Near bohemian boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and zippy electric scooters on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice, minutes from the Pacific Ocean, Graphic Design student Ricardo Imperial gives a tour of Vice Media’s West Coast office.
Imperial is in the thick of his four-month-long Spring 2018 design internship at the digital media and broadcasting giant, which includes Vice News, branded television cable channel Viceland, Vice magazine, health and wellness website Tonic and music brand Noisey. Inside the brick L.A. bureau—the company is headquartered in New York City—long rows of desks and computers fill an enormous open space.
“There’s always something new and different we get to work on here, from a website to a T-shirt design, and that’s a lot of fun,” says the Orange County-raised Imperial, wearing a casual white shirt and green beanie, and now sitting at an outdoor patio covered with petite succulent plants. “Interning is important. You’re in a working environment, and you get to know what to expect when you go out into the world.”
For ArtCenter students, internships are not only a way to gain skills and experience working within a professional setting—and get course credit towards their degree—they’re also important for facilitating connections that can lead to full-time jobs after graduating.
Interning is important. You’re in a working environment, and you get to know what to expect when you go out into the world.Ricardo Imperial
Each term, dozens of students across departments intern at companies such as Apple, Cartoon Network, Titmouse, Anthropologie, New Regency, Google (five ArtCenter students are interning there during the Summer 2018 term), Tesla, Volkswagen, Honda R&D Americas, Under Armour, Skechers, Johnson & Johnson and Fossil, in national and international locations including Southern California, Northern California, New York City, Seattle, Portland, Baltimore, Texas, Florida, Germany, China and Japan.
Recent alumni who landed full-time jobs at a company they interned for as students include Hena Hong (BFA 16 Illustration), a background designer at Nickelodeon Animation, and Tony Tarantino (BS 16 Transportation Design), a clay sculptor at Tesla.
“Internships offer multiple benefits for students, including strengthening their professional network and giving them work experience that can translate to a competitive advantage in the job market,” says Amanda Webb, director of ArtCenter’s Career and Professional Development. “Every internship experience is different, from film and automotive design to fine art and interaction design.”
Imperial started at ArtCenter in 2015, and was awarded departmental and institutional scholarships. His Graphic Design alumna friend and Vice graphic designer Dana Kim paved the way for his internship at Vice and calls him “a great, fun coworker.” Back at the office, he walks by a colossal wall of digital Vice covers glowing next to a break room with trays of fresh oranges and bananas. A dark screening room—his favorite place at Vice—is filled with plush black chairs.
Imperial balances his three-days-a-week internship with the intensive Graphic Design course Typography 5. His days at Vice start with a commute from Altadena, and a morning meeting on Mondays, when he’s given a brief on his projects for the week. On Fridays, the design team congregates in the screening room to discuss ideas and share work that inspires them—such as a behind-the-scenes video on a short film for Apple’s HomePod speaker featuring musician and dancer FKA Twigs. After work on Fridays, he goes to the beach, gets pizza and hangs out with friends.
Under the guidance of Kim and Vice L.A.’s design director Dersu Rhodes, he’s worked on projects ranging from conceptualizing a website for expecting millennial parents to designing merchandise for rapper Cam’ron. “It’s a huge company, so we’re working on short deadlines, which is a great challenge,” Imperial says. “Projects are sometimes due the same day they’re assigned.”
For alumna Mia Gamble (BS 2004 Product Design), ArtCenter is deeply enmeshed in her job as a design director in the performance footwear division at Skechers. Seven full-time staffers in her division graduated from ArtCenter, she says, and she spearheaded bringing in interns from ArtCenter—one student per term—starting in 2017. “As an alumna, it’s refreshing to have people come from where you came from,” she says by phone. “The level of aesthetics are higher, and the critique culture lives on.”
Her division’s office is in upscale Manhattan Beach, about 10 miles down the coast from Venice, and features windows that overlook the ocean. Bright sun, sky and sand are everywhere. For Skechers employees, many who swim and surf, there’s an array of inherent perks.
“We embrace the California lifestyle. We’re blocks from the beach,” says Gamble. Her division—technical in nature, and emphasizing function over fashion—includes shoes for running, golf and walking.
Interns work full-time five days a week, are compensated hourly and are treated like salaried employees. “Skechers is a really great company to work for, and an internship here is a rare opportunity in the footwear world,” she says.
“Our interns are immersed and mentored through the process, from conceptualizing a design to working with materials like leather, suedes, synthetics and knits,” she says. “What they work on has the high potential to go to market. The process is similar to ArtCenter. There’s a design brief, and then we sketch a concept, present work to a design team, refine it, then have a review.”
Recent alumnus Chris Yoon (BS 2018 Product) interned at Skechers in Summer 2017, and praises the experience. He did everything from helping design the outsole of golf shoes to designing more casual athleisure footwear.
“Mia’s an amazing person, and all the people I worked with at Skechers were so helpful,” says Yoon during his Spring 2018 Grad Show. “When I was done with the internship, 20 people from the studio wrote letters to me.”
When it comes to choosing interns, Gamble says personality and attitude is as much a deciding factor as an excellent skill set. “An eagerness to learn is nice, as is confidence in their own decisions,” she says. “But being overly confident is a turn-off. At Skechers, we’re about being a friendly team, a family.”
Recent alum Benson Rong (BFA 18 Advertising), a junior art director and designer at 72andSunny’s Brooklyn, New York office, interned at the advertising agency in Summer 2017—he finished ArtCenter courses by Skype—before landing a full-time position there this past January.
Rong—born in Shanghai and raised in suburban Diamond Bar, California—always knew he wanted to live in New York, so he made a point to apply to internships in the bustling city. 72andSunny’s location is in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo (short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), with sweeping views of Manhattan. Companies such as Etsy are based nearby.
“An internship was a great way to see if I would even like living in New York,” he says by phone from his apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, which he shares with his boyfriend and also ArtCenter alumna Niamh Grunfeld (BFA 16 Advertising), plus an energetic puppy heard barking in the background. “72andSunny’s office is the most beautiful office ever. Our walls are windows overlooking the East River.”
While an intern, Rong shared a two-bedroom apartment with his best friend and Graphic Design student Samantha Kim, who had moved to NYC to intern at advertising agency Droga5. “There’s such a stigma about how expensive NYC is. You obviously have to save, but you can make it work,” notes Rong. He worked 40-hour weeks, commuting by subway. He used that time on the rails to read, listen to podcasts and play a lot of Candy Crush—a switch from driving in Southern California. For fun, he and other interns would ride a nearby carousel or relax by the water. 72andSunny provides food for every meal.
Not only did he work on big national campaigns for clients such as Smirnoff as an intern, but he met his boyfriend, a writer, at the company. At 72andSunny, he works with clients including Smirnoff, with a second campaign for the brand launching in six cities, on taxi tops, billboards and more.
“My creative directors trusted me and didn’t baby me,” says Rong of his internship. “I love working with them, and they’re role models for me. I knew that if I worked hard enough, it would pay off, and it did. I was hired full-time.”
Rong says he also appreciates having interned, and now working, at a company that values representation.
“It’s almost 50-50 male and female employees. The industry is changing, and people are realizing how important diversity is,” says Rong. “Being here has made me grow more into myself and learn about myself.”