lessons from an intern

I entered modern8 a senior from the University of Utah, ready to learn from what no college education could provide: practical, real world experience. The transition from classroom to office revealed how little I really knew about the daily life of a designer, the holes in my creative process, the areas of lacking technical skills, even my inability to properly navigate an office landline (sorry about the dropped calls, Randall!). Now a Junior Designer and recent graduate, I can confidently say that my internship with modern8 has been invaluable to my development as a student, as a designer, and as a semi-functioning adult. Here are the biggest lessons from my time here at modern8:

Explore

This is not a suggestion. This is not just for when you are in the brainstorming phase of a project. The most interesting designers I have met are well-rounded individuals who have interests not just in design, but in numerous disciplines, from film, music, and literature, to science and technology, current events, architecture, and beyond. Exploration in different fields not only shows an innate curiosity, but allows these designers to generally be more interesting people, as well as relate to a wider audience. At the end of the day that’s what design is about; being able to speak directly to a wide audience.

As professional designers working with the AEC industry, modern8 has to have a broad knowledge of these outside fields and be able to relate to the clientele’s needs. Exploring interests in these fields not only allows us to connect with the client, it shows them that we understand their goals, their competition, and can better design for their target audience. modern8 strives to employ well-rounded, curious designers, and it shows in the work.

Get Involved

The only way to put yourself out there is to, in fact, get out there. This seems a simple concept but throughout school I found myself making excuses for missing AIGA events, for not joining clubs, for skipping student meetings, downplaying the importance of simply showing up. I was caught in a vicious cycle of “too busy”, “too tired”, or more often than not had a cold hard case of the “don’t wannas”. Both Randall and Mike have been involved in AIGA as members and on the board, and as a result their networks of professionals, artists, and friends are extensive. Working at modern8 exposed me to the kind of dedication to the design field a professional designer should have. The employees are constantly attending AIGA events, submitting work to competitions, attending conferences, developing skills in workshops, and even sharing their knowledge through their own presentations.

Showing up is the first step, but take your involvement further. Volunteering your time and energy will be rewarding far beyond what you give. A recent quote from a presentation by design guru Aaron Draplin really resonated with me: “Do good work for good people.” You’ll be surprised the connections you make and the sense of purpose volunteering will give you, as well as the possibility to turn a volunteer position into paid work simply by exposure.

Sell Yourself

Design is competitive, and as designers we must constantly push ourselves to grow in an ever-changing field. Self-criticism is an inherent part of that growth and has an important role in the creative process, but many times this critical nature can cross the fine line into self doubt. I would enter interview situations criticizing even my favorite pieces, rather than focusing on the positives. Even well established designers struggle with this. Even Debbie Millman, president of the design division at Sterling Brands in New York City, industry leader, fine artist, author, educator and illustrator, still struggles with the negativity of self doubt. “I am trying very hard to ease up on myself,” she says. For me, coming out of the educational environment, where constant critiques can leave you feeling unsure of your work, and into the professional world where you have to endorse yourself, was a difficult transition.

In the professional world self-criticism does not come with the same benefits of creative growth, and you end up selling yourself short. Working at modern8 has showed me that there is an art to self promotion, and it must be mastered to get anywhere. modern8 not only knows how to extract the strengths and unique qualities of a company, but visualize them through their d5 process. Watching modern8 not only sell other companies, but their own services, has helped me navigate interview situations where I need to promote myself.

I don’t ever expect to stop learning and growing in my design work, but the lessons of motivation, involvement, and professional development I’ve received from modern8 have laid a solid foundation to build from.