Advice for IxD Grad Student

9 Oct 2009 - 6:29am
6 years ago
4 replies
995 reads
Chris Bierbower

Hi All,

I’m an American doing a graduate program in Interaction Design in Australia
and I was hoping to get some advice on what I should do with my American
winter (Australian summer) to be prepared for the “real world” of
Interaction Design.

Interaction design is obviously an incredibly broad discipline. The skills
I’m most interested in mastering are those related to designing new
interfaces or designing new user processes (like checking in at the airport
for example). My problem is that I’m really having trouble narrowing down
US companies/ opportunities/ internships that would help me get into that
when I graduate.

2 things I’d love some pointers on:

1. What is the best thing a budding Interaction Designer can do with 3
months of free time and a willingness to work hard and live simply?
2. My goal is to really get involved in interface or process design
(though I’m flexible) any advice on how I should go about contacting people
/ startups / HR departments?

Thanks so much for your time,

Chris Bierbower


9 Oct 2009 - 12:47pm
sophie hwang

hi Chris,

big name companies like google, vmware, yahoo, ibm etc have
interaction design/user experience internships if you look up their
career website. (although i am not sure if winter internships, you
probably have to ask)

Sometimes agencies have internship opening as well. Unless you know
people who knows people, the best way to start is to search with job
search engine. or check out the usual suspects - job board, forum,
mailing list, or attend local local ixd/hci/upa events to find out.

the job search engine i used in the past was (was quite
helpful. i got one internship out of its search result and interned
there for two summers)

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Posted from the new

9 Oct 2009 - 8:27am

Hi Chris, I just have two recommendations for you.

1. Expand your skills in PowerPoint. It's included with the Student
version of MS Office, as an alternative, Open office also has a good
enough FREE version available. The interactions are good enough to
get the idea across. It can also do ok boxes and arrows for flow

2. During the summer find a client that would allow you to create
some prototypes for them, There no substitute for practical hands on
experience. (knock on doors until you get a contract) Important
Point (DON'T do it for free) do it at a very low rate, but not for

The main point is, get busy, the quicker you start, the faster you
excel in your career.


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9 Oct 2009 - 10:14am
Susan P. Wyche

Do something that makes you stand out! An internship at a small IxD
firm won't do that . . . .do something really different. Spend your
time in Sub-Africa investigating all the cool things people are doing
with mobile phones. Get an internship in China!

You have your whole life to work a 9-5 job at a U.S. company. .
.I've done that and it is not very exciting. Take advantage of this
time to do something really different!

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Posted from the new

13 Oct 2009 - 2:25am

In my experience, American design firms seem more likely than
technical firms to have organized winter internships. (Can't say I
know why.) One (off the top of my head) such winter internship is
that of Smart Design: but of
course I'm sure there are many, many others. Good places to find IxD
internship/job postings are the CHI-JOBS mailing list (through the
ACM), the LinkedIn groups for User Experience and Interaction Design
Association, Coroflot, 37signals/Signal vs. Noise, Good Experience
and the archives of the various IxDA/IxD mail lists. I mention
archives because often times a firm will only think to post to this
list one particular year - but that doesn't mean the internship
isn't offered in later years. ;)

A caveat: I've pointed you to sources for both design firm jobs and
in-house team/technical sector jobs. Working for a design firm and
working as an in-house interaction designer at Google or a technical
startup can be two entirely different experiences (and, indeed, often
attract very different candidates.) I think it's worth thinking
carefully about which type of environment appeals to you before
spreading yourself too thin applying to both technical and design
firms. Not to say you can't apply to both (and even have a career
that jumps between the two), but as you noted, interaction design is
insanely broad - and because it's so broad, companies are going to
ask you not just "Why Interaction Design?", but "Why Us?". Oh,
and on that topic, one thing I underestimated when I moved into
Interaction Design from Computer Science was the importance of the
cover letter to answer "Why Us?" convincingly.

I find a lot of good job leads just in my normal routine of reading
things I find interesting in the field. As I'm learning about
things, I invariably take a look at the authors (who are often fairly
estabilshed in something I find really interesting) and say "How did
they get where they are?" You put their name into Google, and you
see in their biography that they got a degree in Foo-ology and worked
at BarFirm before doing what you find so interesting. 95% of the time,
BarFirm is some lead I've already looked at, but the other 5% BarFirm
winds up being some obscure but really cool player in the field that
might just happen to be advertising on their blog for a summer
intern. (Seriously, it happens - usually when you least expect it.)

Let's see....3 months of free time...working for a firm or company
is great, especially if it's a firm that's really looking out for
your development as a designer and a person. It's also the
"safest" thing you can do (though as Susan notes, it's becoming
less and less safe to play it "safe"...) That said, regardless of
who's paying the bills, I think the most important thing is to
design *something,* anything. Ideally, something you find interesting
enough to keep plugging on, even when your first ideas fail. It
doesn't matter as much what, or for who, as long as you're
practicing new techniques (for both design and prototyping) and
thinking about design and the world around you. It's absurdly
cliche, but absurdly true.

Let's say worst case scenario, no one hires you before your break
begins. In your new-found free time, find a problem you find
interesting and try to solve that problem through interaction design.
Sketch in the park. Talk to your friends and do your own ethnography
on, oh, say, dating. (People LOVE to discuss dating with you - I did
this for a while and nearly wound up starting an online dating
company just from the inertia of it all.) If you get a seed of an
idea, iterate it on paper, and then muck around in some program or
language to try to prototype it. Nothing may come out of the first
few dozen attempts at this, but if nothing else you'll gain the
ability to gracefully bounce back and forth between design phases,
and will have a lot of interesting experiences to talk about once you
land that interview. Most importantly, DOCUMENT YOUR WORK. Buy a
scanner or sketchbook for your sketches, a notepad for your thoughts
and a camera for your ethnography if you don't have those things
already. It's one thing to be able to explain an end design, and
quite another to be able to *show* someone the steps and thoughts you
took to get there. You can always throw notes and sketches out if you
decide you don't need them, but you can never recreate them after
the fact if you decide you do.

I guess I'm sort of trying to downplay the importance of any
particular internship, and putting more emphasis on the importance of
just practicing design (be it with real clients or for your
friends/neighbors.) A great internship will give you wonderful sets
of prompts and let you explore great techniques every day - but if
that gig with IDEO falls through, the more you do things like this
and design, the more you realize that all the design prompts you need
to succeed exist all around you.

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