Design Reality

How to get the most from your product design placement

Back in August 2018, I jotted down a few notes about my first month as an intern at Design Reality.  Twelve months later I’m at the end of my placement year and I’ve been asked to share my advice on how students can get the most out of a design placement, so here goes…

In my first two years at Loughborough University it was impressed upon us that a work placement year is crucial for any design student looking to build their design portfolio. It’s an opportunity to put into practice skills learnt at university and to see what life as a designer is really like within a design consultancy. During this year I learnt a lot about the kind of Designer I want to be in the future. For anyone just starting out on their design internship, these are my top tips on how to make the most of your placement.

Get involved

Placement years are about more than just learning the ropes of a particular job role, they’re an opportunity to work out where your skills fit best, what you need to work on and what you like and don’t like. To figure this out, get involved in everything that's going on at your design consultancy. From brainstorm sessions with the electronics teams, to client meetings through to testing procedures with the engineering team and internal meetings with marketing. Try and get a varied experience across all functions and roles so you come away from the placement year with a thorough understanding of how a design consultancy works. I’ve seen first-hand how complex and forward-thinking a successful design consultancy can be! Maybe you’ll end up in a design consultancy or another business path, but I think getting this varied experience will be of value for whatever future you decide on.

Ask questions

Your internship is designed to be a learning experience, nobody is expecting a fully-fledged graduate.

Everybody you work with on your student placement year will understand that you are there to learn, so ask lots of questions - I did. It's a great opportunity to expand your knowledge. When you're briefed on a task, ask questions so you thoroughly understand what is being asked of you from the start. By doing this I found that I was able to deliver work that met the brief and was useful to my team.

Part of asking questions is knowing when to ask for help. If I’d tried to find the answer myself, referred back to my notes and used my initiative to work something out, and was still struggling, I’d find that asking someone for help was always the next best thing. It’s better to ask for help than to struggle on and waste time.

Take advantage of the resources

Whether it’s picking the brains of the various experts in the business or using the top of the range facilities, I’ve benefited so much from listening to the people around me and learning how to get the maximum benefit from using cutting-edge equipment. During my time with Design Reality I've used the latest 3D printing technology and design packages which has been so insightful in terms of understanding how consultancies iterate through the design process.

Ask for feedback

I found it useful to ask for a review before leaving the placement, this could be with your mentor, or peers, or both, I used this as an opportunity to discuss all that I had learnt over the year from my successes, to key learnings and areas for improvement. I’ll take this with me as I go back to university and prepare to become a graduate. I was also asked to give feedback on my time as a placement student at Design Reality and my input will be built into the structure of the programme and package for students next year.

Build your design network

When I was applying for placements, I thought about working alongside Product Designers but during this year I’ve worked with Product Designers, Engineers, Electronics engineers and the wider business functions such as HR, sales and marketing.

It’s fair to say you will meet a lot of people during your student placement year and the people you meet will form the start of your own professional network. I always found it best to be friendly and approachable from day one and tried to get to know not just colleagues but clients and suppliers. As well as learning from them during my internship, they may be good people to know in the future.

Network, network, network! Build your profile in preparation for when you need to apply for your graduate positions.  Maybe you’ll make a great impression and want to return to your placement company or maybe your colleagues will become a future mentor or provide a reference for your next role.  Ultimately, it’s a small world and a great impression can take you a long way!

Record your achievements

I’ve found that working in a design consultancy is a busy, fast-paced environment where no day is the same. I was lucky enough to be given a wide variety of tasks and I wanted to remember all the things I had done so I kept a list of all the design projects I worked on during the year. I’m now able to review all my tasks and new skills I learnt along the way. Every part of it taught me something new.

What happens afterwards

I plan on taking everything I’ve learnt during my industrial placement year and applying it to my studies when I return to Loughborough. I’m going to remember what I’m good at, and what I need to work on from my mentor reviews, and use this last year at university to challenge myself so I can come out of it prepared for life as a graduate, and wherever it takes me.

Design Reality offers a twelve month internship to a design student each year, we want to provide young designers with real experience that supports their ongoing education and set them up to succeed as designers after graduation.  Are you interested in applying? keep an eye on our careers page to find out when the next placement is available.

Find out more about Connor’s experience in his journal -my first month as an intern >>

Connor Fox

Student Designer