After going through six terms straight at ArtCenter, I decided to take a term off to do an internship. I wanted to learn more about what product designers do as professionals and validate what I’ve learned at ArtCenter. One opportunity led to another, and a term off turned into an entire year away doing three internships. The first was at Propelland, the second at Facebook and the third at Mercedes-Benz. Each of these experiences have taught me different lessons that have helped me to grow tremendously.
Come to think of it, doing internships is just like prototyping my life. Prototypes represent possible futures, and I get to learn from my internship experiences what works for me and what doesn’t.
While each internship was drastically different from one another in terms of company culture and work environment, the skills required were generally similar. As a product designer, I worked in cross-functional teams, conducted user research, designed user flows, built prototypes, produced specs and final assets and worked on implementation with engineers. Many of these functions validate the skills I need as a product designer that Art Center has helped me hone and acquire.
As an ArtCenter student, I’ve come to realize is that the hefty amount of deliverables and presentations required weekly in ArtCenter’s program has allowed me to develop a strong work ethic and good communication skills. These skills have helped me navigate various difficult situations in the workplace, and enabled me to work and perform more effectively under pressure.
If I have to pick the most important top three things that I learned during the entirety of my internship experiences, they would be self-awareness, self-initiation and prioritization. Acquiring a higher sense of self-awareness has allowed me to constantly reflect on how I can perform better. Self-initiative allows me to better drive my own project and not have to constantly depend on the progress of others. Learning how to prioritize has enabled me to make decisions and tradeoffs quickly and become a more efficient designer.
During my experience at Propelland, I’ve learned the importance of setting my own boundaries for when to take breaks, and when to move on. I personally experienced burning out for the first time and I had to learn that I’m not a robot. I can’t always be working no matter how much I care. Having a healthy work-life balance helps me to become more productive and having a clearer mind.
The main difference between each internship that stood out for me was the different management styles and team dynamics. I’ve learned that healthy team dynamics come largely from having transparent communication. While this may not be the easiest thing to do and achieve, the greatest benefits are aligning miscommunications and to understanding each other’s’ goals and motivations.
During my time at Facebook, for a while I was frustrated with the lack of visibility for the project I was working on. When I met with my manager the following week, we talked frequently about what I was going through on a high level, what I was feeling and why I was frustrated. It was then I was able to understand that the ambiguity of the project itself was a challenge I had to overcome. Being able to talk about my struggles with my manager allowed me to feel more valued as a person, beyond the skills that I offered. In that specific incident, talking to my manager about my feelings helped me to mitigate a lot of the confusion I was experiencing through understanding from the perspective of what I was supposed to learn, and the external forces and reasons that were outside of our reach and control for the scope of the project. Ultimately, transparent communication allowed me to work independently as part of a larger team.
After Facebook, I thought I’d try something different so I interned at a research and development studio for Mercedes-Benz. For the nature of the studio, the design process was very different with more abstract problems to solve. I learned the value of being outside of my own comfort zones and experimenting with different ways to design.
It’s funny—I’ve never really identified predominantly as a millennial until I was able to learn more about my own preferences for more open and progressive work environments. Internships have been great experiences for me to not only learn about what I can do with my skills, but also to learn about myself and how I work best.
To those of you looking to apply to internships, I want you to believe in yourself and definitely reach out to your network! While not everyone will respond and get back to you, there are more people who are more willing to help you than you would think. To those of you who’ve done internships and are graduating soon, I hope that you’ve been able to relate to some of my experiences, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to shoot me an email or ping me on messenger!
If you’re interested in reading more about my intern experiences, feel free to read about them on my Medium at: https://medium.com/@jonhsiung.
If you’d like to share your internship experiences, please contact CPD via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo above taken during a meeting of my main project as I presented initial wireframes to our clients at Propelland.