I am one of the lucky ones.
I was fortunate enough to get a paid six month internship when I graduated from grad school. However, after a few months in the role I found myself getting grumpier and more frustrated with my work environment. The building that my department was in was one of the first buildings built by this company, over 50 years ago. This was before biophillic design and LEED certified buildings had permeated the mainstream. Needless to say, I ended up in a grey cubicle in a building with no windows. I’d like to amend “Don’t Feed the Artists,” to, “Don’t put the creatives in a gray box with no windows.”
I know there are probably other creatives and designers that are working in less-than-ideal situations, waiting and working towards the dream job and the dream lifestyle. Here are some things that I’ve learned to do to cope with Corporate America.
1. Get outside as much as possible.
I cannot stress this one enough. Getting outside is so important for our health and well-being. Sitting inside for 40 hours a week under fluorescent (or LED) lighting, with no windows or natural light and staring directly at a computer is a real bummer. Most companies give their employees a 30 minute to an hour lunch break and two 10-15 minute breaks. Spend all of them outside!
Walking back from the bathroom: Take the long way back and go outside, look up at the sky, eat the sun and say hello to some birds. Only then are you allowed to go back inside the gray box.
On your lunch break: Yes, it’s important to make connections and friends at your company. Build that social capital! But tomorrow ask them if you can sit outside rather than in the break room (also, no windows in there).
On your other breaks: On my 15 minutes breaks at work I walk around the parking lot with the slivers of green space and trees while listening to my POTD (podcast of the day).
2. Compile a list of your favorite podcasts.
There are so many podcasts in the world right now. Find your genre and add them to your cue. And then find not your genre and add it to your cue. It’s important to expand your worldview and get out of your listening bubble. Listen to what you agree with and listen to what you don’t agree with. If anything, the podcasts that make you angry will at least get your heart rate up…
3. Spotify Discover Weekly playlists are the new bright-spot to your Monday.
If you’re a Spotify freak like me, you’ll already know about the Discover Weekly playlists they curate for you every Monday with new music that you’ll love. If you don’t know, then know you know… Switch it up between podcasts and music to fill that 8 hours of screen time with a variety of ear-bud love.
4. Hold on to your process.
Rule #1 of Human-Centered Design: design with people and not for them. But how do you design with your customer if your just being given the final directive and don’t have access to them in order to even have conversations with them? As an intern, no matter your age or experience level, you probably won’t be trusted to do much on your own and you probably won’t have that much responsibility. These two factors can take away a lot of your confidence and agency when making decisions and trying to do your best work. If you’re in a traditional corporate environment, you are probably the lowest level on the hierarchy and (if you’re like me) don’t get invited to sit at the table when decisions are being made. That doesn’t leave you a lot of space to actually contribute to the design process other than delivering on the final piece of the puzzle that they ask you for. As a graphic designer, this means designing whatever poster or logo is asked of you.
But designers have more to contribute to the process than just making the pretty final product. We can contribute a different way of thinking about the world. Sure, I’m proud of the final posters and logos I design, but only because I was able to do the research about my client, ask questions about the challenge they’ve posed in order to find out if that’s even where the problem lies, and to be an active part of a team that’s working together towards a better solution. That’s what gives me pride in my work; not just adding another pretty logo to my portfolio.
So, my design interns out there, when you’re asked to design something for a customer at your company (someone in another department) don’t plow blindly ahead and just take what you’ve been given. Your role as an intern is to challenge the way that company has been doing things for so long without questioning their own processes. Ask questions. Provoke people in your company to think about what they really want to achieve, and then work together to figure out how the design process can be used to get us where we want to be. If you love the design process, then hold it close to you and don’t let Corporate America take it away from you.
This is me speaking from my personal experiences. If you’ve had a different experiences working as a design intern in Corporate America or have developed any other coping mechanisms to get through the day, please let me know!