Dahlia Ishak gives us some great insight to the pro’s and con’s on internships and some great lessons learnt along the way! She goes on to tell us the importance of networking in a new city and what she would like to do with her next creative space!
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?
I hopped around a lot. When I first discovered that design was something I could study I was already enrolled in Bachelor in Science/Health & Nutrition course. I’m from a small town and I just wasn’t aware that design was something that could be studied, or really what the industry even was.
I found it by accident when visiting a friend who was enrolled in Industrial Design. I fell in love with the department immediately. It clicked that all my teen and childhood years collecting labels in scrapbooks, spending hours in bookshops looking at covers, creating mastheads on all my class notes and filling boxes of shopping bags because of the cool print finishes – all those interests, they could be a job! A spark was ignited and I was eager to jump in straight away. To be able to switch out immediately and not lose a full year I went to a community college that was accepting mid-year enrolments. It was the best decision I ever made.
Following my college diploma I still wanted to complete Uni so I decided to get a degree at a highly competitive Design Program. I wanted to challenge myself and refine my learning. I spent a few years in the York/Sheridan Design program, then wanted to live in Toronto so transferred to OCAD and finally, got restless again, and travelled to Brisbane Australia to complete my Graphic Design Degree at QCA.
All these different education experiences contributed to my learning in different ways and I’m grateful that I got to try different models. These varied experiences have really shaped a passion I hold for design education and how to make it as useful and rewarding for the students and industry as possible. I had the privilege of teaching design part-time and it’s very much something I want to continue throughout my career.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.
At the moment I work as freelance graphic designer, but I’ve got some personal ventures in the works. I was the owner of a shared studio space that was also a coffee shop and am excited to bring this mix back into my life. I’ve just moved across the world to Hamilton, Ontario in hopes of finding a great empty building to use like a giant slab of clay and mould it into the head-quarters for all my future projects – a studio/cafe/event/retail/educational super-space!
What does a typical working day include for you right now?
Being completely new to a new city, it’s important for me to meet people in my industry – so at the moment a work day for me is a split between doing work and meeting people. I find that I do my best work when I’m in contact with people who are equally passionate about our field. For me, meeting people within the industry is an important factor in getting my creative energy levels buzzing and pushing my drive and focus into super gear. I really feed off others and find that I learn more from talking to people, hearing their stories and experiences – which I bring back into my life in many ways.
It’s hard to have the same effect (for me) by only being in contact online. I think that the industry on a whole is very supportive and enthusiastic when it comes to making genuine connections.
Toronto and Hamilton have been very welcoming and I’m excited to be here. It’s nice to have outlets and work friends to nerd out with, so I can come back to my work fully fuelled, and more so, return to my family without having to bore them to death with shop talk!
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why? It changes all the time. At this exact moment:
1. Blog/website: My eyes are currently glued to Hey There Created by Ian Clarke. It’s a website dedicated to showcasing the best in Canadian creative talent. For me, because I’m new to the country it’s extremely valuable to see what’s happening.
2. Podcasts: Australian Design Radio A podcast to provide conversations and commentary on Australian Design. Hosted by Flyn Tracy and Matt Leach. Lengthy in-depth conversations you can get lost in as you work. Relaxed, enjoyable conversational style which makes me feel like I’m listening to the greats chatting a few desks over in my studio!
3. Book: I’m about to start reading The Business of Graphic Design: The RGD Professional Handbook. I’ve been pretty obsessed with incorporating business knowledge and skills into my design practice and try to read and learn as much as possible on this topic. I’m working on news ways to share this information with others as I think it’s integral in keeping our work sustainable and also creating better value and mutually beneficial relationships with our clients.
Whats your take on internships?
I think when done with integrity and the right motives, from both sides, internships are incredible valuable. I did a number of internships at wonderful studios while I was studying and they were an integral part of my development. They gave me invaluable insights into how real studios operate. Internships done properly give students and graduates a real world understanding of what to expect once graduated. Things that simply can’t be learned in the classroom like – what types of roles exist within different types of agencies and studios, how different places work differently, how to adapt, where their skills best match, how to handle themselves in stressful situations, how to work within teams, how to handle harsh criticisms, the realities of tight deadlines, seeing work files and naming systems, really just an endless amount of practical learning that comes with doing any job for the first time. For the employer, hiring students (or any new employer) is always an expensive and risky endeavour. They have to invest a lot of time and resources into training them, getting them into the rhythm of the studio. Internships can allow relationships to form without this pressure so that when positions open there’s more confidence (on both sides) when hiring. Unfortunately many places take advantage of students, and equally many students come in and waste employers’ time, so overall they’ve got a bad rap. I believe that nobody should ever stop learning, and internships done well allow both sides to learn from each other. I’m all for the good ones.
Quick tips for student intern – make sure the parameters of the internships are communicated clearly (duration, what happens at the end, what is expected of you, what you’re gaining for your time (especially if not getting paid) – designated time with a mentor? feedback on work? participation in a live project you can put in a folio? Reference letter? – it can be anything, just try and make sure you’re making the most of your time there and getting compensated in a way that is most valuable for you). Don’t allow places to exploit your services, but also pay respect when the right place takes you in. (The same goes for your first job). Work hard, keep your eyes open, learn and absorb as much as possible – and most important – have fun. Enjoy this time of discovery. It’s the best.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. Make nice. Connect with people in a genuine way. You’re all working in the same kool-aid pool and friends make it way more fun.
2. Be patient. Incredibly difficult, but if you keep working at something it’s almost impossible to not move forward in some way.
3. Stay adventurous. Stay strong. Always be open to trying new things and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Overcoming a challenge, nerves or adversity is an incredibly rewarding and powerful experience that will radiate through to every aspect of your life.
4. Keep learning. Never stop seeking knowledge. Learn something completely new, or dig away and excel at something familiar.
5. Stay open. Set goals, but be flexible. Keep your eyes open. Watch things, reads things, be informed and ready. Be open to changing tides and unexpected opportunities. If something doesn’t work one way, trust that your instinct will pave a better route to get there.