An internship is in it’s most basic principle, is a learning program provided by someone exterior to your normal educational institutes—paid, or more commonly, unpaid.
To leave your normal environment and learn from another – most likely working professional – seems like an idilic way to ditch powerpoint slides and literature reviews. Travelling to foreign cities and making endless connections, it’s pretty neat really; especially when you go somewhere cool like Stockholm. (I reference there because I did that, look at me, look how cool I am. Please.)
The only problem is, you might not be paid for this opportunity. As I see it, this is fair enough, a door has opened that was not previously so accessible as it is now and unlike any education you’ve encountered so far, neither yourself nor the government are paying for the tutoring you’ll receive. But wait—if you are working free of charge, is it not possible that they are also gaining quite heavily from your learning experience with them? Smells a little like exploitation, if my senses don’t fail me.
When anyone speaks of internships, you’re never far from the term exploitation. Though to work for free isn’t directly exploitation, in the case of internships it certainly toes the line. The question is, how long are you working for and what is the ‘work’ that you are doing, because exploitation is heavily defined by expectation and understanding of the situation. Internships are a charity of education, and charity in all sense is dependant on position; offering to work gratis is rather opposite to be asked (or even made) to work for no pay.
Let me not discount all internships just yet, though it’s likely you’ll not be paid; it is also possible you could be paid, real money into your real pocket. The dream come true, to be paid to learn—only problem is, you’re rather likely to not be paid any good amount of money because you’re not officially an employee.
As an employee, you are paid for your responsibilities, knowledge and ability to work your role harmoniously in the given workplace; that along with contributing to tax and other local costs. Being an intern means you haven’t any employed rights or responsibilities, so clearly the amount paid would reflect the temporary position you uphold. It’s a confusing situation as you’ll often fulfil the roles of an employee without the benefits or restrictions that those working around you will have.
As far as internships go, I have personal experienced two unpaid 2-week positions that I would sing the praises of, but even just these two weeks were bolstered by the fact I had the ability to just about scrape by with savings and donations. The learning and experiences I got from these two short stints of time has been invaluable for me, but even now I’m still paying back a student overdraft; the remaining debris of ambition.
Even thriving in past wage-free internships hasn’t swayed my mind on how they operate and exist. I can see how easily a person can be exploited through an internship as unlike an employed position, there isn’t usually any legislation or terms to define what can and cannot be encompassed into the role of an ‘intern’. I’m certain if someone can justify picking up the CEO’s lunch as a learning experience, then you could easily find yourself sandwiches-in-hand most afternoons.
I have read studies claiming that internships lead to careers at roughly a 70% success rate but I have neither linked them nor based my argument on them here because they weren’t prevalent to the creative industry or even Europe—not to mention that they were co-funded by enormous names in right wing capitalist businesses that would certainly squeeze a little benefit from telling the exploitable that being exploited could be good for them.
So to now ignore studies, I have only my own personal experience and opinion to fall upon—how professional of me ey? Well, here is where I stand in the tennis court of internships. For me, they were something proudly displayed on my CV and taught me many ‘working’ strategies for non-design problems, which end up being very useful whether you notice them at the time or not. They also scared the hell out of me; a bucket of ice water in my pleasant warm tub of comfortable practice as a design student.
I also saw around me, those who sought the internships were also those who produced better work and sourced better jobs post-university. This was not a direct result of any unpaid time they spent anywhere but merely a catalyst for their hunger to learn; there is something endearing about choosing to learn over a life-time of crippling debt. Principally there are two things that saying yes, will grant you over saying no—firstly you’ve said yes, so you’ll have a much more exciting time than saying no but also for better or worse, you’ll make connections.
I’ve previously argued the differences of who you know versus what you know, but whatever the outcome is you’ll make connections, good or bad, it’s more than what would have happened had you not seized the opportunity.
I won’t say whether you should or should not do an internship, paid or unpaid; because I would put all my papers into the ballot of banishing unpaid internships despite doing multiple myself. It’s all perspective and availability, if you can afford to work for free it could be great for you but terrible for the industry and those who follow behind you in it, perpetuating the current model. Just think about it my dudes.
When you are being paid, you are being paid to do work, when you are not being given pennies to do that work, you need to rest from doing said work—advice that I give so easily and barely ever listen to.
I am writing this from my kitchen table, piled high with foreign objects that we’ve occurred through a short break that has just ended; the kitchen is our first port of call and the table our dumping ground of miscellanea. Like most employees, I too was entitled to time off work which I have recently seized and not until the day of my return have I realised how liberating it is to change-up routine and to hide away in the woods for a week.
I have always been a person that valued the importance of time off, headspace and mindfulness but it’s not something that I put into practice that often because, simply, I love the things I do. I turn no scornful eyes to finishing a day of work and continuing the work again later that evening, but like any human – or even any machine – rest and repair are vital to optimise performance.
I hope to ignite a fire within you for not working and understanding the importance in the lack of progression, not all the time but some of the time. It’s a message I will likely not take heed of but I pray that you might.
Tip 1: Do or do not—creative purgatory is not an option
A common place many creatives will find themselves in is the place between actively making something and purposefully not making something; or even the guilt of not doing any said thing. You must decide what to do and when not to do things, for you only waste time and emotion wishing your were doing something when you are not and it’s hopeless to wish you are doing something when actually doing something else.
Tip 2: Time off doesn’t have to be time off everything
Myself, like every ‘millennial’ (christ, I hate that term) finds enormous worry and guilt when we recognise that we are currently not working towards our main productive narrative—but to not be building your career does not mean that you cannot do anything. Read a book, visit a museum and climb a hill; productivity is natures’ greatest distraction and it has no restrictions on whether that productivity is work-based or personal.
Tip 3: The Wind Down Period
As described to me by a friend, the ‘Wind Down Period’ is something we all do naturally that hasn’t any designated name, but if you just nurture it a little, pay a little attention and allow yourself to shut off—the time you spend not working can really enhance your time when working.
If you work a non-creative nine to five job, it’s easy to come home, pop on your slippers and tune out until your post-work haze is shattered by the morning alarm but being a creative means that your work continues after the office door closes. Clearly you relax more at home but to enduce the WDP you need to actively force yourself to relax. IN JUST 5 EASY STEPS, YOU TOO CAN RELAX LIKE TRUMP IN AN ARMS FAYRE!
Give yourself a bedtime and stop an hour before bed
In said hour, be selfish and do whatever you need to relax
Go to bed and allow yourself to switch off—design ideas at bed don’t bode well for great periods of rest
Avoid screens where possible in this hour, imagine trying to sleep staring at a lightbulb; a screen is no different
Do not even think about Adobe in the WDP, for this hour, it is the devil
Tip 4: Proactive breaks
Sometimes when you are operating on all pistons, your head can only think of nice shapes, colours and compositions; you couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting and doing nothing with only a sandwich as company—I’m referring to lunch hour here.
I found myself in my current job sitting and being bored just staring into the void of a packet of crisps, so now I draw people, their hats and shapes with felt tips and cuts of paper. If you can’t rest and only want to keep going, then do so; but make sure it’s totally bat poop crazy for me, yeah?
Tip 5: Sit and do bugger all
Apposed to the previous tip, sometimes you just need to not do any work or anything full stop. It’s not wrong to want to do nothing every now and them. Sit down, stare at the wall and enjoy doing nothing more than carving the seat of the chair.
I’m even hoping that reading this could be part of your break from work, your choice to not do work and pleasure yourself (not like that) with the mildly amateurish words I present to you here. Failing that, see below your nice distracting imagery.
Have you ever noticed that in any high density area, women are seen to queue endlessly for the toilet as men happily skip past into the ever revolving door of penis-only water closets?
It’s because architecture has been dominated and developed by men for as long as it’s existed, who through equality give the same amount of space for both genders bathrooms, ignoring that fact that one user requires more space than the other, in its majority. The equality of the two spaces creates an inequality for women dependant on their needs, whereas they should instead have equity on the peeing space required.
Design as it stands – and as it always has – is male dominated which gives it little room for female empathy; even if it is a rather inclusive industry. If only I had to reference the toilet analogy to make my case, it proves horribly sharp that our most permanent and sizeable design output – public architecture – have a distinct lack of empathy for women; or rather anyone non-male.
It’s a enormous pointing hand, illuminating a bright sign of ignorance that a public space incentivised for use by all is created without thought for the needs of all its users. It is correct that men and women hold of the same amount of possible space for releasing pent up excrement, but any women who’s found herself queueing upon a full bladder could tell you that equal space is not equal representation.
Clearly design hasn’t as much care for females as it does males, but what if you do not assign to a binary gender? – then standard public architecture doesn’t so much hinder you, but ignore you completely. Kate Moross is one said person who does not align with being male or female, but is also a prolific designer, now running and directing Studio Moross.
Kate has been outspoken about working to create empathy and power for those that find themselves in the trenches of design apathy—in an interview with It’s Nice That Kate describes her working situation as “I’m constantly battling peoples and businesses who don’t have a third or fourth or fifth box for when you sign up for something and have to enter your gender.”which is a situation I can’t image many designers would often consider, never mind the masses of male creatives that have never been confronted with the issue of not being able to find their gender on any given form.
Clearly, for Captain Moross making these small changes such as including the fifth gender box are a personal battle being fought for the masses of the hegemonically ignored, explaining in said interview “That’s something of a small battle I’m fighting every day”. This may seem like a non-issue for many, but I can imagine that for the people it concerns it’s a courageous, empathetic fight.
It’s hard for me to understand the relevance of it, being that I fall into the category of your ‘average designer’ in many, many ways; but I know if I tried to do something as simple as sign a form and it didn’t allow for my full address that would drive me nuts, never mind trying to describe my identity from a selection of two inaccurate drop-downs.
Just as peoples gender can be thrown onto the pile of ignored needs, so can disabilities. Though we see around us – in developed nations at least – building being developed and adapted to allow access to those operating wheelchairs and other mobility devices, we see the same thoughtfulness completely lost for those without obvious physical disabilities.
Though it may seem a far-fetched point, the cities and spaces we live in can be minefields for people with disabilities, one such being those on the autistic spectrum and the over-stimuli they face day to day. We as designers spend all our days making the most visually exciting, eye-grabbing material for our clients but when they put them up on billboards, here, there and everywhere it makes life difficult for those who find them offensive. Though the problem lies with the imagery designed, it’s the companies and councils planning and designing their cities in a hodge-podge fashion of capitalistic sprawl that makes lives for those with who suffer, a confusing, stress inducing experience.
If you look at the title, you’ll see me telling design that it needs more empathy but design is not a single person, blue in the face guilty of it’s injustices; it is in fact an entity build upon a community of people. People need more empathy. People need more empathy, in their design.
I too have lead you down a path of ignorance, I am not the great source of empathy that I may seem. I thought not of the people with dyslexia when I made huge bright yellow posters and I disregarded the needs of the people with poor sight when I refused to add alt tags to my posts, in an effort to save myself time. The empathy we need is the empathy to consider the users and decoders of the work we create, not just the client that it is being created for.
The fact is it’s much easier to point the finger than solve the problem, rather unsurprisingly. But should you be aware that something you are creating would be accessed and used by anyone in particular, give the women some more space to pee, understand that not everyone defines their sexuality as easily as an online clothes retailer and if all else fails, see our governments resources available on designing for accessibility.
Disclaimer: I am no expert of disabilities or women, if I’m miles off the mark with my observations please tell me, or lock me in the stocks and throw tomatoes at my ignorant noggin—either will do.