I have recently completed a 4-month product design internship at Playground Inc. in Toronto, Canada. It was a rewarding experience that allowed me to gain valuable experience in the UX/UI field. I was immersed in various product design-driven projects, exposed to the digital design community and considered an integral member of a team of multi-disciplined, talented, creative and motivated individuals. This article aims to shed light on my experience as a design intern, and to impart a few words of advice for those planning on pursuing an internship in the future.
During the first week of my internship, I learned more about the Playground team and went through the onboarding process. Being the new girl on the block, I remember being a nervous (and overly sweaty) wreck. This feeling, fortunately, didn’t last long as I started to feel at ease and welcomed within Playground. I got along well with the leadership team, fellow designers and developers not only because of our shared interests, but because the people who work there treat one another like one big family.
I have never felt excluded or singled out from anything, from Slack channel conversations to team lunches to asking my opinions regarding design decisions, to weekly stand ups to discussing the projects we are working on that week. It was evident from the start that Playground is an open and positive workspace that encourages people to express themselves however they see fit. The overall vibe of the company is relaxed and easy going, but professional and goal-oriented when it came to completing projects.
My tenure at Playground consisted of working on a variety of projects. A few of the tasks I was given but not limited to: creating weekly illustrations for internal projects and social media channels, participating in brainstorming sessions for the studio’s social media initiatives and beginning stages of projects, gathering notes and attending client meetings with the product design team, presenting ideas internally with directors and product designers during ideation workshops and jam sessions, assisting with user research such as field testing, surveys, interviews and usability testing, designing wireframes and app concepts under the direction of product designers and a design lead.
What really surprised me was that all that I have learned so far is just scratching the surface of the broad topic that is UX/UI. Being able to intern here helped me realize that I not only want to pursue this for a design career, but that there is a constant need for new emerging technologies, software and research methodologies to learn to successfully create great digital products for mobile and web.
Getting hired as an intern might be a bit overwhelming and daunting at first, but it doesn’t mean that the company expects you to know everything. There is also a huge difference between constantly asking for help on every task and reaching out for direction on tough calls and clarifying something on the design brief. Reaching out for help and asking questions to address an issue early is 10x better than doing something on your own and failing.
You are in a good position to be a sponge during your internship, meaning you are able to learn as much as you can from other designers and applying it to real-world projects. But another important part of being an intern is also making mistakes and learning from them, because how else can you improve and grow as a designer?
Your internship and school are two completely different things. In school, you are given a design brief in the form of an assignment and taught the necessary skills through lessons to thrive in a job. During your internship, however, you are expected to have these skills ready to apply to the projects you’ll be working on. Your project lead or manager will not hold your hand, so you must be prepared to be accountable for your work. That means understanding what is expected of you when it comes to tasks, understanding the brief and seeing the project through with your team.
Most of what you’ll get out of an internship is meeting and communicating with other people. I was very fortunate to work for a company that encourages open communication, whether in the form of a 1-on-1, meetings or getting a coffee from around the corner. Do your best to show enthusiasm! Maybe join communal team lunches. Attend team building activities. Offer to help with other tasks around the studio. Join Lunch n’ Learns. Participate in brainstorming sessions. Looking for various opportunities to make an impression upon your peers and team members boosts office camaraderie, and shows them your curiosity and willingness to be part of the team.
After your internship is over, remember to continue being a professional and avoid burning bridges with people at work. Maintaining a solid relationship with the team will only benefit you in the long run. If they also had a positive experience and the feeling is mutual on both ends, they are more likely to give you a great recommendation letter/referral, consider you for freelance work or another position in the future!
Just because you are in the workforce doesn’t mean you stop finding ways to improve your craft. It’s important to invest in your skills, and “level up” what you know. The design industry is constantly evolving, and it’s critical for designers to keep up, learn new software and gain new insights into design trends, emerging technologies and the future. Take advantage of online resources such as Skillshare and Udemy. If you feel that you can benefit from learning in a compact class structure, look into taking full-time or part-time courses at HackerYou, Brainstation, RED Academy or Bitmaker GA.
Improving your skills and investing in your growth can only benefit your goal of being a proficient, well-rounded designer after school, when you start your internship and eventually transition into an Associate Designer position.
This opportunity further cemented my interest to pursue digital design, and was a wonderful segue into learning more about UX/UI both in my career and through additional learning in the future. Securing an internship here helped me see that it is important to: Be empathetic, prioritize work, listen and take constructive criticism, put the user first and design around their needs, be open to collaborate with others to find solutions and learn from the people you are working with.
My product design internship at Playground Inc. truly felt like a blur. I learned a lot along the way and I’m thankful for the mentorship I have received. I have gained new friends, new experiences, and most of all, a new perspective on what kind of career truly suits and excites me.