Werkhouse – top tips for design studio work experience

Posted by Lynne Elvins on 28.06.18

At Werkhouse Weekends we take time out of the team-working to sit together and have a conversation about design education with the students. Alongside 20 professionals, this year we had 30 students from 14 different Universities, so the chance for them to compare their experiences is invaluable. This year the discussion was facilitated by Emma Hopton, Chair of the West of England Design Forum, and once again we heard how courses vary. As a result, some students finished the weekend feeling proud and reassured that their course was good. We encouraged others to go back to their course leaders and perhaps raise some questions, particularly as they are all paying the same level of fees.

The theme of our conversation this year was around placements and internships. Did Universities help with contacts or introductions? Where is the line between what is expected to be done for free and what might be paid? One thing became clear – there is only one main route students are told is the way into a job and that is: get a degree, get experience in an agency, and that will lead to employment”. The Werkhouse team questions this. Are degrees providing the best training for a rapidly changing sector? Given most design agencies are small, do the students realise the limited numbers of full-time jobs that come up? This is why Werkhouse wants students to understand other roles in the industry – the account managers, the strategists, the copy writers – as well as understanding that in-house design teams and freelance working are some of the other routes that can be prepared for. 

In the meantime, because of that all-important work placement, the focus turned to the ten Creative Directors in the room to give their insights on how best to get in touch. Not least because students raised the point that they do send emails and then they don’t get replies. So how do students get through? What the list below revealed is that there is no magic formula, but professionalism and persistence goes a long way:

  • Don’t be put off if you don’t get a reply, and don’t take it personally. Creative Directors get hundreds of emails and can get dozens of requests for placements each week. They might be focused on a big deadline or pitch and student emails are not the top priority. Persist. It is as much about good timing as anything else.
  • Write an eye-catching email subject line. That will improve your chances of the email getting noticed and being opened.
  • Once your email is open, make sure it is succinct and clear. Who are you and what do you want in one sentence? If you would like a few days in the studio, that can be easier than asking for a two-week placement or a paid internship. Outline your request. Just saying you would like some experience’ is not very helpful.
  • Show that you have seen the work of the agency. If you have looked at the work, why do you like it and why does it resonate with you? Don’t just send generic emails to a whole bunch of studios – it shows, and it isn’t impressive.
  • Send a direct email to a person, not a general email to the studio. Spell their name correctly! While creatives don’t expect Dear Sir/​Madam’ formalities, do use a professional tone and don’t sign-off Cheers Mate’!
  • Even better than sending a speculative direct email, is networking so that you meet someone first and then ask to follow-up with an email. It means you can refer to when you met, which gives you an in’.
  • Send some examples of work. Don’t expect to get a meeting to show your work – Creative Directors need to see it first before they decide to meet you. Send a few examples, not your whole portfolio. Don’t send huge files. They are just as likely to be sitting on train with their phone as sat in front of a large screen Mac.
  • Include examples that stand out. Remember that Creative Directors may have seen other portfolios from your fellow students, which means they’ve seen the same Uni project brief over and over again. Examples outside the coursework show you are going beyond the minimum, you have your own interests and are just more interesting.
  • And lastly, sending a letter with some well-chosen printed examples, a postcard, a personal Christmas card or something else that can get into someone’s hands might just cut through all that email.
  • And very lastly, typos – no! Proof read it before you send it, just like any other piece of professional work.

If that just read like a list of unfriendly demands, at Werkhouse we also reminded all the students that the reason 20 professionals gave up their weekend to be with them is they like to support young designers and want to help them succeed – they love to see student work and have new talent in their studios. So, do get in touch.

Photo credit: Mark Dearman, True Digital