EDITOR’S NOTE: Two people in a relationship rarely have the same perspective. A prime example: A wife just wants to vent her day’s frustrations, but her husband believes she’s presenting him problems to solve. Whether romantic, familial or professional, relationships – especially new ones – are destined to be fraught with miscommunications until synchronized self-awareness sinks in, which is exactly what happened with a designer and her intern. Much can be learned from their journey from bumpy to smooth, which brought them into their current serene groove.
SHE SAID: The DESIGNER’s Perspective
Employing an intern has been such an education in educating. I wouldn’t trade the experience, but I wish someone had handed me a book called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting… To Hire a Design Intern” before I started the process.
I decided to hire an intern after a Calgon take me away moment of “AARGH, I need help!” My schedule was exploding, and I thought an intern sounded perfect. I had just seen, The Devil Wears Prada and was having visions of Starbucks deliveries and someone else to take on late night tasks for a change.
Our first meeting went great. She brought her design boards and portfolio and told me about her aspirations in design. I gleaned straight away that she thought outside the box and most importantly, that she was high-energy and excited to get started.
We went over her schedule and pay scale and were off to the races. Did I mention that she had no real world design experience” Well, it’s probably because I was still fantasizing about the coffees and free time and not really focusing on that small matter.
Most tasks that I gave her I had been doing myself for years. For an experienced designer, they are seemingly simple tasks like measuring for window treatments, picking up fabric samples and going over paint sample boards. It didn’t seem like rocket science to me.
Initially, she called me several times a day to ask questions, more questions and more questions. When I asked for French Country fabric, she brought me Contemporary geometric designs. When I asked for green paint samples, she actually asked me what tone.
Why was she not reading my mind” Didn’t she know which green is “hip” this season” They teach classes in drafting and design, but there are no classes in handling a difficult electrician or a client that keeps changing her mind. Being an intern is really the ultimate trial by fire.
Besides the technical end of the job, she was also tackling first job-type issues like being on time, being prepared and communicating clearly. To be honest, I was tackling those issues as well. If I was not prepared with her schedule and tasks, then she could not really make those decisions on her own. I was assuming that she could figure out what was next in a long line of design tasks, but that was absolutely unrealistic.
I also felt like she was moving in slow motion. This intern thing was a lot of work for me as well, and I was barely holding inside my urge to scream: “Just forget it – I’ll do it!”
After one especially frustrating day, it hit me: “How would she know what I needed without me telling her or showing her”” I was being unfair and completely irrational to think that she would know the skills I expected her to know without any training. Most of my aggravation was absolutely off the mark. I’m her teacher in the field. Her mentor. Her leader. I have responsibility in this relationship as well. And what a thrilling prospect that I can help shape the future of a designer just starting out on her career path.
We are now in a good groove. We work as a team and stay in constant contact. The biggest surprise in this relationship is how much I have actually learned from her. Although I considered myself pretty hip, she’s actually had a few tricks up her sleeve. Her note-taking style is great with cool little sketches next to each action item – very visually easy to follow. Her fabric samples are organized and perfectly labeled. And, she has made best friends with our painter, who will do anything for us now. (She’s offered to go dancing with him if he just finished a project. Who knew that would work”)
Although I am not getting a lot of Starbucks delivered these days, I am very fortunate to have found a rising star to take under my wing. She is such a great reminder of how much I have learned over the years and the enthusiasm it takes to get a job done. By passing the torch of my hard-earned wisdom, I hope to help her on her own course to a rewarding job in this design world we all know and love.
SHE SAID: The INTERN’s Perspective
They tell you in school that internships are the time for us to apply all of the things we’ve learned in school to a real world work situation. It’s the time to put your mega dollar investment to the test. Are we really ready” Did we learn all that we needed to know from a structured room full of lectures and book thumping” Did all of those late nights of last minute cramming somehow prepare me for working in an industry full of unknowns” The two environments of school and work are so radically different – how could I be adequately prepared”
So… what have I learned through my internship experience” First, it has helped me truly bridge the vast gap between the fairy tale ideas of an industry I had no true understanding of and the real deal. My education served as the cement I needed to build a solid foundation; however, it was through my actual hands-on work experience that the structural framework was built.
I’ve learned valuable lessons that I could not possibly have learned in a classroom. I’ve had to learn for myself – even painfully at times – the value of time management, decision making skills, communication techniques, and organization methods. I was tested daily on just how capable I was to deal with every day problem solving.
I often found myself in situations where I was absolutely freaked out and on the verge of a breakdown. I obviously want to make the best choice for our company, but seriously… what is that” How am I always just supposed to know” I wasn’t equipped with any emergency Bible of Interior Design, so to speak. In those moments where the answer is nowhere to be found, instead of driving my boss crazy with a million phone calls, I just make a decision and hope that it’s good enough to not get canned!
I’ve had to evolve from student to professional. I realized quickly that you’re not dealing with text books anymore. It’s real live people who all think and act differently. (You have to roll with the pack or get left behind!) There’s a lot of room for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
I have learned that I can always expect the unexpected. Every day is different from the next. Long gone are the days of set regimens and routine performances. Most days I catch myself walking into the office saying… “Here’s to another day of, well, who knows“!”” I don’t have the luxury of always knowing what lies ahead or having the time to prepare for it. Like a chameleon I’ve been forced to adapt to my constantly changing environment.
Internship situations are unique from school in that there isn’t a controlled environment and there are no absolute yes’s or no’s. In the industry of interior design there isn’t always a sure answer as there is a lot of artistic license and room for interpretation. Design is about evaluating your options – promptly (and I mean super fast) – and making the best decision you can based on the information you have. And after some bumps and bruises, I think that I am finally hitting my stride.