Interning during the pandemic

From conducting research to generating formative design, interns gain access to all walks of life at Foolproof.

Someone tossing a mortarboard into the air.

On January 1st 2020, I was celebrating New Years in a pub full of people.

I was in my third year of studying BSc User Experience Design at Norwich University of the Arts and was about to start my final major project.

7 months later, and with a pandemic in full swing, I had completed my studies during a nationwide lockdown, received a First-Class Honours degree, and secured a place on an internship scheme. All of this from the comfort of my own bedroom; 2020 was unpredictable…

My first few weeks at Foolproof

My first day soon came around and even with most of my inductions being remote, I was welcomed with open arms. We weren’t meeting in physical rooms, but real relationships were forming. 

When I started, the Norwich Office was open on a desk-booking basis. Half of the desks were blocked off to encourage social distancing and Foolproofers had to book a desk to go into the office. I liked this idea, so I spent my first few weeks going into the office every day. The Covid-safe office was a comfortable place to settle into.

Joining in a predominantly remote-working age, physical social events and rituals have been restricted. However, virtual hang-out spaces like Cake Friday, Cuppa Tuesday, and regular team meetings serve as good opportunities to catch up with colleagues. Team building and nurturing a sense of community is always promoted at Foolproof, in and out of the conventional office space.

The most exciting part of my onboarding experience was being put straight onto a project. I was in kick-off meetings on day two, and by week three I was note-taking for 12x one-hour in-depth interviews. I was off to a thrilling start!

Getting started with remote research

For my first four-week project, I assisted Adam with remote user research for a financial services company. I had conducted different types of user research before at University, but never remotely.

To make things more interesting, we were unable to see the content on the users’ screens during research due to the nature of the service being tested and privacy laws. We relied on asking participants to talk to us, out loud. This project was a fun blend of excitement and intrigue because of its technical and logistical constraints.

The project was in equal parts exhausting and rewarding. I got to experience the fast-paced run-up to research sessions, as well as the intensely focussed sessions themselves. The process taught me the importance of organising and tailoring research sessions to a particular audience and situation, to gain access to important insight from participants.

Designing a cashless charity donation experience

As a six-week side project, I worked closely with two other interns from NUA’s internship scheme, who were based at Thyngs. Thyngs specialise in integrating contactless technology, such as NFC chips and QR codes, into ordinary objects, turning them into charity donation portals.

Our client was the Norfolk branch of a large military charity. In the past, this organisation has relied on donations from cash collection buckets, fundraising events and pop-ups. In light of the pandemic, they were struggling to sustain their model hence our task: to enhance their cashless and contactless donation process.

We considered where, how, and why people would access this service. We hit on the idea that the people queue outside of the supermarket for essential items, with many passing the time on their smartphones.  

Performing guerrilla research in-branch was a no-go due to Covid-19 restrictions. To overcome this, I conducted a survey completed by the charity’s volunteer base. The key insight we uncovered was that the people still want to donate, but fundraisers and volunteers still expect donors to donate using cash. We hypothesised that due to Covid-19, people are carrying less cash when out and about resulting in fewer donations. Considering this pain point helped us to steer our project towards designing for a new, widespread cashless donation culture.

The research findings allowed us to design user-centric physical objects to engage passers-by, whilst conceptualising a framework for their digital donation experience. The experience would use Thyngs’ digital platform to allow people to donate via card or mobile wallets, show users charity-based media and news, and provide fun, family-friendly digital experiences like a “scratch-to-win” game. 

Transitioning from Intern to Junior UX Designer 

Upon completing these projects and my internship, I was offered a position at Foolproof as a Junior UX Designer. I felt very proud to have earned my place in the Studio Team in such uncertain times.

At the time of my transition, I was working on international research for a global pizza selling company. This made my transition feel seamless and coupled with the internship experience as a whole, I honestly felt as though I had been a part of the team from day one. This is a testament to Foolproof’s welcoming, professional and friendly ethos, from interns to high-profile clients. 

My advice for those seeking roles in user experience design

My key piece of advice for those looking for their first design gig is to network. Navigating the minefield of recruiter websites can be a hellish task, especially when competing against hundreds of candidates. If you can gain access to industry experts through your University course, lecturers, chatting with guest speakers, networking events outside of education (online and face-to-face), or a recommendation, you can build special connections with potential employers in double-quick time. They will remember you for taking the time to say hello, which could put you front of mind for future roles.

Three lessons I have learnt from my time at Foolproof

Effectively communicating the benefits of research can be difficult but is always beneficial

Not everyone appreciates the benefit of the design research process straight away, getting clients on board with certain research methods can be hard. Particularly if they’re used to seeing visual designs produced quickly and presented as the finished product, asking for time and backing to conduct formative user research could come across as unnecessary. This means it’s important to take the time to explain how these research methods can help to build a richer picture of their user base and in turn, create a more sustainable long-term strategy for the experience.

The key to convincing clients of the benefits of research is to educate them. Book time to discuss what research methods you want to use and why. Relate the conversation back to their project and contextualise everything to keep concepts and examples tangible. Throughout the discussion, allow them to ask questions and be forthcoming with your answers.

Regular communication with teammates creates stronger working relationships and better creative outputs

Stand-ups can sometimes feel like a chore, but they’re essential for keeping teams together, especially in the current climate. Being able to share, hear what others are up to, and just have a chat, helped a newcomer like me to settle in quickly. It also eliminates the notion of “I’m not really sure what I’m meant to be doing…” and allows everyone to be more productive. 

The importance of taking time to recharge

This final lesson may be the most important. I have a horrible habit of overworking and burning myself out, so being part of an organisation who promote a healthy work/life balance is a blessing. This is particularly relevant whilst working from home because there’s not so much environmental and psychological separation between work and relaxation. So, go for that walk, do that thing that makes you smile and be nice to yourself because good work doesn’t happen when you’re not looking out for yourself!

Summing up

If you’d like to know more about our internship programme, visit our Careers page and contact Carolina who can provide information on what we look for in an intern and how to put yourself forward for consideration.

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