Hi Tricia, let’s start with you – tell us a little about yourself.
I’m from Jakarta, Indonesia and moved to the United States four years ago to study. I study Graphic Design at Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta and am completing my final quarter there via online classes while doing the Madeo design internship.
Sounds like you’re busy with design! What drew you to design in the first place?
Well, I wasn’t someone who always knew they wanted to do design. When I was in high school, I took my final year IB classes in Higher Level Math, Economics, and Art. For a while I thought I wanted to be an actuary, but the more I looked into it the less certain I was about pursuing that path.
A couple of things came together that led me to ultimately choosing design. I had always been interested in art and had studied it in high school. Once, when I was at the airport, I came across Kinfolk magazine. I thought it was beautiful and was fascinated by its pages. After this impression, I started researching the type of careers that would let me produce things that were like Kinfolk. I had known about graphic design, but I didn’t realize how many different types of “design” roles existed before doing this research.
Another factor was family: my older sister was studying Motion Design at SCAD Atlanta. I wanted to study in the US but I didn’t want to be alone. Studying at the same university as my sister made the move more manageable.
When you started the internship hunt, what sort of opportunities were you looking for?
I kept the initial search simple – I’d simply type in “designer” into job search sites such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and my university’s careers page. Then, I’d take the time to read through each postings’ description. I found that the same job title could have different expectations and requirements from company to company, so typing in specific job titles limited my search too much.
What keywords or expectations stood out to you when reading through these job descriptions?
Well, I knew I wanted something that went beyond social media, posters, ads, or exclusively visual work. I was (and still am) interested in a lot of the behind-the-scenes work leading up to a visual design. I wanted roles that required a lot of wireframing, prototyping, and design research.
I sought roles that emphasized digital, as I feel that’s where the most growth and expansion is occurring, both on an industry and an individual level. I saw digital roles as a place where I’d learn and grow the most, and also the most promising post-graduation.
What was it like moving to New York City for the first time?
I wasn’t entirely new to NYC when I arrived. My sister moved here for a job after she graduated, so I was able to visit her a couple of times before moving here and get an idea for the city itself. Plus, I was ready for a change of pace after having been in Atlanta for the last four years. Having my sister certainly helped make some aspects of New York more manageable, but there were some challenges along the way, such as finding a place to live and getting my visa organized.
Once those were figured out, I was able to focus on my internship, classes, and enjoying the city in my free time – the food is fantastic! Also, the freedom available without a car is nice, even if the trains do run slow sometimes.
What does a typical day as a design intern look like for you?
The day depends on our active projects. Most days, I’m continuing work on an ongoing project. When I get into the office, the first thing I do is check Trello (our main project management tool), my calendar, and email to see what tasks to prioritize that day.
Tasks can range from supporting designers with email campaigns for major nonprofits, to supporting them with wireframing and designing for transportation startups, to designing merchandise for a new memorial to lynching in the US. As needed I share my work with the senior designers for feedback, collaboration, and further iterations. Once the designers and I are ready to move forward, we share our progress with the creative director for more feedback and refinement.
An added bonus to my days is lunch. The office’s Dumbo location allows me to explore many of the interesting dining options in the neighborhood and, when the weather’s nice, enjoy lunch by the river or under the bridge with some nice views of Manhattan.
Who do you work with in the office?
Most of the time I work with the senior designers. They are my mentors here. They critique my work, but always follow-up the critiques with helpful feedback and reasoning so that I can improve my work. A lot of the applications we use at Madeo were introduced to me in my classes, but I’ve learned new tools within these applications and different approaches to tasks that often increase speed and efficiency.
Other times, I work directly with the creative director. My work with him has helped me learn how to better communicate my work. Before this internship, I had difficulty explaining my approach and reasoning behind my designs. Working with the creative director was a formative experience and boosted my confidence in regards to explaining my designs and insights.
How has Madeo influenced your ideas about design?
In school, we often get to choose the brands we have a natural interest in, or we are able to freely create a made-up project. In a work environment you don’t have that same freedom. I had to get used to working within the set colors, fonts, and other style choices specific to a brand.
Designing for pre-existing brands, especially nonprofits, also required me to consider things beyond the design itself – I had to think of the institution and how my design contributions were going to influence the brand as a whole. Madeo helped me develop a greater appreciation of the small details, as it’s a collection of small details that build a brand.
So, since you’re wrapping up your final semester at college, how have you found balancing your classes and the internship?
At times it has been tiring, but overall I think I’ve managed it well. Thankfully, a lot of the technical skills I learned in my degree proved relevant in this role and were refined during my time here. The workload wasn’t too much of a shock as I had always carried a heavy course load during college as well.
The time and project management skills I developed at Madeo helped me better manage my online classes alongside the internship. Commuting on the subway has proved to be a useful study period. I often read and take notes there, which allows me to relax when I get home.
How does design in a workspace differ from design in a classroom?
Pretty much everything comes back to the fact that I’m not working on my own, for my classes and my grades. Here I’m a part of a team and we are all working with our clients to produce a shared final product. Whereas in school I’d make up my own content for a project, now I turn to clients or our communications team to develop the content.
There have been two projects, however, that reminded me of my classes. I was able to participate in a rebranding process for one client, and help another startup build their brand. These experiences were interesting because they were more flexible than some of the other projects I worked on, but I also got to participate in the creative process within a collaborative team.
What’s one project that really stood out to you at Madeo?
I was invited to support the design for the merchandise for EJI’s new Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Prior to this internship, I wasn’t well-versed on the history of racial inequality in the US. Working with clients such as EJI taught me a lot about American history and current issues that stem from the past. I felt honored to contribute my design to what I believe is an important institution. This experience taught me much more than just design, and I am grateful for that experience.
How do you think this internship has prepared you for a career in design?
When I first started this internship, I was sure I didn’t want to do print, posters, or emails, but much to my surprise I realized that they weren’t as unpleasant as I thought they would be. So, that has opened up my willingness to pursue roles that before I would have ignored entirely.
I feel more prepared to enter a full-fledged career in design, especially digital and web-based roles. I’m particularly excited about the possibilities of user experience. I feel like it’s a space where science, art, and humanity all come together and I want to be a part of creating and developing those spaces and experiences.
Working at Madeo has made me more confident in my ability to communicate my goals and desires – whether regarding a project or a potential job – and I think that is critical to my future.
Interview with Tricia Ilena