Work / Opinion

Rob Bye explains why it’s (sometimes) ok for interns to do crap jobs

The intern debate is still one of the most talked-about issues whenever we meet young designers. This week Robert Bye wrote an interesting article about why, after three months interning in a design consultancy, he believes doing crappy jobs did sometimes make sense.

With Rob’s permission we have reproduced an abridged excerpt below, and you can add your comments in the thread at the end.

I have now been a design intern at one of the UK’s top design consultancies for just over three months and I’ve come to realise is that, as an intern, your work falls into two main categories; design work and intern work. Intern work is boring, repetitive, unchallenging, soul destroying and needs literally none of the skills or knowledge you developed whilst at university. Often there is no context to why you are doing what you have been told to do, or what will be done with it. I have spent time cutting out 100 labels, finding a box to post something in, going to the shops to buy some samples, vacuum forming 40 of the same prototype etc.

But of course you stick through it, as the majority of the time you are designing and working on great projects for multinational companies alongside some of the best designers in the country. You genuinely have the opportunity to input into products that you would never get the chance to do as a young freelancer, and you constantly get pushed to improve in what you do. I can honestly say I have learnt a huge amount in the last few months, and, crucially, I have learnt how to be a designer in a large studio.

But why do interns have to do these crap jobs? Well someone has to do these jobs, and it may as well be the most inexperienced person there. Prototypes won’t make themselves, and cardboard boxes do need to be cut out, and of course you can’t expect a senior designer or a creative director to do this. Logically it makes sense that an intern will end up doing this. Any company who employs a fresh-faced graduate is taking a risk, as an interview can only give an insight into how you will fit into what they are already doing. As an intern, you should feel privileged to be there, and in response to this, you should be OK to do work that every other designer has done at some point.

“There have been times when weeks have gone by without the opportunity to learn anything useful at all and I have been treated as an uneducated, unintelligent work drone.”

Robert Bye

Another reason why interns end up doing these jobs is that the timeline for a lot of projects is between 12–18 months. So in the there months you’re there for, you can only pick up so much of what is actually going on. The projects are usually well into development when you start, so contributing to these, when you weren’t there for the initial research, can be incredibly challenging. And when you do get involved in the work, you know you may not be there long enough to actually see it out.

But of course the main reason is that people assume all the junior, middleweight and senior designers are better than the intern. And more often than not they are 100% correct. In short, interns are there to fill in the gaps and contribute wherever they possibly can.

However companies need to be very aware of how important the balance of intern work vs design work actually is. Where I work, they haven’t always got this right, and this ends up leaving me feeling demoralised and unable to contribute anything useful. There have been times when weeks have gone by without the opportunity to learn anything useful at all and I have been treated as an uneducated, unintelligent work drone. Having said that the last month has been noticeably better and hopefully more companies will see that interns are a great way to get new insights, new skills and new energy into any design team at a very very low cost. We are worth the risk!