Intern with Purpose: 6 Stories

Ritik Dholakia
12 min readJan 10, 2019
Studio Rodrigo 2017 Summer Retreat

This post is for students and recent grads who want to start careers in digital product and UX design. Also, if you like how we work, we’d love to see your portfolio. Check out our site and send us a note.

A few years ago we put together a post for students looking to start digital design careers to help you think about some key questions:

Do you want to be in a big company or a smaller studio environment?

Is an agency model or a start-up a better fit?

Should you only consider full-time or are paid internships worthwhile?

That post is still worth a read as are some great posts by Sebastian Speier on how apply and interview for the job you want.

Studio Rodrigo: 6 Interns, 6 Stories
We wanted to share some stories from recent interns, as well as a few awesome former interns who we are proud to watch progress as designers in new teams.

Connie Chu

Where were you at school and what were your goals before you applied to Studio Rodrigo?
I was studying Communication Design at Parsons School of Design. Before applying, I wanted to have more concrete experience in digital design.

In school I had worked on a lot of print-based projects, and there weren’t that many opportunities or classes within school to learn about digital design. I also wanted to try something different than the previous internships that focused on branding and making print collateral.

How did you find out about Studio Rodrigo?
I found out through a website that lists creative internships, but before that I hadn’t heard of the studio.

Tell us about your time at Studio Rodrigo. What did you do? What were the highlights? What would you have wanted to do differently?
During the internship, I worked on the redesign of Adobe Typekit as well as the branding and website design for a financial startup called Preferred Return.

I liked that I was able to work on projects that were of two different scales and in two different fields (large, established computer software company vs. a financial startup). Each project had their own objectives to address, and it was interesting to be part of the design process for each! I also really enjoyed being able to take part in client meetings, because I find it so valuable to hear feedback straight from the people we were working with. Overall, I was able to make contributions to the designs, and it did not feel like I made something just for the sake of making it but rather as a valued part of the team.

Working at Rodrigo was so enjoyable simply because of how welcoming people were, and how easily I was able to jump into a project and start contributing right away. It was also really fun going on various outings with the studio, from visiting museums and galleries, to places like Coney Island. I got to know the others not just as designers and other professionals, but truly as people too. Everyone in the studio is open and very willing to help you if you need it, so I would’ve liked to been less afraid of asking questions during my time as an intern!

What are you doing now?
Currently I’m still at Studio Rodrigo but as a full time designer (although really it doesn’t feel too different from when I was an intern). Since then, I’ve been able to jump into various projects and work with other people within the studio. Right now I’m working on a project for NBC to re-organize and create an updated website design. I love working on projects for various clients and thinking about the unique problems each project brings, and overall just being around the people at Studio Rodrigo every day.

Ben Averill

Where were you at school and what were your goals before you applied to Studio Rodrigo?
I attended Tufts University where my undergrad trajectory ricocheted from biology to computer science to environmental studies, eventually landing on music and audio engineering.

Along the way, I took a few courses in human factors engineering that got me more interested in problem solving through design. I didn’t have a gig lined up by the time I graduated, but I realized I had enough material from classes, a couple design-adjacent internships, and one-off projects I did in my free time to put together a portfolio.

How did you find out about Studio Rodrigo?
I first found out about Studio Rodrigo seeing one of their past projects out in the wild on the internet. I was quickly listening my way through every episode of the podcast S-Town at the end of my senior year of college and saw Rodrigo in the credits on the about page. I loved their work on the site and I was excited to learn more about the people who made it.

I’ll skip some of the details, but flash forward to July and I found myself hanging out with some Rodrigo people at Design Drinks (an open event we host every so often). I was really excited that they went out of their way to create a space for members of the design community to get together outside of work and meet new people.

Tell us about your time at Studio Rodrigo. What did you do? What were the highlights? What would you have wanted to do differently?
As an intern, I got to work on a lot of different projects right from the get go. I created user flows and supported new features for Xfinity, helped prepare images of some classy furniture for the Dmitriy & Co e-commerce site, created digital ad units for a TurboVote test encouraging voter registration, designed patches for Radiotopia, and even got to throw in a visual direction for the redesign of the NYU Tandon Future Labs site.

I’m still working on this, but looking back I wish I had asked more questions from the beginning. As someone who never took foundational design courses in college (gasp), there were a lot of things I felt a little behind on when I started here. However, everyone at Rodrigo is ridiculously good at what they do and more importantly they’re happy to share their tips, tricks, and processes to help you learn and grow as a designer. Bonus: we’re all really into karaoke.

What are you doing now?
I’ve been at Rodrigo for almost a year and a half now. This summer I wrapped up work on the Serial Season 3 website with Rodrigo, which was honestly a dream project given that I found Rodrigo through another podcast. Outside of Rodrigo, I’m currently trying to learn more creative computation, start work on a zine, and get back into making music.

Morgan Smith

Where were you at school and what were your goals before you applied to Studio Rodrigo?
The school I attend is the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, MD.

At the time I was a junior before applying to Studio Rodrigo. I was in a place where I wanted to explore everything my curriculum had to offer, and that included UI/UX.

My goals before applying to Studio Rodrigo was to practice as much product design as possible within my school projects and to get away from Baltimore and my home (Chicago) for a summer. I also wanted to become apart of a design studio for the first time, since that’s something I haven’t been a part of and wanted to be familiar with post graduation.

How did you find out about Studio Rodrigo?
I found about Studio Rodrigo through my professor and friend Hieu Tran. He was a previous employee and intern at Studio Rodrigo and gave me notice when Rodrigo was looking for interns. I thought this would be great to apply for since I was new to product design and wanted real-world design experience. Also, Rodrigo attended the MICA Career Fair, so it was perfect!

Tell us about your time at Studio Rodrigo. What did you do? What were the highlights? What would you have wanted to do differently?
My time at Rodrigo was a great experience. There was a lot of variety within the projects, which is something I didn’t expect — I expected the work to be strictly focused on product design. I worked on three projects while I was there, one product design project and two graphic/print based projects. The highlights of my time at Rodrigo was not only the work but the community and atmosphere they’ve created over time. Everyone at Rodrigo is great and welcoming, and I appreciated all the events that were created outside of work (museum visits, a trip to Coney Island, Dimsum, etc). The team is a big part of why I enjoy New York so much!

What are you doing now?
I’m currently a Senior design student at MICA, focusing on my thesis topic, and too busy looking at apartments and cat videos on the Internet.

Lian Fumerton-Liu

Where were you at school and what were your goals before you applied to Studio Rodrigo?
I went to Yale university and got a BA in Visual Art.

Since I didn’t get the traditional “art school” training as an undergraduate , I felt I needed to catch in comparison some of my peer designers and find somewhere I could really learn useful and technical skills. I also wanted to be in a city like New York City where design and opportunities in the creative industry were so abundant.

How did you find out about Studio Rodrigo?
Through an internship posting online while looking for design positions in New York City

Tell us about your time at Studio Rodrigo. What did you do? What were the highlights? What would you have wanted to do differently?
During my internship, I was lucky enough to help brand the Kickstarter Film Festival, produce promotional materials for a revolutionary art startup, and work in depth on digital design systems for Xfinity and Comcast. I really loved collaborating on diverse projects with different designers in the studio because not only did I get to know them as people, but I learned a lot from their working process and experience in the field. The internship was especially great because I never felt treated like a temporary addition. From day one, although I was technically an intern, I was treated like a full time employee with just as much respect and importance as anyone else.

What are you doing now?
I am currently the Visual Brand Designer at Care/of, a heath and wellness startup in New York City, where I work across all types of design (including digital, product, print, packaging, marketing, and social design) and am helping to shape the visual system and brand as the company evolves.

Hieu Tran

Where were you at school and what were your goals before you applied to Studio Rodrigo?
Before applying to Studio Rodrigo, I had just snatched my M.F.A. in Graphic Design and completed my one-year Teaching Fellowship at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

I originally started out doing design only for print — telling myself that I would never ever touch “web design” or attempt to do “user experience.” Haha! But never say never.

After graduating and having the chance to intern at a start-up, I realized that if I wanted to become a better designer, I need to stop being afraid of the web. It took me a while, but I finally got there the moment I learned how to use Sketch — YAAAS! My goals coming to Studio Rodrigo were to be a part of a smaller studio (previously I only interned at bigger companies) and to have the opportunity to work on more product/web related projects (because that is what I was lacking).

How did you find out about Studio Rodrigo?
One of my good friends that I went to school with interned and is now working full-time at the studio passed my name along. And that is how I sneaked through the door ;).

Tell us about your time at Studio Rodrigo. What did you do? What were the highlights? What would you have wanted to do differently?
OMG, feels like I could write a whole damn novel — but I won’t. On my very first day, I was greeted with a table full of swags and instant ramen — so I knew this was going to be one hell of a fun ride. One of the things I love most about Rodrigo is that I never felt like I was being treated as an intern — more like I was part of a team. I was fortunate enough to join the studio at the very beginning of a new project, where the clients came in and gave us a pitch about their new lifestyle product — deodorant for the modern man. Along with another designer, I got to work on everything from writing up competitive analysis to making wireframes to designing visual directions to creating prototypes and to even collaborating with developers. It was fun. It was exciting. It was amazing.

Sometimes work did not feel like work at Rodrigo. Why? Because everyone was so chill — and dare I say we barely had any crazy deadlines. We would have these occasional team lunches, happy hours, game nights and after-work karaokes. The co-founders really did a good job of creating a work environment and culture where we do seriously, but fun work. One of the things I am most grateful for at Rodrigo is how much they let me be myself. I could run around, scream, be silly, have a late lunch, and pretty much do whatever the hell I want — of course, as long as I get my work done at the end of the day. Oh, and that summer retreat was great! I did my first beer-shotgun and it was a mess.

Honestly, I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. Maybe I could have been louder — but that’s about it. I definitely walked away from Rodrigo gaining everything I wanted and so much more.

What are you doing now?
I am currently working at an early-stage start-up, called OpenSpace, as their first in-house product/brand designer. Ironically enough, my CEO is BFF with one of the co-founders of Studio Rodrigo (this is actually how I first got introduced). It’s funny to note that OpenSpace was a client to Rodrigo, and by me being at OpenSpace — I somehow feel like I am still being connected to Rodrigo by the weird dark magic of the universe. :)

Erin Woo

Where were you at school and what were your goals before you applied to Studio Rodrigo?
I had just graduated from art school and was looking to work in digital, at an agency, and in New York. Most of my portfolio was print-based so I knew I wanted to work with people who could really mentor and shape my digital design skills.

How did you find out about Studio Rodrigo?
An email from my career advisor who had no clue what Studio Rodrigo was. 🤣

Tell us about your time at Studio Rodrigo. What did you do? What were the highlights? What would you have wanted to do differently?
After being an intern/freelancer for a few months, I was a full-time designer for about 4 years. A big highlight was working on so many kinds of projects for such a diverse range of clients. Whether it was big companies like Comcast and ABC News or smaller ones like Serial or Jetty, I learned to comfortably do so many different things: mocking up wireframes, creating new visual design systems, pitching product concepts, and more. Even as an intern, I never felt like I was particularly junior to everyone else; I was encouraged to just dive in and be an active participant in every conversation.

If I had to change anything, I’d tell the younger version of me to not overanalyze every decision I made. A valuable lesson I learned from Khoi and Ritik was to get an idea out and to never overwork it. Eventually, I started to treat my designs a little less preciously and it made me more confident in executing work that I was proud of.

Other highlights: amazing swag, even better people, friend tattoos, and a culture that cares about the team’s happiness and giving back to the community.

What are you doing now?
I’m a product designer at Microsoft on the Outlook Mobile team, but Rodrigo will always be family. I sometimes consult for small startups, though I suppose these days I’d rather spend time with my dog.

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