“The reality is different when they enter the industry.” How Singapore’s Fable approach internships
The design studios we speak to, as well as the wider design community, are always eager and proactive to give back to younger generations. The most likely and common form of this is through internships – even a global lockdown didn’t hold studios back! From remote work to in-studio immersion, studio leaders are considerate about curating the most beneficial experience for both the intern and the team itself.
Sharing his thoughts and feelings about industry internships, alongside their own processes for pay, projects and personality-matching, is Fable’s Jiahui Tan. Internships, he believes, “allow structured growth on a real playing field, which in my opinion is crucial to the advancement of an aspiring creative.”
Located in Singapore, award-winning design consultancy Fable maintain excellent ties with design schools, giving students a chance to reach out for potential placements. And when it comes to accepting prospective interns, “we have always made it a point not to look at the grades of the applicants,” Tan explains. “Instead, we shortlist them based on suitability of skillsets.” Being a small team, personal compatibility is vital, so applicants are invited to an in-person interview to gauge their personality. This gives Tan the opportunity to explain the structure further, being “very clear that interns do work closely with everyone” for their client projects.
Some get the hang of it faster while some take longer, which is understandable.
For the lucky interns, placements typically last three-four months – longer if they would like to extend their stay. “At the start, it usually takes a few weeks on average for the intern to get up to speed with the company’s processes, workflow and projects,” Tan reveals. It’s something he doesn’t ever pressurise students for. “Some get the hang of it faster while some take longer, which is understandable,” he adds.
Whilst they do not face clients directly, Fable hope to expose interns as much as they can to actual commercial work during their stint in the studio. For as authentic and educational an experience as possible, “we also put emphasis on letting them dip their toes on a plethora of projects across industries,” Tan reveals. “From smaller scale ones where they work directly with the Creative Director (me) daily so that they gain as much experience as possible, to larger-scale projects with more people and longer runway which sometimes require different mindsets and skillsets.”
All of these experiences, including the studio atmosphere itself, are the best way to see how the ‘real world’ works, according to Tan. “We usually hear about the ‘top students’ and scholars ‘slaying’ their coursework but the reality is different when they enter the industry,” he says. “Things are real, repercussions can be huge, grades do not matter at all.” That being said, Fable promises a supportive environment – providing weekly and fortnightly check-ins and informal lunchtime chats to provide feedback both ways.
Being a professional workspace, there is an expectation that all workers – interns included – behave in an appropriate manner. When asked about the potential challenges of running internships, Tan emphasises the importance of good character and humility. “We have encountered ‘divas’ before who only want to work on the snazziest projects but are actually quite weak with their design basics,” he reveals. “We all want to score a Hollywood free kick like David Beckham to raise the roof, but before that, we should learn how to do a simple pass.”
If you think you are good, there’s always somebody else who’s better.
With a clear creed and overall no-gossip/no-bullshit policy – instead preaching on introspection and teamwork – Tan is a firm believer in character over talent. “There is a saying in Chinese – ‘one mountain is higher than another mountain.’ Meaning: if you think you are good, there’s always somebody else who’s better.”
In addition to unpaid internships, Fable are strictly against graduate internships. “If the person has already graduated, they should be hired as a junior – probation is okay to determine fit,” he explains. “Why do people hire graduates as interns? To save costs?” Believing in fair pay, in line with economic changes, the Singaporeans adjust their internship salaries year-on-year to mirror global inflation. “Unless they buy a luxury bag every month,” Tan notes, “it definitely more than covers their expenses. Clients are still negotiating downwards though!”