Monthly Archives: June 2013

Internships Should be a Learning Experience Not Free Labour

I recently wrote in this blog about my thoughts on education, stating that we ought to consider traditional apprenticeships as a way of giving the younger generation an opportunity to contribute to society in a meaningful way. I wanted to follow this up by commenting on the curse that is unpaid internships or work experience placements.

Despite unpaid internships being illegal in the UK the practice continues, and is endemic. Too often I hear from design graduates that agencies ask them to join them in an unpaid internship for several months. The carrot is that they may be offered a permanent position at the end. During the internship, the young person will work on projects and actually be a productive member of staff, contributing to the agency’s margins. Yes, the intern will gain invaluable experience, but where else do they have the chance to do so other than actually working on the job? I have certainly never heard of anybody ever coming out of university fully formed.

Too often, I also hear that young people are forced to undertake a number of unpaid internships in succession, all of them in an environment where they contribute to the income of the company. This seems, at the very least, excessive. Surely, at some point, the person will have the requisite experience for gainful employment and be worth payment for their work. Do employers not understand that young people need to eat, and pay rent in the same way as everyone else?

Unpaid internships and work experience are not only a curse within the design industry, but pervade right through our entire economy. It was not too long ago that reports of government agencies enforcing unpaid work schemes for jobseekers became public. Unpaid internships cause economic hardship, but more importantly, they undermine a person’s confidence in themselves and society as a whole.

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Cosimo, our newest intern, learning the basics.

At Dalton Maag we regularly have interns, but they are learning and not working for us. We have built a thorough training program, that gives the intern an insight into how a professional digital type foundry operates. The interns are rarely involved in the production process, simply because they do not have the requisite experience to contribute commercially. For this reason we assist our interns with their living and travel expenses during their stay with us, rather than paying them a wage. Occasionally, we come across a talented person who we feel can add value to our output. In those circumstances the intern will be paid a living wage for the work they carry out under our instruction.

I believe that unpaid internships are not unlike unpaid pitches. None of us running a design agency wants to pitch for free, and many of us simply refuse to do so. So why are young people expected to work as unpaid interns? Is that not a contradiction?

Bruno Maag

Gujarati Workshop

We arrived bright and early on Saturday morning for our first internal workshop, an introduction to Gujarati, taught by Kalapi, one of Dalton Maag’s font engineers. We were, in fact, the test subjects for the workshop he will be teaching at TypeCon this year (in Portland this August) and ATypI in Amsterdam.

Kalapi is a native speaker of Gujarati and researched and designed a typeface in that script during his master’s degree at the University of Reading. He agreed to share his knowledge with whoever in the company was interested in learning a bit about the script (and there were quite a few of us there, including designers, engineers and even the big boss, Bruno). Aside from Kalapi, none of us had any previous knowledge of the Gujarati script (although a few of the designers present had previous experience designing related Indic scripts).

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The team get down to work on the day

It turned out that no previous experience was necessary. The structure of the workshop allowed us to gain some familiarity with Gujarati letterforms, first by writing down glyphs, then watching a slideshow of wonderfully varied examples of Gujarati lettering, and by the end of the day we were all designing our own glyphs in different display styles.

In the morning we were introduced to Gujarati consonants and vowels. Using different type specimens as a reference, we started writing individual letters at first, and then our own names – some people ventured further and even started writing other words in Gujarati or English. We used slanted markers which, when held at the correct angle, allowed us to see and understand the distribution of weight in Gujarati text (it’s similar to many other Indic scripts, but the opposite of the Latin script). We were then assigned 3 glyphs that we would develop further in the afternoon.

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Practising with slanted markers

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Using type specimens to learn the principles of Gujarati letterforms

After lunch, Kalapi showed us a fantastic collection of pictures with an incredible amount of variation and styles for the Gujarati script. By then, we could recognise several of the glyphs in the pictures, and Kalapi helped us recognise different letters whenever they strayed too far from the more calligraphic and typographic models we had looked at in the morning. The slideshow was beautiful, fun and really inspiring. We learned that the Gujarati script is incredibly flexible and can be pushed quite far in terms of stylistic variation.

Finally, we went to our computers and started drawing our assigned glyphs. By the end of the day, when we looked at what everybody had done laid out in front of us, there was a wide array of different display styles on the table.

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Taking the glyphs onto the computer

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Rough sketches, playing with the Gujarati glyphs

All in all, it was a really fun and informative introduction to this beautiful script. It didn’t seem too difficult or daunting, and we left really inspired to learn and design more.

Luisa Baeta