Young designers often nervously head into the workplace for the first time not knowing what to expect. Naturally, they’ll often turn to one another for advice. Back in 2012, two German design graduates were put in touch by mutual friends to swap internship intel: The first, Martin Gnadt, had been at Sagmeister Inc. in 2011, and Pascal Schönegg was just about to fly to New York to start his internship at the newly formed Sagmeister&Walsh.
These kinds of connections and conversations are common enough. But what if instead of reaching out in private DMs and Facebook messages, there was a public platform that collected various intern anecdotes and advice in one place? That’s exactly what Gnadt and Schönegg, along with a third designer and developer Denis Yılmaz, have set out to do with their new platform Internal Affairs (IA). The project aspires to help young creatives get recognition and share their experiences at various coveted studios and agencies around the globe.
Internal Affairs invites interns at 60 major design studios—including 2×4, Snask, Pentagram, Wieden+Kennedy, and KesselsKramer—to create a poster summarizing their experience as an intern. Posters are categorised in different topics in groups of threes—for example, there’s a trilogy of posters that illustrate “my first day,” another “the studio’s most guarded secret,” and a third, studio hierarchy. All the poster submissions can be browsed on an interactive map, or by clicking on the various themes.
“As well as delving into various topics related to internships, we wanted the platform to list studios that we think are of interest to students and graduates looking for places to apply,” says the IA team. “It’ll also point them in the direction of some of the questions that are important to ask before deciding where to work.”
The website features brief interviews with its selected interns, offering snippets of advice. The poster Snask intern Miguel Dias, 27, for example, suggests that prospective interns “Sell yourself as if you’re a Rolls Royce even though you know you’re a Fiat Panda.” According to his accompanying interview, this response is a rebuttal to the “obvious” tips found online detailing what makes a good portfolio. Summarizing her first day at Pentagram in London, 23-year-old Jennifer Whitworth’s poster uses a mismatched typographic layout to convey the weirdness of being in a new workplace. “I remember thinking I was either being too quiet or speaking too much. I remember I got a fruit sticker stuck in my hair,” she recalls.
Online, industry advice for graduates can be abstract and unspecific—click-baity top tips rather than approachable, anecdotal insights. Tips often come from professionals that haven’t interned for years—and from those who aren’t even familiar with the current landscape. What Internal Affairs offers is advice for interns, from interns—the kind of tidbits you’d swap with one another at the pub. It taps into what Schönegg, Gnadt, and Yılmaz wish they’d had when they were entering the workplace for the first time: “When I was interning with Stefan Sagmeister for example, I needed the whole internship to finally pluck up the courage to ask him for feedback on my portfolio, which then really helped a lot,” says Gnadt. “I wish I’d known how normal it was to ask for that kind of advice from the start.”
The posters aren’t hugely critical of internship experiences, which is perhaps unsurprising for a project that uses names instead of anonymity. Reading between the lines, though, criticism does become apparent—and IA hopes that by profiling the work of interns, questions surrounding pay and labor will rise to the surface. “With this project we wanted to explore whether you can see certain graphic styles in an intern’s poster that you also see in the work of the studio,” say the IA team. Browsing through the submissions, you’ll discover a range of talent—and a lot of adept, stylish work. It makes you wonder: To what extent is an intern’s work actually being used by a company in final deliverables, and to what extent might an intern’s efforts go uncredited?
“Often, an intern only lacks the experience of their supervisors,” say IA. “Sometimes, they might have better technical skills. Other times, they might have a better sense of contemporary issues and trends. It makes us wonder: When a studio pays their interns (which they should do), should it be in relation to experience, which is the current industry standard, or should we rethink the structures and treat young designers as equals, paying them on a project-based fee?” Laced between the different poster are essays from educator Kali Nikitas and Mind Design’s Holger Jacobs, which also set out to tackle issues surrounding contemporary internship models.
“There is a huge amount of pressure on young designers to portray themselves as fully-capable, professional designers. But after you graduated, it’s the time for experimenting too,” say IA. “In our opinion an internship shouldn’t only be about checking off a to-do-list, but also encouraging young designers to do self-initiated projects, giving them guidance, feedback, and mentorship. Internal Affairs sets out to educate young designers, and also to give the industry an opportunity to rethink the way its collaborating with young, talented designers.”