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The Methods of the Summer Internship: Revealed

Between the first and second years of the MFA Interaction Design program, when some seek “summer,” MFA candidates continue to seek experience. Many choose to take on internships, applying their graduate experience to work experiences goes well beyond the scope of a course. SVA puts a framework in place to suggest internships, but the work of obtaining them is up to students. How did they go about doing it?

We caught up with four students over email regarding their summers.

MFA Interaction Design: What steps did you take to get your internship?Kristin Gräfe: (interned at the NYTimes.com web design group) I contacted Khoi Vinh and sent him my portfolio and resume which was followed by an interview with members from his team.

Katie Koch: (interned at Adaptive Path , Austin, Texas) I started by making a spreadsheet of all the places I was interested in, ranked by the work and location. Many companies had a specific person through which we should apply. I emailed [AP’s person] to share my work and aspirations. We had a great phone call to talk about who I am as a designer, and how my work and motivations might fit into the AP community.

Gene Lu: (interned at Bizsphere SVA, Shanghai) There were very few interaction design internships in Asia. I sent [Bizsphere] an email about my hope to acquire interaction design experience outside of the country, especially in Asia, with a few links to relevant projects in my portfolio. … [T]he next thing I knew, I was on a plane over to China.

Eric St. Onge: (interned at at Local Projects) At first, I interviewed with a few different interaction design firms around New York City. For Local Projects, I contacted Ian Curry and went to visit for an interview. We tried to figure out if there was a project they were working on that was a good match for my interests and skill set. Once we found one, I signed on and started working in early June.

MFAIXD: What responsibilities and projects did you undertake? Did your experience match your expectations?KG: I worked on a smaller task as well as two bigger projects with different teams. It was exciting and impressive to see how a small, professional team of information architects, visual designers, and technologists work together to improve and extend the experience of the site.

KK: The internship was nothing like what I expected! I was delightfully surprised by many of the interactions I had … and found the day-to-day conversations with other practitioners to be some of the most enriching experiences. The two big projects I worked on were internal R&D projects.

GL: I helped the team in designing new interface components, which were integrated into their existing solution. Since deadlines were tight, there was a lot of paper prototyping and whiteboard sketching. My four months in China with Bizsphere definitely exceeded my expectations. I’m actually thinking about going back and working for them after graduation.

ESO: I worked primarily on one project: an audio tour of the World Trade Center site for the 9/11 Memorial to be developed as an iPhone app. I was given a project brief, and worked with Ian to design the interactions. Once the design had been approved by the client, I became the primary software developer for the application. Going into the internship, I had hoped to work on a project that would be released to the public. Fortunately, we finished and submitted it to the App Store just last week (right on time!) so it should be available for download very soon.

MFAIXD: What were some of the challenges you faced?KG: One of the challenges I faced was to maintain the identity of The New York Times brand not only through the user experience but also in the visual design.

KK: Even though I felt prepared after my first year of grad school, I got to my internship and realized how much I don’t know yet about the practice of interaction design. It took me a little extra time and effort to rebuild my confidence.

GL: The shift from designing for websites to interactive applications was challenging. Elements on the screen were no longer flat and one dimensional, but were popping, sliding, fading in and out. Another challenge were the tight deadlines. On some nights, we would be at the office working late on a set of features. My latest challenge is having to leave Shanghai. This place is just too awesome!

ESO: The biggest challenge for me was a shift in focus to content. Previously, I’ve worked on software applications that were mostly utilitarian; they were about connecting people in a certain way or helping people to solve a specific problem. For this project, the main focus was the story, and helping people understand the events of 9/11. I had to think about ways to make the technology disappear so that the story really stood out.

MFAIXD: What was the most valuable lesson you learned on the job?KK: Don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there, even if you aren’t sure they’ll be right; you will learn more from being wrong and changing your course than you would from keeping your mouth shut.

GL: Never bite off more than you can chew; always start small and then scale outwards.

ESO: The most valuable lesson I learned was a reinforcement of something that I heard a lot over the past two semesters: The value of communication. In working with graphic designers, interaction designers, content developers, film editors, software engineers, and clients, I saw first-hand just how important it is that everyone involved understands how a design functions and how it works well for users.

More about the students.

We welcome employers to engage MFA Interaction Design students in internships for fall, spring, or summer. Find out more.

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