“My portfolio only had four projects, but displayed a range of skills”
What if you could get a glimpse into life as an intern at your favourite studios, brands or agencies? Well, in this new series, we’re asking newly-minted interns to do just that, and share a slice of their experience working inside some of the UK’s creative companies. To kick things off, we’ve called upon recent Middlesex University graphic design graduate, Agata Walas, to reflect on her four months at design studio, Accept & Proceed.
After interviewing in February, and starting at the studio in March, the spread of Covid-19 quickly saw Agata’s internship into a remote one. Here, she shares insights into the interviewing process, talks us through her day-to-day, some of the projects she worked on, and her biggest learnings in that time.
How did you find out about the internship? And what made you want to apply?
I saw the position being advertised on LinkedIn in December last year. Upon graduating, my tutor encouraged me to make a list of studios that I admired – Accept & Proceed was on top of that list, so I knew I had to apply for this opportunity.
Apart from the high-profile clients list, the explorations sections on the website really stood out to me. The work initiated by the team is a combination of design, art, technology, and science. I could sense that the studio and I shared the same attitude to creating design using an experimental and playful approach.
What was the application and interview process like?
The recruitment process took a couple of months. I was interviewed at the beginning of February 2020 by the design director. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes, and we sat in a small and quiet meeting room in the studio. I was asked to present my portfolio on a laptop that I brought with me, alongside some printed pieces. We spoke about my work but also what kind of work I’d like to do. The majority of the questions were related to my work, like asking what typeface I used for certain projects, and why or how I created some of the pieces I had in my portfolio.
Overall, the atmosphere was very positive. It was as much them interviewing me for the position as me interviewing them. I had a good feeling about the studio when I was leaving the office, and 10 days, there was an email in my inbox from the studio manager with the job offer!
If you submitted a portfolio, how did you choose what to include?
For me, the question of what to include was pretty simple. I like to tackle issues that are close to my heart, like promoting playing ball games and creating work that communicated the danger of chemicals in beauty products. I was very happy with the body of work I created during my studies and made a portfolio that had only four projects in it, but displayed a wide range of skills: identity design, illustration, motion design, typography and photography.
“[My] portfolio had only four projects in it, but displayed a wide range of skills.”
Do you have any idea of what made you stand out?
I’ll let the team at Accept & Proceed answer this question. Here is what the design director had to say:
“I remember being really impressed with the breadth of design styles and disciplines covered within [Agata’s] portfolio, it’s not often that we see a body of work covering so many areas from a designer at the start of their career. There was also a clear sense of self-motivation in the way [Agata] presented herself and her work, that’s something we look for and it always stands out.”
Can you describe what your day-to-day was like during the internship?
Starting in March, I was very excited about working in the studio, getting to know the people, and facing new design challenges. Unfortunately, my studio experience didn't last long, and after two weeks of being in the office, a decision was made to close the studio due to the pandemic.
In the beginning, working from home was pretty scary; I was the least experienced person and barely knew the team. It took a while to set up our virtual studio space and get used to the new normal. But soon enough, my days started to be filled with Zoom calls, while being locked in my flat with a demanding cat!
“Sometimes I worked on an internal projects for the studio, other times I was in a team that was preparing a pitch for a new project.”
No day looked the same. Sometimes I worked on an internal projects for the studio, other times I was in a team that was preparing a pitch for a new project. I worked almost with everyone in the studio, which gave me a great perspective on how different people work.
Most days I would start by checking Slack and Float, which we used to schedule everyone's time. I found this helpful, as I could preview what I and the other designers would be working on. There were also a lot of Zoom and Google Hangouts meetings involved, ranging from zero to seven a day.
What kind of projects did you get to work on? And with who?
At the beginning of my internship, I was working on small projects that often only took a couple of days, and helping to organise virtual workshop for a new client. The first project that I worked on during lockdown was an identity brief for The Red Road Project, [a project documenting inspiring stories of Indigenous American culture.]
But as time went on, I was given more responsibility. I was trusted to give a presentation directly to a client, worked on a high-profile NASA project, and in some cases even performed as a lead designer, resulting in my work ending up on billboards around the UK. This project was one of those that needed quick action, as we only had two weeks to deliver it. Working under pressure and within tight deadlines is stressful, but it was a great test of working in real-world settings, and helped me to make quicker decisions.
I also got involved in helping out with the data graphic for Endless Vital Activity, a new podcast series started by Accept & Proceed’s founder, David Johnston. The idea was to visualise the amount of time each person spoke on a podcast using the shape of a circle. The graphics are now in use across social media and Spotify.
Looking back, what do you feel was your biggest learning during the internship?
The most valuable lesson I took away from this experience was to have more confidence in myself and my work. Creativity thrives on challenges, and I loved seeing how I could apply my skills across different projects. I learned to collaborate, and find out where my strengths and weaknesses lie. This internship helped me to realise that I’m most happy when I work on an identity project where I can use my illustrative skills.
Working alongside senior designers, design directors, and creative director at Accept & Proceed, I was also able to watch how those great minds work. I've learned some tricks that I didn't know about before, especially when working with type like using the paragraph panels in Illustrator, or paying more attention to kerning and leading. I got to practice more key shortcuts and started using Keynote for presentations, and learned to enjoy research more.
“The most valuable lesson I took away from this experience was to have more confidence in myself and my work.”
What are you hoping to do next?
Currently I have some exciting freelance work lined up. In an ideal world, I’d love to get more insights from different design studios in London that specialise in branding and identity design. I hope that other design studios will have a more flexible approach to internships despite the pandemic.
While I’m searching for a new role I’m also working on Polish Design Scene, a platform I created a few months ago to promote the work of polish designers and illustrators. I also run a podcast with guests where we talk about topics such as how designers can embrace change. Right now the podcast is available only in Polish, but you can still follow us on Instagram.
“Back in 2016, I was rejected from all the places that I applied for...it taught me to keep on learning and never give up.”
Any tips for anyone else looking to apply for an internship?
Don’t wait for an opportunity, create your own! I emailed studios with my portfolio, even if they weren’t advertising any jobs – I managed to meet with creative directors just by doing that. Another tip would be to write a tailored email or cover letter that is unique to the studio, and shows that you researched the company.
I also can’t recommend enough going to portfolio reviews, such as those run by The Dots, or Ladies, Wine and Design in partnership with D&AD. It gives you a chance to meet other people and learn how to improve and present your portfolio. Also follow the companies you’d like to work for on social media and check job boards every day.
Back in 2016, when I was searching for my first internship, I was rejected from all the places that I applied for. I wasn’t ready to intern yet, and if anything, this experience taught me to keep on learning and never give up. Please don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back right away. This year, some studios got back to me a few months after sending the first email and offered an interview.
Lastly, do you have any tips for anyone on how to apply for this internship in particular? And if successful, how to make the most of it?
Accept & Proceed, like many other design agencies, post job adverts for interns on social media. Give them a follow on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date. When you apply, keep your email short and sweet and only include your best work in your portfolio – it’s not about quantity but quality.
If you land an interview – congrats! Give yourself pat on the back and come well-prepared. Know your work and have a few questions that you might ask them. Once you join the studio, give your best at work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or share your opinion, but also be willing to learn and dip into what comes your way. Lastly, remember that it’s not all about design. Talk to the people there, try to get to know them. You will find that work becomes better if you feel comfortable with the team.
Mention Agata Walas
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Mention Accept and Proceed