Learning about the professional world, my career goals, and even myself has been difficult having started my post-secondary journey online in Fall 2020 and at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. After two terms of adjustment, I found the self-confidence to find an internship on my own—a measurable milestone to mark the beginning of my design career. With a little bit more certainty in what I’m hoping to pursue as a designer, I hope that these tips can help other students, especially the next handful of eager, yet confused, first-years aiming to land a Co-op position as soon as they can.
To give some background, I started my self-directed Co-op term in Fall 2021 when I worked part-time at Guusto Gifts for two months. I was lucky enough to have worked with a tight-knit design department of three people who supported me each day in understanding design—from content strategy to working in product. Although I worked as a Marketing and Design Specialist whose focus is creating assets, the company’s small size made it easy for me to investigate product design and company branding by seeing what my mentors were up to. I even tackled some tasks related to those areas—perfect for me who was still trying to get a feel for what kinds of projects I like. This flexibility gave me a lot of room to experiment, which leads nicely into my first point.
Working at a start-up taught me the true power of adaptability and being able to quickly pick up different technologies and skills. Even before plenty of learning on the job, I needed to quickly learn new competencies before my interview to keep a competitive edge. A week after applying, I was promptly sent an email that I would have an interview in four days with the design lead, followed up by a development challenge. I was worried that I wouldn’t be ready in time, but I took it upon myself to ask friends and peers for advice and to pick up the basics, plus some extra tips. After receiving my challenge, I felt more confident knowing how to visualize what I was about to implement, even going beyond to improve the responsiveness across devices to make my submission stand out.
I look back at the four-day time crunch and can confidently say that all the skills I learned during that time are the same concepts that I continue to use while updating the marketing site. Having the motivation to experiment with new technologies, even if you don’t get them right away will eventually lead to mastery—the knowledge stacks up. With newfound comfort in web development, my curiosity helped hammer in my foundations of marketing technologies, such as Hubspot and Google Analytics, through experimentation.
Even as I was building experience and skills, there were times that I was worried that my ideas weren’t good or fleshed out enough. A good example of this would be my collaboration with the marketing and design teams in updating and creating regularly scheduled content. At the start of my internship, designers were tasked with coding up modules for a separate content management system. After noticing the need to simplify the process of making landing pages for both design and marketing departments, I took it upon myself to research various content-management alternatives. Now, I’m leading the migration to Webflow which has provided some unexpected yet positive side effects like increased page speeds and better search engine optimization.
For anybody just entering the professional world, overcoming self-doubt makes all the difference. Asking, “Why does this thing have to be this way?” has been one of my greatest tools on the job and has made my work much more fulfilling by opening more opportunities to take on interesting projects. Companies (especially start-ups) are quite understanding and adaptable, making it even more worthwhile to chase those “what-ifs.”
As I am writing this in my second term at Guusto, I am taking IAT235, which has completely reworked my thinking like a designer and approach to projects. It gave me incredible insight into the web redesign project that I was tasked with at the start of my Co-op. However, while these realizations were tremendously helpful, they led to a great deal of anxiety after hyper-focusing on the importance of driving design with content, having to justify my decisions in multiple ways and questioning what's initially given to reframe and produce the best results. I became unconfident in the deliverables I produced and didn’t know how to proceed, believing that I should have known this earlier while working in a professional environment.
After taking some time to breathe, I can now acknowledge that I was too hard on myself and it was okay to not have a complete handle on my practice as a designer at the start of my Co-op; after all, I had no prior professional experience and relied on my instincts as to how I should approach my work. My friends can confidently attest to the fact that I am horrible at taking breaks and it’s been something that I have tried to incorporate more into my life. If anything at all resonates for any incoming designers such as myself, let it be this: be ready to dive into the professional world and step back, breathe and reframe what’s at hand to something more positive.