Sunday, December 20, 2009

Final Reflections - My Internship Experience

When I applied for this internship last spring, I was on a design high. After months of preparation, the sophomore portfolio review for Visual Communications Design majors was underway. My days were more filled with design than ever before; I was deliberating over which designs to include, reprinting projects that had gotten smudged or bent, and scrambling to get my portfolio website up and running, but most of all, I was no longer thinking of myself as a mere student. I was finally beginning to see myself as a designer. Passing my review and landing this great internship was a huge boost for me, and when the fall semester rolled around, I was ready to dive in.

Upon taking this internship with the Career Development Office, my goals were to apply what I’d learned in class to “real-life” design problems, develop quality projects that I could use in my professional portfolio, and become better adapted to working in an office environment. While freelancing is always an option, my ultimate goal is to work in a design firm or in-house for a company, so I felt that it was important to get a better feel for how working with others in an office was different from working alone at home and being the one person in charge of everything. To meet these goals, my objectives were to treat every project seriously, use the elements at my disposal to create designs appropriate for their intended uses and audiences, and attend meetings and events prepared, enthusiastic, and on time, participating to my fullest.

Purdue’s Liberal Arts Career Development Office helps prepare students as they transform into young professionals, focusing on issues specific to Liberal Arts majors. A writer, for example, will face a very different career path from an engineer or an accountant, and this office aims to give Liberal Arts students the specific guidance they need rather than generalized information that may not apply to them. My supervisor was Lisa Lambert Snodgrass, Director of Career Development. Graduate student Kate Agathon served as a mentor to me and my fellow interns, Stephanie Grebe and Ashley Scott, who utilized their skills as Communications majors throughout the semester. We also worked very closely with Kathy Lantz, Career Development Secretary.

My duties in general as an intern were to work with the other interns to develop a marketing plan for The Professional Forum, to design student-targeted marketing materials for The Professional Forum and other career development events, and to work Career Development events as needed. Rather than taking specific titles like “design intern” or “communications intern,” we worked together to use our different skills wherever they were needed.

This internship has provided me with all sorts of experiences, working on projects for print and web, as part of a team and flying solo, and interacting with coworkers, printers, designers, and clients, just as I would in a real job. Because of the wide range of projects I worked on and situations I went through, I feel prepared for an office job in a design firm or in the design department of a larger company. This experience has reinforced my goal to strive for such a job instead of going completely freelance; I feel that I would work well in an office environment. I have also learned the importance of branding and professional identity, and my objective now is to reflect on what I want to project with my personal branding.

My strengths as a professional include organizing and prioritizing my workload, visualizing, conceptualizing, and assessing and capturing the unspoken needs of the client for a particular design project. I am also hardworking, responsible, and resourceful, and I’ve become much better at coordinating with others and working as a part of a team. I still need to improve my communication skills a bit. I am generally a quiet person, and the ability to strike up a conversation with people I don’t know well would be a great asset. My other main weakness is that I need to be more assertive; I need to speak up sometimes and get my ideas out there instead of letting myself get trampled underfoot.

I felt very prepared for the work this internship offered me. My foundational design classes had helped me develop as a designer, giving me a multitude of different design problems to solve, and I think A&D 206 was the most beneficial in relation to this work experience. The projects in A&D 206 seemed to have clearer real-world applications than the more abstract projects of other courses. We worked on logo design as well as page, poster, and book layout, and that really helped me achieve a sound footing before moving on to the projects in this internship. The only way I might change the total program would be to take A&D 434, Professional Practice for Visual Communications Designers, a little earlier than the last semester of senior year. I know I will start looking for a job much sooner than that, and getting more of that professional experience would better help students land a job in design after graduation.

My experience with the Art and Design Internship Program has been a great one; I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom to real-world design problems and expand my portfolio. My supervisors made sure to give me meaningful projects to work on, not just “busy work,” and I really feel that I’ve grown as a young professional. I am very glad to have been a part of this program, and I would not change a thing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ordering the Banner

After weighing the pros and cons, I finally decided to go with the Skyline banner. While it might stand out as different the one time all the banners are up together, I think it would be a better choice in the long run because it is lighter to carry and, most importantly, the material is durable fabric that will not get dented and dinged like the unforgiving stiff plastic banner offered by Lafayette Printing. The glossy look of the Lafayette Printing product was very nice, but the plastic was easily dented, instantly ruining the overall effect. Lisa was pleased with my decision, saying that she would have chosen the same, but that she had wanted to leave the big choice to me, the “project manager.” With that taken care of, I met with Kathy Lantz to get the stock photo ordered, and once I got the image I plugged it in to the banner design and got the file prepped and ready to be sent off. I came into the office on Tuesday with the file and Lisa called our sales rep at Skyline, but she wasn’t in, and wasn’t able to get back to us before break, so we’ll order the banner when we get back next week.

Choosing between the two printers was very difficult. This banner will be an expensive investment that will last for years, so I took it very seriously. The difference in cost was very slight, so it didn’t really factor into the decision. While other departments in the College of Liberal Arts got their banners printed through Lafayette Printing, the fact that our banner would be lasting for years led me to choose Skyline’s more durable product. As a designer, I will have to choose printers and product options for almost every print project, so getting experience with weighing in the purpose of the project and what is most important to the client when making big decisions like this one will help me in the future. I’m glad that I was given the authority and responsibility to make the important decisions on this project; this is exactly the kind of experience I was hoping to gain from this internship.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

This week’s schedule was full of meetings! There was a meeting with Lafayette Printing early in the week, and interviews for next semester’s interns later in the week, and I put in eleven hours of work total. On Tuesday, Lisa and I met with a sales rep from Lafayette Printing to see what kind of banner options they had and get a price estimate. Apparently, the other departments in the College of Liberal Arts had ordered their glossy plastic banners from Lafayette Printing, but they are heavier and more easily damaged than the matte fabric Skyline banners. Which printer will we use? The decision is up to me… I have a lot of thinking to do! I did have a little difficulty keeping the ball rolling in the meeting. Lisa wanted me to take the lead, for the experience, but I soon found out that the sales rep would have to refer me to one of their art production people to answer most of the questions I wanted to ask. He couldn’t tell me about things like the required image resolution or Pantone colors, only about the products and their prices, and since that all seemed to be laid out in the brochure he gave us, I ran out of questions very quickly. It was a little awkward because I had no idea how these meetings usually went, but I certainly do now!

Lisa, Kate, Kathy and I interviewed prospective interns for next semester on Thursday and Friday. We all took turns asking questions. It was truly enlightening to be a part of the interview process and get to see what happens on the other side and what about each candidate really stands out as positive or negative. I also got to be a part of the decision-making process, and choosing between the applicants was hard in some cases, but in others the choice was clear. I think this will really help me interview better in the future.

Lisa has been really great about helping me develop professionally and get experience with different things. Instead of just ordering me around, she and Kate have been actively looking for ways for me to gain experience in different areas through this internship.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Handling Criticism

This week, I kept working on the banner and we interns had separate mid-term progress meetings in addition to the weekly Friday team meeting. I also got an email from the designer of the other CLA banners critiquing my design. She pointed out some specific details that were inconsistent, like one of the typefaces, which I was glad to hear because I was just working from photos and was trying to figure out those things, but she also said that the silhouettes looked “dated” and should be removed if they aren’t adding to the design.

I discussed the silhouette issue with Lisa. I did not think they looked dated, and in this instance they added to the message of the slogan, “professional help for a professional future.” They are the “future,” the young professionals that the Career Development Office will be molding students into. Their faceless anonymity conveys the idea that they could be anyone; a student looking at the banner could think “that’s going to be me in a few years.” They are not just there for decoration! This concept was also a part of why the slogan is split, showing a picture of professional help under the words “professional help” and showing the future under the words “for a professional future.” Lisa agreed that they did not look dated, so now we’re moving forward with this design concept as the final one. I pointed out that tweaking the design so that it could only be deployed at full height would be safer from a technical standpoint and would also eliminate an awkward spot in the layout, so I got the go-ahead to scrap the two-possible-heights limitations.

Handling a harsh criticism from another designer was a challenge, but I overcame the difficulty by sticking to my guns. I had a good reason for what I did, so I defended my design choices, explaining the reasoning behind them and showing that the silhouettes were adding to the overall message. Learning to better deal with criticism will definitely come in handy in my future employment; designers face critique all the time. At the midterm meeting, Lisa and Kate asked if there was anything I wanted to do for a new project that I hadn’t got a chance to work with yet. They’re really trying to make sure that I get the experience I want out of this internship.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Big Event!

I can’t believe it’s already the middle of November—the semester has just been flying by! The Professional Forum has come and gone, and all in all it’s left me feeling pretty excited. As I mentioned before, we interns at the Career Development Office have been working all semester to get the word out about this liberal-arts centered cluster of professional events. I’ve designed flyers, invitations, table tents, and email campaigns, among other things, with the collaboration of the marketing and public relations interns. Still, after all the preparation, I was feeling a little nervous about the event turnout. Were our emails deleted as spam? Did students just take the invitations we handed them and deposit them in the nearest trash can? Luckily, my worries were proven wrong! The pre-forum presentations on resume writing, dressing for success, and making the most of a career fair were delivered to full classrooms of interested students who each got a golden ticket—admission to our professional networking event the night of the Forum—for attending.

The morning of the Forum started out with company presentations and panel discussions, although these events didn’t end up with quite as much attendance. In the future, I think we could probably promote them a little more; the career fair portion of the day had been given more attention. Other students who told me that they planned to attend the fair generally saw it as the main event of “The Professional Forum,” saying that the other events were more like extra little tidbits. And attend they did! The rooms we booked in the union saw plenty of traffic throughout the day. Polished and professional-looking students were lining up—LINING UP!—to talk to company and grad school recruiters! Some of the recruiters I talked to commented on how pleased they were with the turnout, and even complimented us on our marketing success.

The invitation-only formal networking event was another great opportunity to mingle with the recruiters, although several of them didn’t attend due to illness and other circumstances. I was a little disheartened that the people I most wanted to talk to missed the event, but hey: they missed out on some delicious hors d’oeuvres. And the tie logo I designed was on a cake!

Imagine eating this. Delicious.

You can probably tell from all the exclamation points that I’m pretty well pleased with how things turned out… I believe the Forum’s maiden voyage has been a success, and has definitely laid a strong foundation for the years ahead to build on.

Although the big event is over, we’re far from done with our internship experiences! I’m currently designing a seven-foot-tall banner for the Career Development Office, and will soon begin work on the logo for the spring’s Liberal Arts Career Week and getting ready to hand things over to the new set of interns next semester. It’s been a busy couple of months, but I’ve accomplished and experienced so much… I’m really getting a feel for what designing in a professional setting is like.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Take Evasive Action!

This week, I emailed Lisa two possible designs for the “golden ticket” and we decided on one. I hand-delivered the files to printing services in Beering and picked out some gold card stock. I worked a lot on designing the banner and came up with two concepts that I will refine further. On Tuesday, I met with Lisa in her office and helped with a few final touches on the student-targeted section of the website for the Forum and talked to Jodi about stock photos. The CLA had a few images that could have worked if they were larger, but nothing was big enough to suit our needs, so I’ll be scouring the internet for the images we need. One of the stock photos I had grabbed a watermarked comp of from iStockPhoto really caught Lisa’s eye, and we may end up buying it. After our team meeting on Friday, we handed out flyers with the ambassadors in the lobby of Beering. The flyers were extra copies of the postcard; we had originally ordered enough for every liberal arts student, but only mailed them out to those who lived on-campus.

The only problem I encountered this week was that many students did not want our flyers. They employed various evasive tactics: avoiding eye contact, pretending to be on the phone, trying to sneak behind us… but the most disheartening were those students who just snapped “no” when one of us approached, flyer in hand. I didn’t take it personally, though, an I’ll need a thick skin to deal with criticism and rejection anyway. I also learned that sometimes you have to be more assertive to get people to pay attention to what you have to say, which could come in handy when promoting myself professionally in the future.