You hear people complaining about interns all the timeabout how they're more trouble than they're worth, and often difficult to manage. But the quicker you stop thinking about your intern as a naïve liability whose hand you need to hold though simple tasks, and start thinking about your intern as an untapped resource for information, culture and new skill sets, the better off you'll be. (Both of you!) And the more work and experiences you throw at them, the more you will gain. At Smart Design, we fully believe in mentoring, training and exposing interns to 'real design world' experiences, and we also believe in reaping the benefits of the experience our interns bring to the table.
1. Sink or swim
The sooner you treat your intern like a full time employee, the quicker they feel comfortable to contribute their knowledge and experience to your projects. All of our interns are loaded up with as much work as possible. The strong ones survive and take the load off of our staff designers, and the weak ones, well...we're pretty good at choosing the right interns!
2. Introduce them to your client
This may be a scary thought. But by exposing interns to client meetings, conference calls and check-ins, they will better understand the problem at hand, hearing it from the horse's mouth. We treat our interns as valued team members and believe that interns have the ability and eagerness to work hard for our clients. They can also provide a youth perspective that many of our clients are seeking.
3. Encourage self-driven projects
While not on billable work, we encourage interns to pursue a personal passion, such as exploring trends or a subculture. These projects can serve as outlets for personal growth, but can also serve as inspiration for the larger design studio.
4. Bring them into the field
Smart Design is about human-centered design experiences. We often find ourselves out in the field, in consumers' homes, looking for insights that will provide inspiration for innovation. Interns can provide logistical help with cameras, video, audio and note-taking, as well as being another set of eyes and ears. A recent intern of ours, who was passionate about photography, developed a new technique for storytelling through photographs and audio recordings. This technique helped tell consumer stories in a new, thought-provoking and emotional way.
5. Pick their brain
Learn what they know. Their experience can influence projects, uncover new business ideas and inspire the company. Ask your intern to present projects they have been working on in school, personal passions or new skill sets they have been honing. Then ask questions.
6. Spread the love
Exposure to folks outside of their discipline provides a well-rounded internship experience. When there are times you can't obviously benefit from your interns, share 'em! Everyone is busy and everyone can use a helping hand.
Sarah Nagle has been a Design Researcher with Smart Design for 3 years in both Smart's San Francisco and New York offices, running the internship program in San Francisco and supporting the intern program in New York.