The internship experience
Drawing on my own internship experience, as well as those of fellow interns Ky and Max, this is an inside look at thirteen23’s design internship program.
In the studio
Interns are often portrayed as an extra hand, hired to make coffee and run errands. While this was something I wondered about before becoming an intern (being more of a matcha lover myself, I had no intention of making coffee), it's far from what interns at thirteen23 do on a daily basis.
The program itself
During my six-month internship, I was exposed to a variety of projects and clients. As each project presented its own unique challenges, I was able to practice different phases of the design process and learn how to become a subject matter expert. By dissecting the product and asking questions about the business and user goals, I became familiar with the problem space and was given free rein to explore solutions with other designers. Daily check-ins and critiques helped discuss ideas, and weekly client meetings provided ample feedback and face time with stakeholders.
The team's emphasis on iteration created a safe space to share work in progress. As a critical part of our process, these design critiques allowed us to practice the art of receiving, contributing, and responding to feedback. With a fresh set of eyes on our work, we were able to discover new perspectives and solutions.
Outside of client projects, I was free to explore other facets of design, like UX writing, animation, or personal passion projects. Ky and I put together a quick book club for the team after discovering that we were both reading Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever. Through this experience, we were able to synthesize our learnings and document helpful presentation tips for future reference!
Your guiding light(s)
Throughout the program, interns are well supported by a mentor, a senior designer who is with you every step of the way. Your mentor is that constant force—always ready to help and looking for new ways to push you out of your comfort zone. My mentor often encouraged me to practice a small skill each week to help me reach my goals. By the end of the internship, I had not only met those goals, but exceeded them. Working with someone so talented can be intimidating, but our mentor, Morgan Gerber, led with empathy and kindness.
While mentors are the primary point of contact, the entire team is an excellent resource for learning new skills. They're always willing to jump on a call or provide feedback. After all, our approach as a studio is highly collaborative—especially across disciplines.
This internship was the first time I got to work with a dev team. While I tested the UI and functionality of the site they were building, they would frequently check in to answer questions or find ways to improve our design QA process. From wireframes to visual designs to a fully functional site, it was amazing to be involved in so much of the product lifecycle. Working with developers, project managers, and directors helped me understand their goals on a project and how we could best support each other.
Our bond as a team often extends beyond our work. Through events like the Harry Styles concert, Peter Pan Mini-Golf, and our riverside retreat, connecting on a personal level makes the work we do together even more meaningful.
Challenges and takeaways
Learning new things can be difficult and scary. Approaching the situation with a growth mindset can help shift your perspective.
Act like a sponge
When I first started, I had responsibilities across multiple client projects, along with small internal efforts. This was overwhelming at first; there were new applications and terms, and I struggled to manage my time.
To combat this, I started asking questions. I kept a glossary of words I didn’t know (pro tip: “heads down” means to focus, not to put your head down) and took notes on how other designers presented their work. This practice of absorbing as much as I could became a central theme of my internship, and the things I learned served as a template for my own approach to design.
Morgan was a central part of this, often sharing tips on how she prioritized and timed her tasks. She described how she set up systems that worked for her and recommended tools I could use to build mine. After our iterative design process, I created a living organizational system in Notion that helps me keep track of daily tasks and long-term goals.
You against you: Imposter syndrome
There may come a point where you begin to question your abilities and compare yourself to others. It’s a common experience for many designers, but not one that’s easy to share.
I used to say that the day I was hired by thirteen23, the stars must have aligned for me. I thought that I was just lucky and that sooner or later, they would realize their mistake. But after talking with mentors and peers, I’ve learned that labeling your hard work as luck does a complete disservice to you and the effort you put into achieving those goals.
Discussing imposter syndrome with Max and Ky was comforting; it was nice to know I wasn’t alone in these feelings. To find confidence in my own abilities, I had to learn how to own my successes and celebrate the small wins. Those seemingly small wins all shaped me into the designer that I am today.
Make an impact, not the coffee
A common sentiment shared by Ky, Max, and me is that we never really felt like interns. We could experiment with our own design interests, improve soft skills by communicating with directors and clients, and become equal contributors with the space to share our own ideas.
During my first week at thirteen23, a team member said that interns are designers too, and that really stuck with me. You never feel like a separate part of the company. Through meaningful contributions, you have the opportunity to truly make an impact, not the coffee.
Our advice for future interns:
- Be proactive and take initiative.
- Observe, absorb, and listen.
- Ask questions.
- Take a walk once in a while—inspiration is everywhere!
- Set up personal systems for optimal productivity and peace.
- Be receptive to feedback and know that it’s okay to start over.
- Take ownership of your accomplishments, no matter how small.
- Advocate for yourself.
- Tap into past experiences to contribute your own unique perspective.
- Challenge yourself and jump into the things that frighten you.
This article was written and curated by Jaden Flores, with help from fellow designers, Ky Le and Max Schnitzer. Special thanks to our amazing mentor and friend, Morgan Gerber!
If you'd like to learn more about our internships, read about how thirteen23 designed the program in Morgan's article. We’re always on the lookout for emerging talent and curious minds, so keep an eye on our website, newsletter, and social media for job openings!