The urge to support young people attempting to make their way into the design industry might seem so obvious as to be regarded as an instinctive act, borne of the fact we all had to start somewhere. Internships are a given today, yet as a graduate of one of the first design degree courses to offer industry placements as part of the curriculum, I can vouch for the fact that this wasn’t always the case. My year ‘in industry’ taught me as much about what I didn’t want to do as what I did, and certainly made me focus on my final year at college. It was one of the best things about my course, but was a rarity at the time.
Today such placements are far more usual, whether self- or university-organised. Discussion around the subject has come to be about whether students and graduates should or shouldn’t be paid for the pleasure of gaining that first foothold in the supposedly genteel world of design (as far as I remember I was paid by all three employers during my year).
This was brought to a head recently by D&AD chair Dick Powell’s speech at the New Designers graduate exhibition. Powell appeared to suggest that young designers should be ready to work for nothing, a stance since clarified but only after the damaging headlines had clogged up the design blogs.
One recent graduate has chosen to meet this subject head-on, launching a new magazine titled, simply, Intern. Manchester-based Alec Dudson decided to do so after experiencing a seven-month unpaid internship at Boat magazine in London. Add in the fact that Dudson financed his time at Boat by fitting in multiple bar shifts at a local pub, you’d be excused for jumping to the conclusion that his magazine will be an angry response to his time there.
The reality could hardly be further from the truth, and highlights the complexities of the situation in which interns can find themselves. “Davey and Erin [Boat’s founders] afforded me a great level of creative freedom, and I gained such a close insight into the day-to-day operations around making a magazine that I got to love the whole process,” Dudson explains. “It was definitely a worthwhile experience, but at the end there was no job and no other magazine looking to pick me up.” He left Boat realising he had to make his own future, deciding to publish his own magazine in response to the predicament he found himself in. What makes this even more remarkable is that he graduated in sociology, not design.
Intelligent and driven, Dudson has quickly developed a love of magazines and a strong understanding of their strengths. On a personal level he believes unpaid internships should be phased out, but doesn’t want Intern to present such a singular view. “The main point of the magazine is to push the debate forward. The mechanics behind internships are quite hidden. I just want to bring the subject out of the darkness and have the debate.”
To facilitate that debate, Intern will mix showcases of student work with more serious written content, the magazine working on several levels at once rather than just ramming the issues down readers’ throats. “Drip feeding the subject” is a favourite phrase of Dudson’s. Following a tabloid-style pilot issue and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the first proper edition is due in October. “It’s been delayed slightly following the huge response to the fundraising campaign. I have to match, if not exceed, people’s expectations,” he says, adding that he is paying his contributors.
Another magazine that works to help young creative graduates is Shellsuit Zombie, set up alongside a website and an events series in 2010. Co-founder Jonny Burch describes the project as “the antithesis of the existing design press”, who he regards as not supporting young graduates properly. Shellsuit is a more abstract publication, with editorial control handed to graduates and the output being as much about the process of making the magazine as about the content itself.
To avoid the magazine becoming the very establishment it seeks to challenge, it regularly changes its editorial team. Earlier this year they appealed for new blood and ended up with a list of 30 contributors, of whom about half are actively developing the previously annual magazine into a quarterly. Less about campaigning and more about showcasing work, the magazine will help its young team find its feet in the creative industry. Burch admires Intern’s intent. “I wish we’d done it,” he says.
While Shellsuit Zombie is busy reinventing itself after three years, YCN has just published a new magazine that seals a subtle repositioning after 12 years. First launched in 2001 as the Young Creative Network with the aim of supporting graduates, YCN has expanded into a membership-based network for new graduates and younger professionals alike – you might say it is maturing with its audience. The new publication is a smartly-produced piece of print, as you’d expect from art director Matt Willey, that matches YCN founder Nick Defty’s ambition and bears the name YouCanNow, a revised extrapolation of the YCN acronym.
All three magazines are at very different stages of their development, but Shellsuit Zombie and YouCanNow have already set out in their respective directions. It’ll be fascinating to see whether Intern manages to become a focus for the internship debate and so finds its place in the mix. 1