Try before you buy

Published:  January 12, 2010
Try before you buy

Jason Little, creative director at Landor Associates’ Sydney office, looks at how taking on an intern or two can change your world, and theirs, for the better.

The other day I ordered a burger with the works from a café on the Central Coast, New South Wales. I was hungry, hence the works, and was satisfied that my choice was a sure-fire winner – a good, hearty burger being quite standard the world over, right? Wrong. Stale bread, an inch-thick slab of margarine, BBQ sauce instead of tomato sauce… Predictably, after discovering this, I was none too pleased with my choice, and went on to grumble about it to my partner, while proceeding to pick out all of the grilled chicken from her salad. To prevent such travesties in the future, should there be a ‘try-before-you-buy’ option on all menus? This would (hopefully) encourage even the most basic of cafés to serve up edible food. In fact, this pre-approval strategy could be applied to all kinds of uncertainties: coffee, holidays, degree courses, in-laws…

This got me thinking further about how to apply this concept to everyday work situations. In the creative industry, it’s quite common for the try-before-you-buy concept to be put into practice by way of internships. In this way you can hire someone for one week to three months, and see if the fit is good. Then, if it is – Bob’s your uncle, and there’s a full-time job for one lucky individual. In these uncertain times of financial doom and gloom, this could be just the solution for new talent and companies alike. No over-promising, no feelings of being duped (by either party) and no breaking the bank. As part of a global branding agency, it’s not uncommon to have interns throughout our network – and right now we have four design interns in our Sydney office. That’s quite a lot of new staff, even if we didn’t pay them (and we do, by the way).

Yet aren’t interns just fresh-faced novices, unable to contribute anything of real value? Don’t they lack sufficient knowledge and practical know-how? Surely they take far too much valuable time away from the ‘real staff’ who need to teach them usable skills? Well, not really. Internships, in my mind, are highly valuable to the burgeoning careers of tomorrow’s design superstars. They enable young designers to get a foot in the door and, if they choose, work like there’s no tomorrow. In return they may possibly be offered a full-time position, or at least gain enough experience to make it easier for them to find work elsewhere. Either way, the success of an internship isn’t solely up to the individual who’s been given the opportunity; it’s equally the employer’s job to make the time period (however long or short) a valuable experience that draws the best out of the intern.

What happens in the first few years of a designer’s career can have a significant impact on, or even shape, the rest of their career. Also consider, that the try-before-you-buy method allows new designers to see if a particular studio meets their working aspirations as well as the other way around. One piece of advice I always give interns is to become invaluable to the company. It doesn’t matter how good they are, or how good they think they are; if there’s a lack of commitment, willingness or enthusiasm to learn, then the fit with the company probably isn’t right and there won’t be any offer to stick around. You see, a good attitude, hard work and being useful no matter what the task (even the menial ones) will get you far.

A common concern for employers is whether temporary new recruits will reach effectiveness early on in the internship, or whether they will be a burden. You would imagine that by providing a variety of tasks and enough good opportunities, and projects, during this trial period you would soon get a reasonable picture of the intern, and hopefully some great results. One thing I’ve noticed is that new designers often have surprisingly uncluttered views of design, and they bring an inquisitive and curious mind to the position. This freshness often highlights the intellectual conformity that designers can fall into after working at the same place for a long time.

Allocating a mentor to each intern may seem like overdoing it, but I’d argue that this is a key step that can make or break the aspirations of new designers. Mentoring also allows current staff members to develop their own skills, take on greater responsibility and can even highlight areas in their own behaviour that may need work. The responsibility given to the mentor implies a level of trust that is equally rewarding. You can be assured, too, that when these fresh-faced know-it-alls come in, a change occurs in the company. Those designers who have reached a plateau, or have been gradually lagging behind, are spurred on by the newcomers – mainly because no young upstart is going to come in and show them how it’s done, that’s for sure.

Not that long ago, I had an intern from Billy Blue College of Design, who was part of the Shine internship program that we run. True, he was outstanding – apple on my desk outstanding. A quietly confident lad in the studio, he was given the freedom to explore and enjoy various design projects. These in turn highlighted his skills, which could so easily have gone undiscovered, and allowed him to truly shine. If he’d been treated as just another pair of hands to do various menial and piecemeal jobs here and there, I’m sure we would have missed out on working with a significant individual. Obviously we hired him full-time, and within the first year watched him clock up a prolific number of international awards, including one from the Type Directors Club of New York.

I’m certain that not all interns are created equal, but I’m also certain that given the right opportunities, the ones with undiscovered talent can very quickly go from good to great. The trick is to realise that it’s up to everyone involved to create those opportunities, including the interns themselves, otherwise they may as well be flipping burgers for a living.

Image Copyright dogboneart

2 Responses

  1. Ha

    Very interesting article you have here, I have indeed wonder what Employers wants and do with New graduates because I am believe hard and determination is the key in design whether the task good or bad. But after my experience trying to find positions within design studio companies for work experience to help me further improve my knowledge and better understanding of the Design industry. What advice or ideas would you say when trying to find those positions? or work experience when many design studios don’t really want to spend time looking after new graduates or teaching them because they see it as a hassle and waste of time.

  2. Hallelujah! Well done Landor (not sure who wrote the actual blog post) for being open-minded to new, graduate talent, and generous with your time and your employees as mentors. Your programme for interns is fantastic and certainly ideal for designers who are dying to prove their worth and struggle to be given the opportunity. Your Shine programme is to be commended – more companies should be running it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could speak to other design/branding agency owners about it. I know of one other mentoring programme that AGDA runs which is very much appreciated by graduates and run by Neil Barnet from Billy Blue. It’s great to see that there are some good guys out there supporting new talent.

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