Mentoring our interns
Improving our design internship program to add value for everyone
Establishing our program
A well-designed internship is as much a benefit to our team and company as it is to our interns. While Design Interns at thirteen23 gain real-world project experience alongside our multidisciplinary team, our designers have the opportunity to lean into mentorship and management early.
The program is a chance for all of us to make connections with the greater design community and support a young designer's big aspirations. Our internship program is by no means new, but we have been steadily improving it over the years. Below you’ll find a few ways in which we’ve made it more valuable for everyone involved.
We lay it all out from the start. From interviews to onboarding, we define the role and expectations up front for both the intern and the company.
On the first day, we schedule a kickoff meeting for the mentor, manager, and intern to review an introductory deck. Since the first day and week can be overwhelming, we find this takeaway deck to be helpful to reference later. Here’s what you can expect:
- First week’s firsts: what you can expect today and in the short-term
- Get to know us: an overview of our team values, everyone on the team, our new office, where to park or catch the train, and our neighboring community garden
- The everyday: software, tools, studio hours, and notable milestones
- The design team: more on values and design disciplines, and an intern’s role and responsibilities
- Studio projects: what’s happening right now
- Get started: next steps and a reference sheet with handy links
Assigned mentors and managers
Each of our interns is assigned a design mentor during their internship. This mentor hosts weekly one-on-ones, sets and tracks individual goals, and provides frequent feedback. This is a great way to introduce individual contributors to parts of the management process, grow their skills, and help to identify future career growth.
To ensure interns have full exposure to our design team, interns have twice monthly skip-level one-on-ones with our Design Director for more career-focused discussions.
We typically track our projects in ClickUp and have found success in getting teammates started early with a guided tutorial and their own onboarding project. Completed in the first few weeks, this might include installing our brand font files, having a portrait taken, or reviewing the employee handbook.
The design mentor sends each intern a survey to help identify goals and tailor the program to their needs. Once defined, it's important for everyone to continue to monitor progress each month.
In addition to feedback provided throughout the internship, everyone walks away with synthesized peer feedback on their strengths and areas of opportunity.
Making space to connect
One of our team objectives is to create meaningful and lasting connections with our interns, so we make a point to set aside time for everyone to get to know each other in the first week and beyond.
Meet & greets
We have interns schedule time with everyone, including our founder, during their first two weeks. We're a small team, so this isn't as wild as it sounds. These meet & greets became increasingly important as we worked remotely, allowing us to learn about each other's work styles and get to know each other on a personal level.
We’ve found one-on-one meetings to be our most important reccurring meeting during the internship program. In addition to a detailed agenda, we've been known to track our ‘emoji-of-the-week’ in our 1:1 Figma file. It’s a small gesture, but both a thoughtful well-being check and a neat data visualization over time. This week my response was “ 🏁 ” because we rounded the last design turn on a very rewarding project in the automotive space.
Team lunches & outings
Whether it’s a weekly team lunch, a quarterly outing, or a company-wide retreat, everyone is invited.
Seeking out opportunities for meaningful contribution
We hear from our interns all the time that they don't feel like interns. From day one, it is important that their voice and work carry as much weight as anyone else's. When we prioritize meaningful, ownable contributions to client projects and internal initiatives for our interns, we all see the benefit.
Whether an intern is actively participating in a meeting or just listening and absorbing, we start by inviting them to workshops, sprint planning, and client meetings whenever possible. At this point, exposure to projects, processes, and people is everything.
Get their input
At our weekly design team check-in, we all get equal time to contribute to each discussion. Being primarily remote and new to the team, it can be intimidating to jump in during critiques. Our team makes sure to create space by encouraging and asking for their design feedback.
Last month, we found out that our two interns happened to be reading the same design book. Together, they decided to do a share-out of their findings — an exercise in synthesis, storytelling, presentation, and finding the right GIFs to fit the theme.
When Figma's beloved auto-layout expanded its functionality, our resident expert Ky gave the design team a hands-on tutorial full of best practices. We all made a CD cover for none other then Harry's House. We love a theme.
On your last day as an intern, we host a popular lunchtime tradition: The Internship Share-out. We're always blown away by the creative and thoughtful ways our interns share what they've learned with the team. When our now-designer Max was an intern, he challenged himself to learn Webflow as his presentation tool of choice. It's a great way to reach that final stretch goal or gain comfort presenting to the entire team.