Inside Whipsaw: Advice from an Industrial Design Intern

By Gabrielle Whelan

You graduated from a top notch university where you specialized in industrial design. You studied under some of the brightest minds in the field. You put together a robust and inventive portfolio. You polished your resume. You’re on every job board…and you’re still not landing an internship. While the intern search-criteria varies from design firm to design firm, to help you get through the door, I sat down with someone who already has, Whipsaw Intern Halle Van De Hey.

Here are Halle’s top 5 tips for the aspiring interns out there.

 

1. Find your passion area within this space.

Halle gravitated towards architecture and photography in school, but ultimately opted to explore industrial design. She initially concentrated on car design—a popular specialization for aspiring industrial designers—but realized everyone was doing it. “I heard somewhere you’re more likely to be an NFL football player than a car designer,” she remarked. So she shifted her focus and sought out areas where her designs could still impact the lives of everyday people. That led her to develop a passion for MedTech design as it was, in essence, an art that could also enable her to save lives.

 

2. Identify problems within that area by interviewing those at the top.

Halle knew she wanted to design a MedTech device that would help patients while also solving problems faced by those in the medical profession, but she didn’t know where to begin. She therefore went straight to the source and began interviewing hospital technicians to identify the everyday obstacles they faced on the job. When it comes to gunshot victims, Halle discovered, the biggest issue EMTs encounter is the gap between the incident and the victim’s arrival at the hospital, during which they could die of blood loss. The standard bullet wound closure device used by technicians requires someone to push a giant syringe (filled with high-tech cotton balls) into the victim’s wound—an invasive procedure that isn’t for the faint of heart.

Halle decided to design a mechanized version of this device that does the pushing for you. This gives gunshot victims a far better chance of survival as it can be used by everyday people and can be kept in public places alongside fire extinguishers. Thus, Halle’s portfolio rose above the pack as a result of the meaningful conversations she engaged in about user needs. When in doubt, think of those conversations as the lighter fluid for your creative process.

 

3. Don’t just talk about your technical skills during the interview.

Obviously, it’s important to present yourself well, do your homework, have a show-stopping design in your arsenal, prepare your spiel, etc etc, but so many applicants don’t land the position because they’re simply not memorable. Halle advises, “To be memorable, you need to be different.” Many prospective interns place all their importance on technical skills, for example, but if you can demonstrate your ability to also come up with important designs, rather than just all types of designs, you’ll stand out.

 

4. Be open to criticism during your interview.

One of the biggest mistakes Halle notes prospective interns make is walking into the interview thinking they know everything and not being receptive to feedback. Industrial design calls upon the ability to field opinions, take what’s important out of them, and put that into the product. So if you’re already defensive while receiving portfolio feedback, (and more focused on your ego than the design), you’re toast. The solution? Be humble; learn to view criticism as an opportunity for growth; and strive to push your thoughts towards the potential user experience of your designs whenever possible.

 

5. Don’t spend your entire life in design.

Another common mistake new designers make is getting so immersed in design they forget to have a life. Your interviewer obviously wants you to be an innovative designer, but ideally, they are also looking to collaborate with a well-rounded person with a layered perspective. Your unique outlook and interests will ultimately reflect in your design aesthetic and enhance your problem solving skills anyhow. Halle notes, “The more you travel, for instance—even if it’s just going to a new neighborhood to experience new things and meet new people—the more you will grow as a designer. A change in setting will spark design inspiration, and you’ll also naturally gain a better understanding of people, which will help you make better products for them.”

 

That said, the competition is fierce out there, so once you’re in, use your internship as an opportunity to learn and grow. This includes continually researching the market, sitting in on as many meetings as you can, and learning to enjoy problem solving in a group setting. If you master those things, chances are that internship will turn into a full-time position in no time.