Is your studio a bit boring?

True, we haven’t seen each other F2F for while (and for our global readers not for a while yet), but it doesn’t take long for our studios to get a wee bit boring.

Problem is, with 85% of design studios employing less than 5 people, we often tend to see the same people and hear the same views, often. Apart from being a tad boring, it doesn’t make for a very diverse community.

Stagnancy is not good for designers, it’s not good for the studio owner and it’s not good for our clients. The more voices and the more diversity of voices, the more robust the design solution.

The obvious solution is to employ more staff so there are more voices, more energy and more diversity, but not everyone wants to work in a larger studio and not all studio owners think bigger is better.

The less obvious solution is to mix it up by inviting interns into your studio.

The case for internships

There are many reasons why a recent graduate would want an internship.

It’s the perfect ‘finishing school’.
An internship bridges the gap between uni and a career.
The intern has the opportunity to observe a studio from the inside out, plus they’re delivered an ‘instant’ network.

But what’s in it for the studio?
Heaps. It’s a win:win scenario.

Truth is, an internship is a brilliant way to spice up a studio, especially a studio of long-term employees.

Interns can add diversity to a studio – invaluable for human-centred design perspectives.
All female studio? Add a male intern to get another perspective.
A WASP studio? Add a recent immigrant to get a global outlook.
A studio of seniors? Add a recent graduate for a younger, fresh lens to view briefs/clients/designs.

Learning management skills

It’s really difficult for designers to learn management skills. Deciding to take on your first employee is nerve-racking, guessing whether you have the management skills needed. Similarly, it’s hard for staff designers to learn how to manage other creatives and delegate successfully. Sometimes the only way is to leave one studio and join another.

Taking on a short-term intern is the perfect way to solve both challenges. A 3-month internship is not a long term commitment. It’s the perfect opportunity to practice yoiur studio-owner skills. Not sure if your 30-something designer is ready for a management position? Give them the experience of managing an intern and watch how they handle the responsibility.

Giving back to our industry

Universities struggle under the weight of teaching due to financial and time constraints. Problem is, the less skilled our graduates, the lower the benchmark for our industry. And the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Taking on an intern is the chance to take responsibility to deliver the skills you deem they need to be industry ready.

The business case

After spending an inordinate amount of time convincing our clients we don’t work for free, it’s wrong to expect an intern to work for free.

Interns – like all others in the workforce – should be paid at least the minimum wage. The good news is, with the right supervision, an intern will return this cost to the studio in earnings, even when billing just 50% of their time. Even taking into account the cost of mentoring.

Download a business case for interns’. It’s a work-in-progress but you’ll get the gist.

The next step

We’ve been working with the crew at Never Not Creative to develop a set of minimum standards for interns. The first step is to read and sign them.

The next step is to consider taking on an intern. We recommend a 3-month term but just 3 days a week, so it doesn’t get overwhelming. It means the intern gets to experience the ebbs and flows of your studio, and it means you and your team have time to share your skills. The site includes a set of structured and easy to use guidelines to help you, and your intern, get the best from the experience.

Resources are frequently added and updated, so do visit often.


Any problems/questions? As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

Carol Mackay

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The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of my previous career is at
My current work can be viewed at and

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