At the start of October we took on a team graduate interns for a three month period to "design a product that turned an active digital behaviour into a passive one". Their internship finished today, so this is the story of the project, an introduction to what they created, and the lessons Clearleft learned along the way.
We’ve been running a paid internship programme at Clearleft for the last 5 years, helping a range of early-to-mid career practitioners experience what’s it’s like to work as part of an experienced, functioning team. Unlike most traditional internship programmes that take recent graduates, our interns have usually been working in industry for 3-5 years. This has allowed us to test their skills on internal projects, before letting them help out with a client project (un-billed of course).
This has worked well for our interns over the years, with several of them staying on as freelancers or in full time roles, and others moving on to jobs with companies like Frog Design and Google. However, the process always felt somewhat like we were indoctrinating people into the Clearleft way, rather than us learning from them as well.
So this year we decided to try a different approach by scouring the end of year degree shows for hot new talent. We found them not in the interaction courses as we’d expected, but from the worlds of Product Design, Digital Design and Robotics. We assembled a team of three interns , with a range of complementary skills, gave them a space on the mezzanine floor of our new building, and set them a high level brief to create a product that turned an active digital behaviour into a passive one.
We structured the project so that our interns would present a show-and-tell every Thursday afternoon. This would vary from informal huddles around one of their post-up boards, through to formal presentations and requests for feedback. In the gaps between sessions, we’d constantly pop up to see how they were getting on, while making it clear that we were always available for a chat. Placing them next to the kitchen area really helped as folks were always wandering over for a chat to see what the team were up to.
As well as this ad-hoc mentoring, we also asked a range of local experts to pop in for a few hours at a time at strategic points along the process, to provide their thoughts and feedback. In fact some of these discussions proved so productive, that one of our interns may have got their next project out of such a meeting.
The Interns’ first month was spent interpreting the brief, researching user behaviour and coming up with a range of ideas, which they whittled down to 12, then 7 and finally 5 potential candidates. They tackled the idea creation process by setting themselves a goal to develop 20 ideas a day, every day for a week.
This technique is akin to one taught in design schools where students are asked to create a hundred designs for a particular object, usually a chair. The first twenty or thirty ideas are usually fairly pedestrian, but once the obvious solutions have been expended, the students are forced to stretch their thinking and explore the meaning of what the object really is. At the time we were working on a big ideation project, which we were trying to crack using the power of our intellect alone. However watching our interns tackle a similar project in a completely different way really inspired us and will no doubt influence the way we tackle similar problems in the future.
Another thing that inspired us about our interns was their fluency in animation and 3D modelling. This was especially noticeable when pitching their ideas to the team. In fact we thought their animated product demos were so convincing we immediately started working animations into our client presentations.
The idea our interns settled on was a smart speaker that would change its playlist based on the musical interests of the people in the room. So rather than fighting for control over the music, you’d simply tap in using NFC or iBeacon and it would update the playlist based on your tastes. It’s worth noting that this project was heavily self-directed, so while we provided our thoughts and input, the interns had ultimate control over what they wanted to create.
As the product started to take shape, the project space morphed from a wall of sketches to a table strewn with electrical components. This was the manifestation of another one of our goals—a desire to get more involved with physical interaction design and hardware prototyping. This is something a few of us have dabbled with at home before, but by putting it in full view of the company we hoped to stimulate interest and give permission to explore the area some more. The fact that five of our Hack Farm projects ended up with a physical component is hopefully a testament to the success of this plan.
The last few weeks have been a blur of activity, with hardware being assembled, product photos and animations being produced, and a support site showcasing the final product being developed. It’s been great watching the team come together and I feel we’ve learnt as much from them as they have from us.
If you’d like to partake in our 2014 internship programme, we start recruiting this spring so please get in touch .