15 Dec THE INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE: FUN OR EXHAUSTING?
THE DESIGN INDUSTRY: IN THE EYES OF AN INTERN
Many students step into the internship experience with a mix of different emotions: excitement, apprehension, nervousness and fear. For most, these emotions are accompanied with horrific stories of seniors being unpaid and overworked (one of my friends experienced it firsthand where he worked till dawn, went back home, only to return to the office 5 hours later), and the media’s portrayal of the intern as the office errand boy draws the image of their working experience for the next 3–6 months.
For some, these stories become a reality, but design student Alvin Tan, who interned at Sennex Consultants, was pleasantly surprised by the experience. We interviewed him to find out what makes a good internship.
Alvin is a third-year design student currently studying Interior Architecture & Design in Temasek Polytechnic. I met Alvin at the design school lift and we decided to find a casual spot amidst the bustle in the new design block.
What did you expect your internship to be like?
There is this impression of not being able to learn much, from what I have heard from some of the seniors. You do menial task that are not related to design, such as buying coffee or making tea. Because of that I didn’t expect much from the internship, just hoping that I would be able to learn different skills from the industry.
What do you think of the design industry?
I was quite apprehensive, as I had seen my brother, who is an interior designer, spend nights in the office rushing work. At the same time, it was quite interesting to design for humans.
What was your first impression of Sennex?
When I first came in, the space felt very small and everyone looked serious, each doing their own things. I expected the working environment to be very serious, and people looked as if they won’t talk to you. The office space in contrast felt very lively, with its use of materials.
What was your role in the office?
My role was to assist the designers to contact suppliers, the furniture schedule. I was also part of the idea generation for concept.
How was your experience interning at Sennex?
It was quite enjoyable as I got to do quite a lot of things and learn many things from the internship. I was given the chance to see the process of building a lab, which was quite interesting.
Collaborative discussions are common happenings at Sennex
What do you think about the environment there?
Unlike my initial impression, the environment was quite fun to work with, the people there were very friendly. The office adopts an open plan layout, which makes it easier for me to approach the others for help. Its good.
What was the most memorable part of the internship?
The site visits. I am those type of people who prefer to move about, thus I was very happy to follow the designers to site and see their interaction with the client. This is one of the most wonderful experience I had.
Raw conditions on site: the unfinished surfaces beneath each design
There was an internship project given to you during this period. Can you tell me more about it?
It was a situational project. I was asked to redesign Sennex office with a different site. I did the concept and spatial planning. The space was quite small, and I had to fit in 26 staff. I had to plan the space carefully; where to put the library, where to put the studio and pantry. I was given 2 months to do this, amidst other things as well so I had to plan my time well.
How did you find the whole project?
Overall quite interesting. I presented my design to them, and they gave me feedbacks on where was good, where could have been better and what I had missed.
What is your takeaway from this internship?
Communication was something I learn that was important. With suppliers, with clients and with the other designers. I developed better space planning skills and learned the shortcuts for design softwares. I haven’t really worked with Sketchup before this, and struggled a bit. Thankfully some of the seniors taught me some tricks of the trade. I learned a faster way to do things.
Was the internship experience as you have expected?
No, It was very fun, and I got exposed to more things than I expected. It was a very enjoyable experience. I had friends who did only CAD for the whole internship. I prefer to be able to touch on a little bit of everything, which Sennex provided. I would like to have been involved in more though. I got to see how designers work, and how the industry is like.
Has your experience at Sennex change your views on workplace design?
To a certain extent, yes. Previously I had an external mentor who was working on office at that time, and my first exposure to workplace design was the Google office, which is the model for workplace designs today. The workplace culture has changed quite a lot since the cubicles, and many people are incorporating fun into the office.
Before, I felt office had to be functional, with people’s needs in mind. That view hasn’t changed, but now I feel that fun should be added with relevance to the context of the office culture. Many offices are just adopting the Google office structure liberally without realizing it may not be suitable for their office. Different people have different needs; thus, I feel office design isn’t a one size fits all. You need to look at the big scale to design an office.
If you were to describe the culture in Sennex in a few words, what would it be?
Fun is a definite. Also Focused? I’m not sure how to put it, kind of like everyone works hard in all that they are assigned to. Fast, too. The pace in Sennex is very fast, from designing to building.
Group dinners like these are common occasions
I noticed you are currently doing your final year project. Has this internship made an impact on how you approach it?
I kept the feedback from the internship project in mind when planning my final year project. It helps me to better understand the importance of concepts in a design. Previously concepts to me was just going on to Pinterest for inspiration and adapting that to the design, but now I realize the concept is crucial to tying the entire design and user together. The considerations in spatial planning was also very useful.
You chose social communal instead of office for your FYP. Why is that?
The experience at Sennex has given me insight to how workplace design is, and I would have more confidence in choosing that topic. However, I wanted to challenge myself and try new things, and social communal felt meaningful as it was to re-purpose the HDB void deck, which was something I felt very relevant to Singapore as an identity. Many things I had learned from Sennex such as space planning can be applied to my FYP. The collaboration element of workplace design was something that showed me how people can be brought together, and is something I plan to include in my design.
Do you plan to stay in the design industry in the future?
Quite likely, but we’ll never know. The design industry is known to be quite intensive. There are a lot of other things that I am interested in as well, such as social issues and psychology, and maybe starting my own business someday. I want to constantly try new things.
The interview concluded with a brief chat on his future plans, before he left to return to the studio to work on his FYP. We wish Alvin all the best in his studies, and his endeavors.
Sennex understands that a good office environment is crucial in shaping its people and allowing them to reach their full potential. The Design Directors believes every member of the team is imperative to a designing great work life experiences, starting from within and bringing that principle into every project undertaken.