Over the years it’s always been great to be able to extend the opportunity for an intern to come and join the team. The first time I went through this process was a real eye opener into how graduates dive into the world and led to some experiences which help me when giving advice to others wanting to get into the industry. Various UX/UI and Product Designy intern roles were advertised for and some very technically skilled designers appeared amid hordes of CVs, emails, portfolio links, tweets and ridiculously over-sized pdf attachments—which as part of my initial screening methods, due to their impractical and offensive file size were instantly binned and never opened. Lesson #1, I guess.
Many demonstrated genuine skill. But sadly it was very rare to see any examples of problem solving and practical application of the design skills that they’d honed and worked on at Uni. Sure, creating a beautiful 3D render is a demonstration of a certain level of technical skill but how can this be applied to the real world? Or at least how does this apply to a role in UX or Product Design?
A highly polished portfolio of experimental playgrounds and coursework was of course evidence that they could use their tools and applications to a high standard but there was no possible way to fathom whether these tasks had been done in a few hours or were the result of months and months of fine tuning.
Good design is about humility, I’d have been more impressed by rough sketches of ideas that didn’t go anywhere or a few drawings of some failed attempts.
In the job ad, and over the phone when doing initial phone interviews, I’d also specifically asked for the candidates to bring their sketch books, notes, lo-fi prototypes or even stories that related to their problem solving in order to see examples of their creative approach.
I don’t recall any of the applicants showing me works in progress or even preliminary sketches.
When it comes to the sketches, ideas and those ever so important scrappy bits of working out the solution it’s common even for experienced designers to neglect to keep, or even photograph, these stages of the process. We often frantically focus on the deadline or the finished product. Wireframes and sketches out of context in a future interview or in a portfolio might not make much sense or have any immediate value, but when it comes to story telling and recalling your creative processes and the problems you faced they’re vital for demonstrating rounded-out design skills.
However I don’t think this was the problem with a lot of the applicants. A few of them indicated that they wanted to show something better, something more polished, or they were simply ashamed of their sketch book.
This was a shame and I don’t think the blame is to be put on timidity, or even pride, but the expectation that’s set about the skewed standard of work that’s needed to demonstrate your skills.
A couple of applicants had their own web sites which were pretty well-built and as a stand alone project would have been a tremendous example of one of their skill sets but strangely didn’t even provide me a link to it in their CV or any of their emails. I only found these myself when I started snooping around the internet. A couple even spelt their own web addresses incorrectly on their CV.
Some applicants even claimed to be Art Directors, Senior Designers and Product Managers. One, quite literally and strangely quite proudly, said he was a CEO of his own design company, consisting of one person, him.
Many applying were freelancers who were having a dry spell and just needed a little bit of cash until their next project appeared in their inbox. This was a shame. Firstly because it was clear who these ones were and secondly, because they were willing to make use of an internship opportunity that somebody else would really benefit from just to fill a couple of weeks until something else came up.
I met some brilliant people and some great minds who sadly didn’t fit the role but ended up with some astonishing experiences, stunned silences, side splittingly hilarious anecdotes and complete and utter stomach churning awkwardnesses. I saw beautiful masterpieces, posters, paintings, digital illustration, graphic designs and even a magnificent pop-up children’s book. I also learned a lot about conducting interviews. Early on, the biggest lesson was that I’d conducted far too many.
You have never lived until you have seen your name written in strips of kebab meat.
One cheerful and polite young man turned up for his interniview. I couldn’t decide whether he was an absolute genius or completely insane. The reason? I’d asked him if he could talk me through a piece of work he was proud of and had initiated from start to completion, demonstrating the design process, how he works and how he he makes his sketches real.
The example he provided was a typeface, he’d designed and built it completely from scratch. It was based on strips of kebab meat crafted into letters and drizzled with chilli sauce. It was wonderful and work of a genius mind but at the same time had very specific and ridiculously limited practical value.
I asked him to talk me through the process from start to finish. He said he bought a couple of kebabs, took the strips of meat out of them, laid them all over his kitchen table and arranged them into various shapes, numbers, punctuation marks and letters. He photographed them, imported them into Adobe Illustrator and traced them to create vector shapes he could manipulate, kern and convert into a font format.
A gigantic grin traversed his face like a speeding train filled with foot and mouth infected livestock as he said “And of course, after I’d photographed it, I got to eat it all.”
He was quirky and brilliant. But, the feeling about the role was mutual and we parted ways.
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
It pained me that one of the most talented designers I’d met also didn’t quite meet the requirements of the role. He was a brilliant designer but had done a lot of work, almost exclusively in print. He was magically creative, insightful, extraordinary as a person and had examples of some really moving and thought-provoking work. He loved paper. He spoke about print. He spoke about textures and gestured in large billboard-like movements. My initial gut feeling was to give the guy the job. He could have learnt this stuff in a couple of weeks, absorbed UX practices and UI design principles and generated some very accurate UI work.
But reluctantly I decided not to give him the job. I felt like I was manipulating him into a role that I wanted for him purely because I thought he was really cool.
He’d done a series of posters of World War II-style distressed and worn posters with bananas piloting war planes and driving tanks into battle. They were brilliant, they were hilarious. I asked him to talk me through the process.
He very enthusiastically told me of how he bought several bunches of bananas, propped them up around his room using cocktail sticks, positioning them into banana poses and photographing them for use in the posters. It was during a hot summer. The cocktail sticks pierced the protective skin of the bananas and they very quickly spoiled and started to collapse under the lighting and ambient heat. The solution was simple. Remove the cocktail sticks, eat the banana and replace it with a new one from the fridge.
Only, this simple solution caused him to end up in hospital with potassium poisoning. He’d lost track of how many bananas he’d eaten in a relatively small amount of time. It was definitely enough to have put him in hospital.
I have many other tales from this short period of time – some of them I wouldn’t dare mention online. You probably wouldn’t believe they were true anyway.
I’d invited somebody to learn. My role in the team is to act as a mentor but I was also expecting to learn a lot from them too. However I never thought I’d learn so much before I even found the person for the job.