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SpongeIntern SquarePants

As the doom of adulthood sneaks up on me, and the pressing quest of joining the workforce falls upon my shoulders, I take a minute to hijack Strategy’s means of social communication to direct a message to my fellow junior designers: the world is NOT about to end!

And you thought surviving design school was the hardest part. Joke’s on you! Now you’re an unemployed, inexperienced junior designer in an unforgiving industry. That’s the first thing that runs through your mind when you realise your degree is over and now you’re expected to find a job, create the most awesome project in history and revolutionise the design industry.

Teasing aside, design school can only teach and prepare you for so much, and just thinking about joining a creative studio with actual clients and real-world work can be frightening — what do you mean I’ve gotta organise and name my files properly? What the hell is a WIP?

Even though there’s a lot of fear and anxiety in graduating, it is important to realise that most of the actual learning starts only as you leave the shining classroom and go take a swim with the big sharks out there.

And I found that being an intern is the perfect way to dip your toes in without swallowing the whole ocean.

Strategy has been running an intern programme for years, and I was stoked to be offered a spot to join the team at the Ōtautahi studio this year. I was quite terrified on my first day, I have to admit — what if they don’t like me? What if I’m not good enough? Am I really ready for this?

I believe there’s a tendency in the creative industry to doubt ourselves, and as young designers, we often lack the confidence to talk about our work and creative process. Self-doubt can be a monster, but I was incredibly lucky to land in a studio filled with talented and lovely people, and as my first day went by and everyone embraced me, I started getting more confident and hungry for whatever they could throw at me!

Waking up early is never easy, but it's the prospect of coffee that helps me get out of bed. Fully caffeinated, I usually get into the studio at about 9am, and then the day officially begins. I kick it off by checking my schedule and emails and making sure I know what’s happening on that day. Mondays start off with a staff work-in-progress meeting with the three studios (oh, that’s what WIP means!). A quick run through everyone’s weekend highlights and what awaits the week ahead leaves the team in full steam and ready to rock.

Throughout my day I would be either picking someone’s brains on their job, being a fly on the wall during brief meetings, shadowing Chris and Liam, working my way through my learning modules, or all of the above. I also learnt how to use my time in between projects to develop my skills even further (the learning must never stop!) and our design chat channel on Slack is full of design articles, talks and tutorials just waiting to be consumed. I’ve been able to fill in gaps I didn’t even know were there — there's still gems to be discovered in the basics, like shortcuts you had no idea could be done, tools you never knew existed and file management tips that save half an hour of your time.

A magic moment for me was my first brainstorming session with the design team. In design school, you work through most of your projects by yourself, but in the transition to the industry, it’s important to master how to work within a team and learn how to push each other further.

Bouncing through ideas with the team was amazing, and made me realise how surrounding yourself with others' creativity nurtures your own.

Someone's idea inspires you to have another, then someone else takes it further birthing three new concepts, with each inspiring more ideas, and the next thing you know, you’re out of post-its and whiteboard space. It was great seeing first-hand how these guys think and being able to be inspired by it.

I was also given the opportunity to help out and play around with some internal projects, which was a great way to flex some skills and help the team. During that time I learnt how important it was to keep clear communication throughout every step. Everyone has their own train of thought and being able to organise and clearly explain to someone else the mess of ideas in your head is a priceless skill.

What really blew my baby-designer's brain was being able to watch over the other designers’ shoulders and see the amazing things they were working on. It’s easy to go online and find some design inspiration on Pinterest, but what you see there is only a finished product, and nothing compares to watching a design project go from brief to solution. There’s much gold in watching how other designers approach a project, what their process is like and being able to see beautiful designs coming together on their screens.

During the week, I try to make my way around picking brains. From strategists to project managers, to designers, I was able to fully understand how an agency works as a living organism, with everyone playing a unique part in every project. I made sure to ask everyone what tickles their fancy and how they approach their day, plus I got some golden tips from the PMs about how to organise yourself and the power of to-do lists (priceless advice). The company's vibe is chill and laid-back, but when it's time to get stuff done, everyone is laser-focused down to business, and it’s been a pleasure being a part of the team and soaking up everything I can.

I would like to finish my ramble here with some advice for my fellow recent and upcoming design graduates: the big sharks don’t bite, and nobody expects more from you than yourself. 

You will make mistakes and you will not be perfect, nobody is. You need to be confident in whatever size shoes you fit in the moment. There’s still much to learn, and it’s important to be the one to take that first step — apply for that internship! Yes, it’s terrifying, there might be a lot of nos before you get that yes and disappointment might creep up on you, but it’s the hard moments you have to go through that make the rewards taste better. 

So Sponge Up. Embrace the chance to learn. Don’t be afraid to get out there. The world is your oyster. Insert another cliche here.


Yours truly,

SpongeIntern SquarePants