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Creating Work Placements that Challenge and Inspire Young Designers

Last year, I had the pleasure of running a design workshop for The Fernwood School as part of their “Design Day”, an initiative where various industry experts are invited to share skills and highlight career paths thereby encouraging pupils to take up design and technology subjects.

One of the stand-out students was Charlotte Bellamy. She embraced the creative spirit of the day, producing incredibly detailed hand-drawn designs that captured her team’s ideas. So, when she reached out for a work experience placement at JH, we immediately said yes.

We want anyone who works at JH to have the very best experience. But good experiences don’t happen by accident, they have to be carefully designed. So we took a few steps to ensure Charlotte’s week was welcoming and rewarding.

More work and more experience

The cornerstone of Charlotte’s time at JH was her placement plan. This document included important office information and a breakdown of the week. Beforehand, it meant we could set clear expectations and reduce any anxiety. During the week, it meant everyone knew their roles.

You can view Charlotte’s plan here and use this template to plan your own work experience.

Everyone on the design team contributed to the plan, suggesting projects and volunteering their support. This allowed us to come up with a mixture of real design tasks, using professional tools, that offered a genuine challenge. We also looked for opportunities to overlap with other teams to broaden her perspective of life and careers in a digital agency.

Over five days, Charlotte attended design meetings, produced graphics for DXN, reviewed the UX of several websites, redesigned a landing page using Sketch, presented her work to the team, and tackled some responsive web design.

We regularly checked-in with Charlotte, offering constructive feedback on her work, and providing deeper context by explaining our approach to design. Such coaching is just one example of how work experience offers learning opportunities for staff as well as the student.

Charlotte’s view of the week

We finished the week by conducting a short Q&A with Charlotte about her experience. This was an opportunity to gather feedback and provide some time for reflection — one more important exercise for a budding designer to learn about. Here are some of her responses:

Q. What has it been like to spend a week at JH?

“It’s been a great experience. The work was well organised in advance so I knew what to expect. I was given clear instructions each day for my next task, and then got a lot of feedback and advice on the work I produced. It’s a relaxed environment where I could just get on with the job.”

Q. What is your top highlight of the week?

“Getting to know what it’s actually like to work in web design. There was a lot of iteration to get designs right, by trying different things and getting advice. The site review task needed a lot of notes and planning, which showed that work here is not just about sitting at a computer.”

Q. What has been the most important thing you’ve learned?

“How to use other programs that I wasn’t aware of or haven’t had the chance to use. For example, I used Sketch for a redesign task instead of Photoshop. I had a quick tour from one of the designers and then had to experiment with the different tools. It shows that there’s different software for different types of work, and provides a taste of what gets used in the real world.”

Q. Has anything surprised you about working as a designer?

“I thought everyone would be doing their own separate thing, but instead they were helping each other. I got feedback each day from other designers about the work I had produced and how to improve it.”

Q. What next steps are you thinking about after school?

“I’m currently taking computer science and music technology as my options; both of these let me be creative. I’m interested in studying these in further education. So far I have looked at Confetti which offers creative and technical courses, but I’m considering other colleges too.”

Q. What do you like about design and technology?

“It’s creative. You get to use your imagination and ideas to solve problems and reach goals instead of just being told how to do it. Finding ways to work around restrictions is rewarding.”

Q. Do you have any advice for students who are considering placements?

“Apply early if you want to get a good placement. If you know somewhere that might be interesting, send them an email and see if they can take you for a week.”


Charlotte’s graphics for DXN on display at the February event
Charlotte included a mobile layout in her redesign of the Nottingham College homepage
A snapshot of Charlotte’s notes from a UX review exercise
A small welcome pack for Charlotte on her first day