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Secret Origins: college internship

2010 August 5

I have written, on various occasions, about my first years in graphic design as a student—and will doubtless write of them again—but what about my first work as a design professional?

It’s funny you should ask (not that you did), given that I just recently posted a few pages from The Cedar Rapids Gazette of 41 years past. Because 30 years after that edition was published, I was working at that very same Gazette in a fantastic summer internship.

The College of Design back at dear auld ISU basically required all of us design students to complete some sort of professional internship in order to graduate. And, to be honest, it’s probably a good thing that they did because I was pretty shy and otherwise might never have knocked on enough doors to get any professional experience as a student had I been able to wimp out of it.

I don’t honestly remember how I managed to arrange that internship; I probably just sent them a letter. It wasn’t the first time I had approached the Gazette looking for a job, actually, but for whatever reason they finally said “yes.”

I suppose that, for one thing, by the summer after my Junior year of college I actually knew some useful things, at last. And I had some very kind help from one of the designers working there.

My biggest break, however, was probably in the fact that their art department was about to lose a designer at the exact time I was looking for an internship. I must assume that the art director thought something along the lines of “well this is perfect; we can hire this kid for the summer to tide us over, save some money and have the luxury of taking our time to find a new permanent replacement.”

Which possibility did give me just the faintest feeling of being used, at the time, but honestly it was great good fortune. Indeed, while the internship went very well itself, it was after returning to school in the fall and comparing notes with classmates that I really appreciated my own experience; the stories about completely uncreative peon roles, some of them unpaid, made quite an impression.

My internship, comparatively, was fantastic. It wasn’t everything; a newspaper is something of a narrow, specialized product, so I didn’t get a lot of preparation for typical entry-level design jobs. But no internship is ever going to offer everything. Mine, at least, was fun, exciting and educational. It felt worthwhile; for the first time in my life I got to produce individual creative contributions to something “real,” and get paid for it. People were great.

In many ways, it was really the best “real job” I ever had in my entire life.

But, that’s enough with the misty-eyed reminiscences for a while, I suppose. What did I actually do while I worked for The Gazette? Well, as noted, I was basically taking up the role of one of the full-time staff, so I pretty much got to do everything! But at this point I might as well just show you. Because yes, of course, I still have many of those projects, and allowing for the fact that I was still just 20 years old when I designed some of them, I’m not even too ashamed for other people to see them. So here goes:

Mosquitoes and flooding infographic

This one is possibly even useful, if you're making outdoor plans

Illustration for slow internet connections

This was an illustration for a story about crappy, slow internet connections. Remember 56k?

"Brain Freeze" custom logotype thing

This was for a story about ice cream headaches. (It was summer, and even with floods, there were indeed some "slow news days.")

Feature section cover about exhibit of Linda McCartney's photography

A feature section cover about an exhibit of Linda McCartney's photography

This last is a feature section cover; I got to design a lot of these and poured my efforts into them. While the Gazette didn’t let the designers go too crazy with these, they were still relatively blank canvases. I did a lot of custom lettering in those days, like in this one; that’s something which certainly didn’t last long once I got into the “real world.”

And for all the effort that I put into these covers, I must confess that looking back now, they’re really not that good. This was the best one I could come up with; it’s at least not awful. I held out against some reluctance on placing Linda’s photo into the “0” in “60s,” and that at least still feels like a defensible notion, to me.

Anyway. One final amusing note: if one clicks on that cover to see the larger version and reads the photo captions, one will find that the images were provided by, and featured in a traveling exhibit created for, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In, yes, Cleveland Ohio.

It’s a strange world.

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