IBA Blog The 7

7 things a design intern should learn

Paola Minekov, co-founder of IBA.Bulgaria, an artist and proven multimedia designer with rich international experience, introduces us to the most important things a designer should know

81150693_xl copyLet me think… 1. Someone to make me coffee; 2. Someone to sort out lunch 3. Someone to sort through an endless pile of boring paperwork; 4. Someone to boss around; 5… 6…… 7…….

No, really.

I’ve had assistants and students helping out on occasions during art exhibitions and that has indeed included some boring or even heavy physical work. But I’d like to think that they’ve also enjoyed the experience of networking in the artworld, event organisation, meeting and greeting, etc.

However, offering a longer term design internship is a whole different ball game to one off exhibition support. This summer, while we are working on redesigning the IBA websites and creating our first newsletters and marketing materials, it’s also the first time I’m serious about having interns. This is as new to me as it is to the students. And I’m loving the experience.

I remember interning myself, how much it mattered that everyone at the company where I interned (which is, funnily enough, called 7U, and particularly Frank, the guy responsible for my internship programme and the current owner of the company, wanted me to have a great experience. I really enjoyed being given the opportunity to take ownership of my projects (one of which even got featured in a design magazine), so I’m very conscious to make sure that my two lovely design students, Bianca and Amina, work exclusively in their field and get some freedom in the decision making process.

Now, I’m lucky with both of them. They found me through word of mouth, they are both very talented, responsible and hard working. What’s more, they are friends and they work well together in a team.

   – Bianca is very creative and possesses the valuable quality to be able to work in the style of other designers with ease. This is something many designers struggle with.
   – Amina has a strong vision and her own, rather striking, design style.

Here are the 7 main points that guide me in the process of setting up the tasks I want to assign to each of them. I have 3 short months and in that period I’d like both of them to experience (at least to an extent since they are both part time and work different amount of hours), the following:

1.   Designers need creative freedom; Design students also need some guidance


This is a bit of a balancing act. As a designer, I know that creative freedom matters and some projects can dry out all of your creative juices. So, I’m doing my best to offer the girls the opportunity to think and own their projects, while providing just enough parameters to guide them in the right direction, so the final design meets our company’s needs.

Designing for print is different from designing for web, or for an app or a newsletter etc, so I know I’m asking for a lot from second year students. But more often than not they are meeting and exceeding my expectations. What they struggle with a bit is the fact that designing often involves research, figuring out the functionality you need to include in the design, what’s important to the client and to the end user – in other words, the boring bits to any designer who’s eager to open Photoshop and dig in.

2.   Designers need to learn the basic concepts of communications, so they learn to use design as a way to communicate.

Since both girls are studying Design and Communications, they are actually doing really well on this front. So far they have been overwhelmingly successful at getting the marketing message across without sacrificing the look and feel of their designs. And, what I’ve found to be a real benefit of having them, is that they really do bring a fresh approach to the designs, that often lacks in the polished designs produced by older and experienced designers. That’s exciting, people! If you need one reason to hire a design intern, make it this one.

3.   Designers need to learn to think about usability and user experience.

Design is more than a pretty picture or an exercise in typography. Of course layouts, grids, typography and the like are an essential part of design. But it’s not enough for the client. It needs to do its job, and answer to the brief. What’s more, we want exciting, enticing yet conceptually mature work. It needs to guide the eye of the viewer in the directions we chose without being boring.

4.   Designers need to learn basic coding (or how that works) so they can produce demos.

ndul_xlThis is a tough one. Web designers get it but graphic designers rarely want to do any coding. However while an accomplished designer may have the luxury to choose what to work on, second year design students don’t really know what their future career will look like. And in 2018, chances are it will involve designing for the web and mobile.

5.   Designers need to learn to work with marketers and techies (or at least what it’s like to work with techies – maybe my next interns should be developers, so I can teach them how to work with creatives?…).

The communication between designers, marketers and developers is notoriously difficult. We pretty much speak a different language. Leaving the big agency guys aside, it goes a bit like this: Marketerer comes up with some kind of a marketing plan and the designer sets about to produce a design which ought to (but often does not) communicate the marketing message very clearly. By definition:
   – Marketers like to market their products or services to us,
   – We don’t like to be marketed to,
   – The designers need to create an artwork which markets said product or service, without leaving us feel like we’re being sold to
   – Techies, for the most part, just want to code and couldn’t care less about any of the above.

So the designer spends a day aligning various images and text fields, sticking to colour combinations which work with the brand colours and gets the feedback to make the ‘call to action’ bright red and move stuff around seemingly randomly. The designer spends another while working with the feedback and ideally reaches some kind of compromise. Then the artwork is sent to the developer, who needs to understand the importance of the pixel size of the font or the reason why something is aligned to the left or right (in the most basic example). The conversations which follow can easily start to verge on passive aggressive.

This is why, I chose to study a higher education programme which combined all three professions, giving a good overview of what it’s like to work in a team in our industry and what the roles of everyone else are, what matters to them and why. Where possible I try to provide the girls with the opportunity to work with other people on the team directly, learn through experience, and do a bit of everyone else’s job to get a taster.

alphaspirit_xl6.   Designers need to learn to accept [constructive] criticism gracefully.

Designers are known for having a big ego (after all we are the creatives) and believe they are always right. That’s ok. You need to have a bit of that character to be able to put yourself and your creative work out there because anything creative is also often, if not always, personal. And when things get personal, it’s hard to stay professional and accept that, for whatever reason, someone doesn’t like what you’ve created.

Of course designers aren’t always right and kids these days are taught that their designs have to meet the needs of the client and appeal to the target audience.
This is not to say that the client is always right, because the client doesn’t always belong to the target audience.

7.   Designers may need to learn to work directly with clients.

If you get a job in a large agency, you may never need to work with the client directly. However even then you may want to on occasion. And many designers will eventually, or during periods of their career, set up a business or go freelance. In the case of this internship, we are the clients and the interns are taking the role of junior in house designers, who need to be able to respond quickly and produce artwork on demand.

Of course, not all of the above is enjoyable, but it is a part of the job. I hope it’s all valuable and will give them a sense of what it’s like to work on real projects, with deadlines, teams, clients and respond to ever changing working requirements. I’ve asked both girls to each write a blog post about their experience working with me this summer, so hopefully you’ll hear more soon.

Rabia Elif Aksoy_l

IBA is offering a number of internship programmes and we are actively working on developing them in such a way, so we can provide our students with valuable professional experience, which can get them on the right track to a successful career in their chosen field. If you would like to intern at IBA, please email us at

By Paola Minekov

Hi there!
Welcome to my profile. I'm a Co-founder and Managing Director of IBA.Bulgaria and Elysium Magazine. Please, feel free to connect with me!
In my art practice, I create unique pieces of art for prestigeous businesses and high end residential clients. My work has been widely published in the UK and Bulgarian media, including Psychologies Magazine, Resident Magazine, View London, BBC radio, Bulgarian National Radio, bTV, BNT and other.

Leave a Reply