27 Apr 2011


Sunset on the Pacific Ocean looking towards Catalina Island.

Sunset on the Pacific Ocean looking towards Catalina Island.

Each year, as the semester winds down and I watch our seniors in graphic design prepare for graduation, I feel the compulsion to cram as much advice and reassurance about "The Real World" into their already preoccupied minds. Ultimately, my intentions are good, but perhaps sending them Jamie Wieck’s blog post The 50 Things Every Graphic Design Student Should Know would prompt a better conversation and end my frenetic monologue.

Wieck doles out life lesson-esque advice, some more design-specific than others. Much of what he has to say highlights that success and getting work is about communication and relationship building. He suggests multiple ways to deal with professional jealousy and ego. Three points particularly resonate with me:

#3 Success is not a finite resource. College fosters a zero-sum mentality: that someone has to fail for you to succeed. In truth, another’s success doesn’t limit yours.
#41 Work with the client, not against them. You may think you’re right, but look at the client’s solution along with yours. Occasionally you’ll be surprised.
#47 Share your ideas. You’ve nothing to gain from holding on to your ideas; they may feel precious, but the more you share, the more new ideas you’ll have.

I came upon the 50 list because my friend, former colleague and former intern J. Namdev Hardisty tweeted the link to say he takes issue with number 14 “Never take an unpaid internship. This is not a necessary evil—a studio that doesn’t pay their interns (at least the minimum wage) is a studio not worth working for.”

Namdev counter-tweeted, “Use of the term ‘Never’ shows someone out of touch with reality. My unpaid internship at Intermedia Arts started my career.”

As someone who benefited from an unpaid internship myself, and the person who hired Namdev for the unpaid internship he mentions, I could not agree more. Unpaid internships have their place, but only if those administering the unpaid internship understand their responsibility to the emerging designer. That responsibility changes when they—or in my case, the organization they work for—cannot afford to pay a designer to learn on the job, but can offer a tremendous learning experience.

If I could amend Number 14 (and Wieck is looking for revisions as well as 50 more Things to add to his list before April 30) it would read more like this:

“Choose an internship where they have as much to offer you as you have to offer them. Look for mentors, not bosses, because those are the internships that will prove most valuable in the long run.”

Other additions I will suggest for the list are the following:

#5x Good work requires practice as much as talent. If you rest on your laurels, you’ll cease moving forward.
#5x Don't throw anything away! Save everything you make that is rejected or goes unused on a particular job. It will make you feel less attached to what you’ve made and more open to critique, because you know the results are not headed for the dustbin.
#5x Say thank you. Gratefulness is the opposite of entitlement. Say thank you to your peers, your boss, your clients and yourself.

Thank you Namdev, for pointing me to the list. I will be watching closely to see what other suggestions make it on Wieck’s list in coming days, and thinking about how I can build more of these points into the lessons I teach each day.