Better off Intern? What's next?


I’ve been actively reading the boards for a while now and finally felt it time to bring up a current thought. I’m a recent ID graduate in Southern California. During my time in College, I was able to find a decent paying Graphic Design job but consequently never sought out any internships. After leaving the gig to focus on what I really wanted, I was able to receive an ‘entry level’ position at a small CE firm. I was brought in as the first designer (under a project manager) so naturally my responsibilities increased.

The firm has been around for quite some time but finally made a leap towards developing products in-house. I know some people dream of positions like this; but without any professional ID experience, I wonder if I’m better off learning as an intern in a design driven environment instead.

I’ve read many members mention any experience is good experience but I thought I could reach out to you guys for any other thoughts on the topic.



It is a double edged sword for sure. Great to have a lot of responsibility, but as the only designer, and one with no experience anywhere else, you core ID skills can atrophy and your experience can be “non-transferable” locking you into your current company… it really depends on what you want. Do you want to be designing the type of CE products you are now or do you want to do other things at some point. I don’t think you have to go back to interning, but perhaps after 2-3 years at the CE firm, look to move to a consultancy.

Hi Mitso,

i´m in a very similar situation. Did my BA, two internships afterwards and then got a job at a start-up as their only designer.
As Michael was saying, you should know if you want to work on those products. For me, I love what I do here, doing all the design for new products. Not saying that it wouldn´t hurt to have a second designer, maybe a much more experienced one at your side, but you still have a team, that you can closely work with. We are side by side engineering and design here and it works great.

One idea for your situation might be that you ask your company for a professional ID freelancer to work with you on one project or something. Maybe someone for a specific field that is helpful in your work.

Of course Michael is right again when he says that you can simply move on after a certain time. Worst case, you can think of this job as your first internship and it is certainly quite an experience as the lonely designer in a company.


Thanks guys for the responses

I definitely think investing my time to allow my professional skills and knowledge to develop is the way to go. Fortunately the turnover rate is fairly quick so I might be able to walk away after a year with a few projects to my name.

In the meantime my personal goal is to keep my skills fresh and develop my portfolio on the sidelines…At least until I have those real projects under my belt and a portfolio for diversity.

I get the impression most consultancies demand someone that can work well in a team but also run with projects on there own (correct me if I’m wrong). I’m hoping the range of demands I have with my current set up can make for an easier transition…considering I didn’t have much to leverage prior…

Any thoughts on a corporate/consulting transition and how they stack up against eachother?

I think if you keep these two things in mind you will be fine:

  1. you are being paid to be their designer, so always be the designer in the room. Take every opportunity to educate those around you about design, take people to retail to see products through your eyes, email articles about design success stories, give a lunchtime presentation on Raymond Loewy, bring in an outside speaker. Always remember as the sole designer it is your responsibility to be the best designer you can be, keep your skills sharp, devote 4 hours a week just to skill development. Out together a monthly trend report for your team. Keep up to date on new ways to think through problems. Facilitate multi disciplinary brainstorms where you sketch out concepts live… This all will build you not only a portfolio of work, but more importantly a portfolio of experience.

  2. define yourself. If you thought my first to do was big, this is even bigger. In almost every job I’ve ever had I’ve experienced people trying to define me. Trying to pigeon hole me and put me in a comfortable box. Reject those definitions. Consciously define, create and manifest your own definition of yourself. Have lunches and coffees with other designers you respect to learn how they did it. Freelance if you can to learn about other industries. Do concept projects and get them published on blogs like core77. Post on here and build a reputation (2 of the last 3 designers I hired are pretty active posters here). Build a version of yourself that is bigger than your current job. It’s actual not that hard. It just requires persistence.

Hi Mitso
i am in a similar position, after expending some time studying and doing some freelance projects at the same time, i moved to china to work for a furniture company as 1 of 2 designers, after 5 months the other designer moved to Taiwan for personal reasons, so i am the only designer in the company for the last year and a half, and as Yo said, is not about building a portfolio of Work, i cant say that i have really good projects, but i have learned skills that i never thought, like learning Chinese, learn how to deal with a lot of international customers, learn about sales and production (having the office inside the factory), so im sure you can learn a lot being the only designer, just dont be afraid and try to get feedback for the others departments or some designers friends form your projects, i have found that to be the most difficult part of being the only designer, finding some external feedback in the design process.

i think a very smart move is to move to a consultancy after that (that is what im planing to do), not that you know how to work by yourself, you can try to work with a team, where you will have a different design process and you will learn another different skills.

Thank you for the responses. Yo, I think that’s a solid checklist to go by and I’ve looked through it several times the past few days. I want to approach the situation in a way that allows me to grow alongside the company’s design culture, instead of feeling sketchy for secretly developing a new portfolio of work as an exit …I’ve already applied a few of the things you said. Pretty excited to get started facilitating brainstorms and doing trend reports.

@sgoochoa- That’s quite a situation. I think you are definitely right and it is similar to what Yo had said regarding something as simple as going for lunch with people I admire or would like to learn from. I’ve been pretty lucky to build a professional relationship with my old model building professor this past week which has already been very helpful.