvet is certainly familiar to many companies who want to invest in the new generation but don’t have a good structure for managing these processes. They happily accept interns, but they may not be given enough attention due to the agency’s busy season and the related shortage of resources. Everyone has a different reason for taking a internship, and it may happen that there is an intern in the office during busy times whose goal is to get the compulsory internship hours and who has no personal motivation or clear understanding of what they want from the internship. Thus, many of them just while away the time and this is not useful to anyone. Velvet decided that there was no point in carrying on like this and something had to be done.

So the first task assigned to me as an intern was to develop the new internship programme.

The Process of Creation

In order to rethink what the company had already done and set the goal for the development of the new programme, we asked the following questions:

Which skills and experience do students coming from schools, or professionals at the start of their careers need when entering today’s and the future labour market?

What can Velvet offer to develop these skills via an internship programme?

We set out to think through the entire process of applying for and supervising the internship process, including the time when it is carried out, the format of applying for an internship, the selection criteria, supervision and giving feedback. We also proceeded from the thought that the programme should be recognisably Velvet’s and involved the team in the creative process by interviewing them.

What did we do?

We interviewed 10 employees in total — producers, creative managers, designers and developers, plus five interns and the leader of the internship programme in Pipedrive. We sought answers to the following questions:

When is the best time to carry out the internship programme?

Who does Velvet want to find for the internships?

What could Velvet do to offer a better internship experience?


The Results

Timing

We mapped the volume of work at Velvet according to seasons and divided it into the spring and autumn seasons. The busiest times for the company are March to July during the spring season and September to December during the autumn season. Velvet has two collective holidays during the year — two weeks of summer holiday in July and a week-long Christmas holiday at the end of December. After people return from holidays, they have about a month when work at the agency is not so busy and they have time to work with the interns.

Seasonal workload schedule of Velvet

Who are we looking for?

The interns who have trained in Velvet so far can be roughly classified on the basis of four criteria:

a. Interns who need constant supervision — mostly BA students

b. Interns who sometimes need instruction — mostly MA students

c. Interns who have prior work experience and are able to create work that can be presented to clients

d. International interns

The motivation of students and young professionals is also different. Doing an internship may be compulsory, or they may want to experience the work culture at a design agency, acquire work experience in Estonia or develop a specific skill.

“I’m looking for international experience and want to do something different outside school (trans.).”

– Adam, intern from the US

“I wanted an internship in my speciality for summer. I’d always wanted to know what the experience of working at an agency would be like but hadn’t really clarified to myself what I wanted to achieve in the field of graphic design.”

– Liisbet, intern

Assessment criteria had to be developed in order to create clarity in making choices. We asked our employees what they value in interns and divided the results into personal characteristics and processional characteristics.

Intern selection criteria

“A intern is not some random body, but someone who creates value for three or six months.”

– Lauri, producer

The two main characteristics that interns are expected to have are motivation and goal orientation. Motivation means personal motivation and the initiative to learn and acquire new knowledge and skills. Being goal oriented means that the young person has thought it through and knows what they want to gain from the internship. These two characteristics make instructing an intern considerably easier and allows us to offer them as much as we can.

“Internship is a powerful tool and, for the company, a big chance to get better quality people on the labour market.”

– Peep, developer

A clear change that people wanted to see was the inclusion of other specialties in internship in addition to design. The clear reason for this is the change in the essence, meaning and purpose of design from a solely graphic means of expression to a creative problem-solving skill of strategic importance. Today’s business, social and organisational challenges that designers solve are multifaceted and require a broader understanding, diverse problem-solving skills and the ability to cooperate across various fields.

The most important points for interns were as follows: the opportunity to test their skills via challenging assignments, increased responsibility over time, receiving practical guidance where necessary and to being a part of the local work culture.

Finding and training motivated interns who are goal oriented means they can start working on more challenging tasks as time goes on, which develop them and through which they create value for the company and its clients.

“We also need materials and engineering interns, management-based interns, and social sciences or psychology students. We help clients solve their concerns — this is largely done by graphic design, but thinking is increasingly more the thing that really counts. Be it the presentation of statistics or paying for hospital services — all of this entails understanding the process, understanding the people. Everything that concerns ‘analysis’ requires more than the baggage given at the art school.”

– Mart, Project Lead, Partner

Velvet Run

The Velvet Run basically divides into three parts: PechaKucha Night, an intensive two-week design sprint, i.e. the Sprint Track and longer work with the projects of clients, i.e. the Long Track. Twenty presenters are selected from amongst the applicants for PechaKucha Night, seven of whom will move on to the Sprint Track and up to three to the Long Track.

The Velvet Run clearly and simply

The PechaKucha Presentation

All applicants must fill in a form on the website www.velvet.ee/run, including information about the intern’s motivation and past works. Twenty applicants are then selected and invited to PechaKucha Night to give a presentation titled “Who do I want to be when I grow up”. PechaKucha 20x20 is a presentation style where the presenter has to get their message across with 20 slides, each of which is displayed for 20 seconds. This format requires the presenter to think their message through and present it correctly, which forces them to focus on the important and remove anything that’s unnecessary. It also makes it possible to get to know the presenter through their narrative, which reveals their interests and personality better than an interview or a formal presentation.

The first PechaKucha Night exceeded all expectations. Fourteen people attended on short notice within the scope of the pilot project, including students and working professionals, who were all suitable for the Sprint Track.

The Velvet team made its selection on the basis of the aforementioned assessment criteria, but the skills required for the Design Sprint task and the diversity of the team were also considered.

Adrian and Piia at the PechaKucha presentation

We kept in mind that speaking in public does not come naturally to most designers and requires them to really exert themselves. A good example of such a designer was Kadi, whose courage was noticed by many. He was selected for the Sprint Track with a majority vote.

Seven out of 14 presenters were selected for the Sprint Track, and they were: Piia, Merily, Kadi, Adrian, Volcan, Elina and Kärt. They included designers, an architect, an engineer, a project manager and a social scientist.

Sprint Track

The Sprint Track is a two-week intensive learning experience, where the interns work with a client’s project via Design Sprint and solve individual tasks in the second week.

Design Sprint is a five-day methodical process for the development of ideas, project solving, prototyping and testing, which was developed by Google Ventures and has proven itself, and which summarises the work done over two months with five action-packed days. The sprint is used to learn skills that are important in the field of design, including cross-speciality collaboration; the skill of analysing and solving problems diversely; interviewing; collection, synthesis and analysis of information; development and validation of ideas; and prototyping.

Sprint Track Task #1: The future of retail sales of beauty products

The first partner company of Velvet was Riviera, an importer, marketer and supplier of beauty products. The client’s brief for the interns was to develop a concept for the future of retail sales of beauty products.

When solving the task, the team proceeded from the idea of how to make clients feel like beauty product experts. This resulted in the preparation of a concept of an e-store of beauty products, which filters the product selection according to the user profile, needs and season, and offers the client personal beauty expertise online.

Mapping and Storyboarding of How Might We
After the expert interviews and the mapping of How Might We, the interns selected the following questions as the starting point: “How can we make clients feel like beauty product experts?”

A prototype was created for validating the idea, and five users were recruited and interviewed. Part of the team watched the interviews on video whilst they were being carried out and put all important information on the wall. The information was analysed, summarised and presented to the client. The client found the results of the work very interesting and it was discussed for several hours.

Interviewing, testing and taking notes

Design Sprint as a method proved itself in the eyes of the Velvet team and the interns. It made it possible to get seven complete strangers with different professional backgrounds to collaborate for the achievement of a common goal and to develop an idea in an unfamiliar field in five days, build a prototype and test it on users. The interns, who were happy with the result, looked back at the work with pride and admitted with amazement that a week of work had felt like a month.


Sprint Track Task #2: Velvet Symphony Music Box

The task in the second week of the Sprint Track was to design and build the Velvet Symphony Music Box. The task covered coming up with a concept, designing the product and building it. The team approached the task by the sprint method but worked on the music box project more independently than they had done during the first task. They showed teamwork, initiative and the ability to get things done, and prepared a working prototype of the must box in five days.

Concepts

At first, the team developed six different ideas and tested them on the Velvet staff. They included an equaliser projected on a glass wall and a music dome with various uses. Similar to the Art Gallery method in Design Sprint, the interns had their ideas or pieces of ideas assessed. After receiving feedback about which concept to continue with, they made the necessary changes and made an interactive music box based on business card picture recognition.

Concept of projecting on the wall and a music dome

The Solution

The Velvet Symphony Music Box is a music box built on an aluminium frame and covered with plexiglass, which recognises a Velvet business card and plays the person’s song. Several cards can be made to play at the same time, and they can be added and removed, thereby creating an interactive music-playing tool. The technology used included a web camera, a computer and a code section written for this. It is possible to come and try out the music box at the Velvet office.

An individual feedback interview and performance appraisal was held with the interns at the end of the Sprint Track, and the persons who made it to the Long Track were selected as a result of this. In addition to a unique experience, every Sprint Track runner also received a written certificate.

Reveal of the Velvet Symphony Music Box
Interns who successfully passed the track (from left): Kadi, Elina, Kärt, Merily, Piia, Adrian

Long Track

The Long Track is the longer section of the internship programme, where up to three interns get to work with the projects of clients and are a part of the Velvet team every day. The selection is primarily made on the basis of two factors: a client project that meets the intern’s goal and a suitable supervisor found.

During the first Velvet Run, we managed to offer each intern an additional learning experience that met their goals. For example, Piia received additional management consultations and Merily shadowed a creative manager. Project management intern Elina and social sciences intern Kärt continued in the longer part of the Long Track.

Over a period of two months, Elina managed several client projects and was a full member of the Velvet team.

Kärt was assigned the task of packaging the methods of design analysis that matched her research background. She mapped the methods most used in Velvet and interviewed the people who carry out design analyses. She prepared a presentation on the basis of the results, which was followed by a collective discussion about the implementation of design analysis methods in the daily work of the agency. In the results, Kärt suggested several practical tools that can be used to make analyses more effective and efficient.

Kärt before presenting the results of her work

Summary

All in all, the first run of the Velvet Run was a success, leaving both the participants and the Velvet team satisfied with the outcomes. It is a learning experience that takes each participant out of their comfort zone and habitual way of thinking, and allows them to develop their problem-solving and idea-development skills, presentation skills, teamwork and many more skills they need to enter today’s labour market.

The second round of the Velvet Run will start on 26 January 2018, and all motivated students and young professionals are welcome to apply! Submit your application by 18 January on the website www.velvet.ee/run.

Velvet  —  We. Write. Sense.

This is us, the people of Velvet, sharing stories about…

Janno Siimar

Written by

Design and Strategy matters @ Velvet

Velvet  —  We. Write. Sense.

This is us, the people of Velvet, sharing stories about design, the universe and everything. About our thoughts, about our victories and losses, about making sense.

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