Monday, 30 January 2012

First Days.

For me the first day is always the worst.

My first challenge is arriving on time (should London transport permit) without getting lost. I often get confused between agencies in the same area and not realise I am going the wrong way from the station, until it's too late.

First impression: this is an intern who clearly has no sense of direction, looks flustered after walking for ten minutes in the cold, and clearly isn't suited to Mondays (which I am not). First impressions are so important, yet being a person who takes a while to warm to others, and whom people often don't understand at first, I rarely feel at home until about 3 weeks in, that's if I'm lucky enough to be on an internship that lasts that long.

I then spend the rest of my day familiarising myself with the all too familiar Shared Server, which for every agency is different and yet startlingly the same; it's hard the remember the differences when you're rushing to save a document. With designers being so anal, you know they'll despise you if you leave it on the desktop, or put the job number in wrong. I am yet to be confronted about this though, so perhaps this is one of my talents.

On a serious note, though, the first day is hard because it is a reminder that I am unsettled.

I haven't found my design home yet. In a few weeks, I'll be at another agency and then palmed off onto another after that. I don't belong anywhere. The only career I can think to compare it to is that of a whore. Although her moments of contact with people are more passionate and intense than that of an intern's.

It is nice to meet so many new people and I do love a good chat, but you know that they won't remember you and the likelihood is this relationship won't last longer than the placement itself. It accentuates one of the sad facts of life; that most of the people you meet are just passing acquaintances and you probably won't see them again.

With internships, by not being asked to stay on, it feels like a form of rejection. You have had your few weeks (or days!) to prove yourself and you haven't, so... onto the next one. With many agencies churning out interns like tinned beans from a factory, you don't feel that important. Each rejection knocks away at your self confidence and will continue doing so until an agency wants to keep you. Until then, it's back on the shelf.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Home Time

Every placement I have been on has been very clear about the working hours. Usually it's 9-6, with an hour for lunch, to something to that effect. I rarely see a lunch break and certainly not one for an hour. Most of the studios I have been to sustain themselves on a liquid lunch poised in front of their Mac.

At the end of the day, it is always really awkward leaving. Home time comes and goes, and the entire studio continues working; tight deadlines or just a preference to avoid the commuter rush lead to late nights for most designers and account managers. I always find myself leaving a customary 15 minutes later than home-time, even if I haven't got anything left to do, just so that I don't appear eager to leave.

I have heard stories about friends interning, whom have felt obliged to stay up with their studio and work into the early hours of the morning. When I was a student I only did this on maybe two-three occassions, and the time management failure was no fault of my own. I pride myself in being able to do the amount of work in the set amount of time, and so resent that people are seen as more hard working if they stay later. If a studio needed me around until 5am because of some important new business pitch the following morning, I'd question how organised and well prepared the studio actually are. After all, this isn't something they are new to.

At the end of the day, my health and sanity comes before the agency's need to have well mounted presentation boards for a meeting the following morning. As an intern, I have never felt that integral to a project where I have felt that they couldn't possibly do it without me and perhaps it would be nice to feel like that; then I might stay. But as it stands, you'll be lucky to catch me in the studio twenty minutes after home time.

Saturday, 28 January 2012


I have worked for free.

I convinced myself that, when I had nothing else lined up, it was important for me to keep busy and invest my time in something real. I have worked on a few free freelancing projects but one in particular sticks out.

I was once working on a project where a lady was working on a new business venture. She wanted logo and pack designs done for her new beauty products. With a name already decided upon, we worked for days in her kitchen establishing a logo design and how it might work on packaging and other elements. When we came to presenting our ideas to her marketing guru, he looked at what we had done and in response googled the name of the brand and highlighted the first image and said, "well, how about you do something like that?". Perhaps he should have hired google image to design his logo for him then.

They didn't value our work and they didn't value us as designers. By saying that you don't require payment you are saying your work isn't good enough to be paid for and this is a dangerous element to have in someone's mind when they're looking at your work. They don't respect you. When I knew he thought an image search was more productive than my hours spent on designs for that logo, I knew I wasn't being appreciated.

A friend had a similar experience when she had a placement at a major packaging design agency. Because she wasn't being paid, the work she was given reflected that fact. She explained that they almost didn't care what she did because they weren't paying for her to be there. If you are paid, even just a little, they put you on an actual project that a client will see, your efforts are valued.

In addition to this, I recently took advice from a freelancer at an agency I was interning with, that you should never do mates rates. You should either do work for friends for free or for full rate, (whatever that is as an intern). By working for free, you can do it in your own time, at your own pace and they are grateful for your efforts. By charging them, they almost feel they can get more out of you than if you did it for free and may demand you spend more time on it, etc. With other commitments likely to overshadow this work, I decided that I would do it for free - espescially if it is only your Mac skills they really want.

I am happy to do work for friends for free, but where agencies are concerned, I am not a charity and if you're making money on the work that I do; then I should too. If you don't value your own work, then who will?

Friday, 27 January 2012

For Love or Money?

Interning and money are not mutually exclusive. Contrary to popular belief, many internships are paid (albeit not much, but paid nonetheless). But life without some payment is hard. London travel isn't cheap and living in London can be a huge expense if you're not cheeky enough to be claiming housing benefit alongside your placements.

As a graduate, you are a skilled worker, you have learnt (although, not mastered) a trade and you expect to be paid atleast minimum wage. If I knew I was going to spend a year on £150 a week, with weeks of unemployment in between placements, spending my days counting pennies, I'd have probably gone to work in retail after school and not bothered with university at all. Where is the motivation to rack up a huge debt, with little gain?

A friend once said to me all I cared about was money, but this isn't true. I intern becaue I have a passion for design but money issues keep me awake at night. I'm not looking for sympathy, I know that there are many other people in my position, but this is why it is of importance. Money will be the reason that I could fail and I don't want that to happen. Money has already dictated too many events in my life; I want to control this.

I have noticed that people that succeed in the design industry are likely to be those that can intern for free for the longest. My need for money can almost be mistaken as a lack of enthusiasm. I can only stay at an unpaid placement for one week. Someone who is getting financial help will be able to stay longer, and this is mistaken as being more enthusiastic and impresses creative directors and company managers. For me, money overides my passion. I could want to stay somewhere in the hope that a job will become available in the next few months, but it is a financial risk I am not able to take.

Money is an issue that will keep me on my toes for my whole life, but I did do a degree in graphic design in order to, one day, be able to keep my head above water. I want a town house in Richmond, with a big garden, I want holidays abroad, I want things for my children I never had when I was growing up. I am patient, however, and trust that I am doing the right things in order to build my (financially stable) future.  It just takes time, and ofcourse, money.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I've Lost My Design Libido

My portfolio hasn't been changed or been added to since the day it was marked. Working a 6-day week, I have found it impossible to build up enough enthusiasm and energy to pull my pen and sketchbook from my desk drawer and work on self inititiated projects.

Many interns are forced to work additional days at bars, clubs, cafes or shops because they cannot support themselves on the wages of an internship alone and yet interviewers expect you to 'find the time' to add to their portfolio. After an entire week spent in front of a Mac, the last thing you want to do on your day off is design, espescially when you have your food shopping to do!

I wish I had the enthusiasm I had when I was a student. If anything, doing design internships has led to a sharp decrease in my design libido. I used to stay up all night, pen in hand, but now I just roll over and enjoy my sleep. Without interesting projects to work on, I can see that I may soon lose my love for design. But without the time or the energy, how do I keep the passion alive?

Dog Eat Dog

In the summer, graduates descended upon London in their hundreds like a flock of seagulls to an abandoned tray of sauce endrenched chips on the seaside promenade.

With so many graphic designers looking for junior positions and placements at London's design agencies, it is no surprise that it becomes increasingly hard to find a job as positions get filled and graduates get 'snapped up'. To stand out you must have a Unique Selling Point (USP).

When you go for an interview it is often clear that your USP is dependent on your university. You are all the same pedigree; taught the same things and trained the same way. With courses averaging on 100 students each, it is hard to stand out from one another. Your class mates are your competition. You are the same breed, heading for the same agencies.

With opportunities becoming scarcer I have noticed friends, fellow graphic design graduates, and other creative associates have become increasingly more shady about their current placement, how much they're earning and how long they will stay there for. It is impossible to get an email address off of them from a previous placements and similarly I won't give mine away, because they are my competition. If my only USP is my pedigree, then amongst my university's breed, it's dog eat dog. Right now, I feel like a cowering Jack Russell protecting its only half-chewed bone from a mass of blood-thirsty pit bulls.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Wall

Since graduation I have barely been able to scratch my nose in between design placements, part time work and cleaning up after my batchelor housemates. However, with a week of nothing ahead of me, an empty sketchbook that hasn't been opened since the summer of post-graduate optimism and an inbox littered with rejections and "constructive criticism" I have started to question what I am really doing.

I have been running for months and I am exhausted, but it is only now I take a break, I realise that I don't know where I am running to. I have been to design agency after design agency, interview after interview with no idea of what is coming next. I realise that the need for money and paying my rent has been more of a priority for me than my passion for design and desire for self-improvement. I never really thought it would take me this long to find a job, and I am not sure how much longer I can do it for. Taking a step back is important to gain perspective, but now the seeds of self-doubt have been sown, it's going to be hard to rekindle the enthusiasm I once showed for design internships.

Long distance runners know it as "The Wall". Whatever it is for design interns, I have hit it.
I have hit it hard.

Another Graduate

Another graduate is on Twitter.

Along with this blog I will anonymously expose my experiences as just another graphic design intern, struggling to get a job in London.

Follow and recommend me to your fellow graduates and design agencies.
I could be on my way to you next.

I would also be interested to hear your stories via Twitter or e-mail

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


To be an intern is to often be unimportant and overlooked. Where you are positioned within the office is key to how involved you will feel and a slight hint at how the agency wants you to feel. My heart sank when I started a placement where I was sat in the same room as a freelance photographer and the kitchen, with a wall seperating us from the designers. No prizes for guessing what they wanted me to do.

Often studios have a centralised layout, which is nice as everyone can get to know eachother well. It's nice as long as you are in the centre too. My experience has been that outside the circle of designers often lies a few Macs reserved for the temporary; the freelancers and the interns. Facing the wall, away from the rest of the office, it is hard to add your two cents without feeling like you're a nosy parker. It is impossible to make friends and if an account manager doesn't bother you with some pointless errand, you could go a whole day without talking to a soul.

As an intern you yearn to find an agency that will accept you as part of the furniture, but in some agencies you feel like an outsider from the offset. You don't belong. Outcast to the edges you work facing the wall, like a school boy in the naughty corner. You're an intern and that is all you will ever be. One week, Two; a month if you're lucky. Then onto the next one.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Whose Work is it Anyway?

A design intern's role can vary from running minor errands and making tea to tweaking designs but on rare occassions, a design intern is given the opportunity to design; the opportunity to create something from nothing; to research and generate ideas independently for a genuine paying client. When this happens, it is the perfect opportunity to impress, not just this agency but others too. This work will lead to an actual product so you want to keep the evidence. You want proof that you did it and after a good full week working on it, you want to take it home.

Confidentiality agreements state that you will infact be sued and left penniless, having to busk on the Southbank as a caricature artist because no design agency will have you, should you dare tell anyone about their work in progress. Despite this threat, every intern will spend their last day e-mailing main files, linked images and psds to their own e-mail address hoping that no one will notice.

Stealing work is important. A placement is more than just a name on your cv, you want to be able to say; "I did this". You need to be able to show what you can do; your work. Sure I won't show anyone but I want it anyway. After all it is mine.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Tea Time?

I don't make tea.

I said this to a friend over coffee. After almost projecting her frothy latte all over my face, she looked at me in shock. Tea making is a right of passage all designers must go through in order to be accepted within a design agency, she claimed. I don't think so.

Tea making is demeaning. It is a process by which you are saying to everyone in that studio (who doesn't already know it) that you are the newbie; you're the student, the learner; you're time isn't worth the same as theirs. You are marking yourself as their slave. This is dramatic, but I find the fact that interns have to work long hours at half minimum wage, just to get by after slaving away at University for four solid and painful years is demeaning enough. They should be making me tea.

I have made a conscious effort not to make tea and sometimes I do worry that it will cost me a permanent job. Tea offering is a way of offering friendship. By declining others (I couldn't possibly accept with no intention of returning the favour) and not setting foot near the studio kitchen for the entirerity of my stint at design agencies, I am preventing the start of conversations, of potential friendships and future employment.

I will not succumb, though. I am stubborn and I insist that it will be my talents as a designer that will win me a job. I will bowl over creative directors with my innovative ideas, rather than my satisfying brew. Unless I am wrong and that tea is the only way to a design studio's heart. If you can guarantee me a job for a cup of tea, then call me Polly. How do you like it, again?