5 Things You Need to Know Before Getting a Design Internship

I’m currently over halfway through my design internship here at the Calgary Post + Beam office, and have enjoyed every minute of it. It’s been great working with on a variety of projects for different types of businesses. One of my favourite things about this internship is the office environment. My colleagues and mentors have been supportive and welcoming. Not to mention that I’ve been given cupcakes, cookies, donuts and pizza!


During my time here, I have learned a number of different lessons that I think are important to know before you start your first internship as a designer.



1. There’s a lot to learn outside of the classroom


School can prepare you well with technical skills or design theory or you can even be assigned many tasks that emulate real-life projects, but there is still much to learn in the workplace. Because the program I’m enrolled in is primarily web based, I have been learning a lot about print. In addition to mentorship on learning new techniques in InDesign and setting documents up for print, you will also learn about working in an office environment and client relations. Post + Beam has been super supportive in my case. Similar to Post + Beam, your employer should expect you to be learning on the job. (So it’s okay that you don’t know everything, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.)


2. You need to be accepting of criticism


Everyone at Post + Beam has been extremely helpful, and even the clients have been diplomatic when providing feedback. Sometimes I will get asked to make one draft, other times five. It all depends on the project. It’s important to understand that you’ll need a lot of fine-tuning since you are new to the industry. This is when you will learn a tremendous amount about creating more professional looking designs. You will discover which types of projects you can easily complete, and which projects you need more experience with.


3. Flexibility is required


There have been a couple of times a final draft needed to be edited and completed as soon as possible. So I have had to accommodate my schedule for the client. I don’t mind because that just means that the project will be quickly done, and I can work on more projects!


You also have to be willing to accept new challenges and work on any project provided to you. In school you are usually given larger projects with lots of creative freedom. In the workplace however, some projects will already come with predetermined elements like color schemes, logos or layout. Having said that, designing with restrictions can also allow for more creativity. It’s essential to be open to taking on a variety of different projects.


4. Quality is more important than quantity


Although I mentioned before that you might need to work late or come in early to meet a deadline, most of the time it’s fine to spend your time perfecting a project rather than rushing through it. I’m generally a very cautious person and my mentor previews my work multiple times. This is also when you get feedback, and therefore develop and grow as a designer. During my internship here, I have been sent tutorials and articles to help me acquire new skills. My managers understand that learning takes time.


5. You will need to get out of your comfort zone


In school, I always purposely completed projects from home. I was not used to designing in a busy office environment downtown with people and noises to distract me. I had to quickly overcome this hurdle, but now I feel quite comfortable working in a room with three other people, with sounds of traffic outside the window.


A parting thought…


After talking to my classmates, I think a common challenge we have is asking questions. I am still learning that it’s okay to ask questions. Because people are busy, it feels like you’re intruding on their valuable time no matter how supportive they are. Asking questions about the industry can also be valuable such as, “how do you get clients?” Internships can be a great way to learn about the business side of things.


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