From the eyes of an intern | Delve
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From the eyes of an intern

December 23, 2019

Two separate semesters, two office locations, and two roles later, my experiences at Delve could not have been more diverse or outstanding.

From the coast of California while working as an Industrial Design intern in the San Francisco office, to the Midwestern fields of Madison, Wisconsin while working as a Design Research intern, I feel like I’ve almost seen it all. I was lucky enough to be a part of each office, which comes with its own set of quirks, perks, and lessons.

You might be thinking, “Isn’t she just an intern?” The answer to that question is yes, but not for long. Though just an intern, I’ve learned a lot that I’d like to share. I hope that whether you’re an intern, like me, or more established in your career and looking for some insights on the mindset of an intern, that these words provide you some value or encourage you to think differently.

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Intern author
Mary Friedl

Throughout my time at the University of Cincinnati, I’ve encountered a lot of change that comes with the territory of being in an Industrial Design program that requires five co-ops. Though I had my fourth co-op at what used to be Design Concepts in San Francisco, I knew to expect that things were going to be very different when I arrived to work in Madison a semester later. 

Not only was I moving into a new city with much less traffic and cheaper housing and entering a department in which I had very little experience, but I was also returning to Design Concepts while it was going through a rebrand. Maybe I have more good luck than I thought, because both internships happened at just the right times. While extreme polar vortex temperatures were occurring during the first few months of 2019 in Madison, I was taking in the California sunshine. 

As I returned for my second internship in Madison this August and was reestablishing what it means to be a designer for myself, I got to witness Delve reestablish itself as a modern-day product development firm.

Though I was expecting this semester to be different, it didn’t feel as drastic as I had anticipated. Delve is a family, and though the rebrand felt new and more sophisticated, the core culture and values are the same, so it felt like I didn’t miss a beat. My perfect timing allowed me to witness a successful rebrand and take part in this unifying experience. 

So, I got lucky and ended up getting to work at a really cool company, but not everything is about luck. I worked hard to be able to work at Delve, and I continued developing my skills and perspectives along the way.

Here are some of my top takeaways from my time at Delve.

Be a fly on the wall, or in the ointment

I’ve learned that for interns, people’s expectations of them might not always be very high. I understand why that might be case, because if people have low expectations then they’re more likely to be pleased with the outcome when those expectations are exceeded. It’s true that interns have a lot to learn. A lot of that learning comes from being a fly on the wall. Sitting in on client meetings, working as a part of the team, and observing all the inner-workings of the office are great ways to be a fly on the wall, and take everything in.

In my opinion, the real value from internships comes from being more of a fly in the ointment, but in a good way. Pushing to do  the real work is the best way to provide value to the company and get the most out of an internship. For me, that meant participating in brainstorms, developing concepts, preparing discussion guides, conducting interviews, and developing strategies to present to clients. 

When there isn’t a full to-do list of work available, having an intern project that can be done in the background is worthwhile. Ideally, this project provides value to the company and can be something for interns to show in their portfolios, whatever that might be. I think that intern projects are great when work is light, but the main focus should be learning about the company and the client work, because those are the things you don’t have access to in school. 

So, be a fly in the ointment, set higher standards, and do real work. Interns are generally younger, and maybe more naive, but what that means is that they are curious and can bring a fresh perspective. Interns shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty, and supervisors shouldn’t be afraid to let them! That leads me to my next point…

Try on all of the hats

Some of them might not look good, and that’s okay. Everybody has their strengths and their weaknesses. One of the initiatives that was started this past semester was to have everyone in the company take the Gallup CliftonStrengths Assessment. There are 34 themes, and the test we took at Delve identified each individual’s top five. 

Maybe I’m interested in the results because Individualization is my second strength, but either way you look at it, it’s important to know what people are good at! Recognizing, embracing, and developing people’s natural strengths creates happier employees, better teamwork, and more successful projects. Utilizing people’s strengths is more effective than trying to strengthen people’s weaknesses. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t try to get better at skills they know they aren’t good at, but time is better spent embracing the skills that people already have.

Even though there are certain tasks and responsibilities that people might be better at than others, it’s important to try on different hats by offering to help with various responsibilities outside of one’s everyday department, especially as an intern, but even for people with more established careers. When I was doing my internship for Industrial Design, I was asked to do a research project. Saying “yes” to that project led me to the Design Research internship that I just finished.

While saying yes to too many things could be a problem eventually, it has only helped me so far. Would you like to write a blog post? Sure. Here it is! Do you need an extra sketcher in a brainstorm? I’m your gal. Do you need to talk through a CAD model with someone? I’m all ears. Do you need someone to test a user interface? I’ll give it a go. Do you need a note taker during a user interview? I can type. Do you need someone to drive to the client meeting before the sun comes up? I’ll bring the coffee. Do you just need a little bit of moral support? I can provide that, too.

The point I’m trying to make is that you don’t have to be an expert in everything. Maximize your strengths and find the work you enjoy doing, but don’t hesitate to try something new, because by dabbling in various departments and saying yes, you’re providing more value to the people around you and yourself.

Avoid fire in the wastebasket

When there’s a small fire in a wastebasket, how do you react? Do you panic and run to someone for help? Do you just let it burn and turn into a dumpster fire? Or, do you find a way to put it out yourself? Learning when to ask for help is an important skill. If the fire in the waste basket is small and can be put out easily then, by all means, put it out! If there’s a lot of trash in the waste basket, the fire starts off pretty big, and you can’t manage the fire on your own, then don’t hesitate to ask for help.

I haven’t had to deal with too many fires, and when there was a fire, it was small and manageable. Something I realized after hearing that analogy is that there doesn’t already have to be a fire before asking someone for advice. Preventing fires from happening in the first place is probably the best way to go. 

One of the perks of being an intern is that everyone knows you’re young and eager to learn, so most of the time people are willing to lend a helping hand and give advice on how to prevent fires. Granted, if there’s not even a chance for a fire in the future, then don’t waste people’s time. I think the moral of the story is that the best-case scenario is that people can put out their own fires and be able to say, “Don’t worry. There was a fire, but I took care of it.”

So, what’s next?

Supervisors, coworkers, and mentors have been nothing but encouraging and helpful with providing feedback on my work and putting me in contact with other designers nearby to ensure my path for success. I’m pleased with the relationships I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned through working at Delve and have no regrets. 

I’ve been a fly in the ointment, found a few hats that fit, and have my fire extinguisher ready. Do I still have a lot to learn? Definitely. But, who doesn’t? I’m confident that these internships put me in a position for success in the future and I will undoubtedly miss the office dogs, coworkers’ life lessons and idioms, and being a part of designing cool stuff at Delve. Maybe I’ll have to go 3/3 and work in the Boston office someday. Wherever I end up, I’m grateful for my experiences as an intern who double-dipped at Delve.

See Mary's online bio. 

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