“The Intern” has become sort of a surname by now with which I identify myself both over email and in person. My time at Overit isn’t my first design internship. I was first “the Intern” back in 2009 at a place that has since disappeared. With both experiences under my belt, I thought it would be interesting to offer a compare and contrast of not only these two opportunities, but also between the professional world and the educational one.

Do you know what your office looks like through the eyes of an intern? It’s a worthy question for any business.

How Do Ideas Flow?

The ability to work well with others is something that applies to every profession and walk of life. It’s also something that has varied significantly in my two internship experiences

My first internship, which I’ll refer to as “Creative”, was different from Overit in many ways. First, I was a senior in high school and relatively inexperienced in graphic design. Second, it was the marketing department of a law firm that also took on outside clients. I worked with only one other person, my mentor, and so the opinions and critiques were shared amongst only the two of us. I had my own office, so if I needed her help I would just stick my head into her office next door and ask.

At Overit, life is different. I am no longer enclosed in a tiny space with no windows. Instead, I am in a large open room, formerly the nave and wings of a 30s gothic church, surrounded by individuals from all areas of study, from animators to developers to strategists and everything in between. Not only is it a lot less lonesome and easy to communicate either in person or by instant message, but there are so many others around to offer fresh perspective or bounce ideas around with. Sunlight streams in through stained glass windows, casting colorful reflections on desks and glares on computer screens; the epitome of a highly creative space.

This aggregate of ideas is so different than what I had been used to at Creative. The amount of collaboration is immense. Ideas are shared amongst greater numbers of people. Three, four, or more people are offering input (not just “critique”) as opposed to just two, and that’s something that takes a lot of getting used to, especially coming from academia. Not to mention I have to prioritize when I have projects being handed to me from all angles from many different departments.

What is the Culture?

The environment makes a whole lot of a difference between experiences, and I’m not just referring to the space we’re in. Overit really cares about the wellbeing of its employees. I don’t think I’ve gone a week without being hit by a stray Nerf dart from a spontaneous Nerf war in the office [Sorry – Lisa]. I always hear the PR department laughing; everyone is always smiling (especially come Pizza Fridays), and the company happy hours and outings I hear so much about bring out the personal sides of the employees, not just the professional. Everyone is so happy to be here. They’re tightknit friends, not just coworkers, and that can make or break any workplace. With the exception of the bond between my mentor and I, if this occurred at Creative, I never saw or felt it.

I’ve learned that the ability to be happy and comfortable in one’s workspace is definitely a luxury that not every company is afforded, and it’s a shame that they’re not all like Overit in that way.

The Look of Collaboration

They (whoever they may be) tell us that college is supposed to prepare us for the professional world; in some aspects, it does. College has taught me the software for my profession, it has taught me the elements of design, it has taught me how to speak with relative comfort in front of groups and it has taught me to write well (or so I’ve been told). However, it did not prepare me for the level of collaboration I mentioned above. In academia, we go through many rounds of critiques, but the end result is entirely up to our decisions. Here, it’s a compilation of everyone’s design ideas, not just the parts I choose to change. The class projects, although we are given guidelines and an umbrella topic, are entirely our own. As good as this is for building a portfolio, it doesn’t allow for accurate representation of the professional world.

Professors mean well, and they truly teach you a lot, but when they’re stuck in the classroom and not out in the world, there’s a lot missing. You’re limited in what you can produce in the classroom as opposed to what you can produce through a printing company. I would never be able to use Spot UV, foil stamping, or metallic ink in a class project. The use of free fonts is very much frowned upon in the academic setting; they expect us to look to the classics like Helvetica, Didot, Baskerville, and Futura to name a few. I understand why free fonts are looked down upon: they may not be kerned properly; the x-heights of the letters may not be the same; overall inconsistencies, etc. Now that so much design is web based, there are certainly more designers (as opposed to amateurs) creating these fonts, and as Susan Merrick, the Creative Director here at Overit put it, “There’s not a lot less bad fonts, there’s just a lot more better ones.” Sometimes the classic typefaces don’t have the look or feel you want, and that’s when you turn to free fonts. The fact that professors tell you to only use the purchased, classic typefaces is a tad unrealistic. It all depends on the project, and if a [good] free font satisfies the look and feel you’re going for. After all, I’ve seen a free font on the cover of the album of a rock album that was certified Gold and I think it looked just fine.

This should go without saying, but every internship and every workplace will be different. There are so many factors that go into an experience; someone else’s time at another design firm will be vastly different than either of mine. After all, my two experiences alone have been on two ends of the same spectrum, even with their similarities. That’s my two cents, but hey! I’m just the intern. Now I’ve gotta go buy everyone’s coffee…