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Experienced designer or intern – which would you choose?

With freelancers playing an ever more important role in the publishing industry, we all have decisions to make regarding the level of experience we require – and the amount of our budgets we’re willing to spend. In this double-header, freelance designer Annette Peppis and Publishing/Editorial Assistant Percie Edgeler share their insights into how to make the best choice for each project.

Annette: I’m experienced. From my point of view, when you hire me you will get a high-quality job from an efficient and creative designer who knows the ropes, saving you time and money. But I would say that wouldn’t I? Not everybody thinks that way! And in some cases they are right; an intern might be more suitable.

Both Percie Edgeler (pictured left) and I work in publishing and have an art and design background. Percie has a BA in illustration from the University of the Arts, London (along with an MA in Publishing from Kingston University). She is an Editorial Assistant at Linen Press. I also graduated from UAL and have worked for many years both as a book designer, and also as a project manager and graphic designer for businesses.

Here’s my take on the pros and cons of using an intern – and a view from publishing professional Percie, who’s seen life from both sides of the fence.

Voicing your opinion

Annette: If you have been round the block a few times, you’ll spot situations developing and have an opinion on them based on your past experiences. That may or may not be welcome! It’s hard to keep your mouth shut, as your intention will be to help your company or client with your suggestions. I worry that an intern may be so grateful to be getting work experience she’ll keep quiet.

Percie: I’d say we can share our opinions more easily. Sometimes staff members who have been in the same place for a long time don’t think of the boss as a person and would be over cautious, even if they are asked to contribute a view. My university tutor encouraged us to look for opportunities to make a lasting impact.

Typesetting

Annette: Far from being a lowly task, typesetting requires skill. You need to know the best typeface, size and leading (line spacing) to use – this varies from job to job. Other considerations are whether to justify text, where to use tracking and kerning (to adjust letter spacing both globally and individually), and when to put in a ‘soft return’ to avoid awkward breaks at the end of a line. A designer will be able to do all this and more. However, if a designer has supplied a really good set of specimen pages with style sheets, an intern with design experience should be able to follow this pretty well. I might notice the difference, but Joe Public won’t.

Percie: With guidance, an intern with design experience can easily do typesetting using style sheets, meaning less work for senior staff members. They will already have some knowledge of how to do this.

Administrative tasks

Annette: I sometimes find myself having to input data (for example, updating the database for an email newsletter client). This is not good use of my time and could be just as easily done by an intern.

Percie: In terms of administrative tasks, I’d say there’s no reason an intern can’t do them. However, there needs to be a balance with other tasks. I’ve seen a few articles from editorial seniors in The Bookseller complaining about bright young women recruited to be interns and entry level editorial assistants but only doing administrative work; their skills cannot develop and neither can their careers. If your intern doesn’t feel they are learning from the experience, I don’t think they’d be willing to speak up about ideas which could be genuinely helpful for the company. Fresh ideas are always worth listening to.

Picture research

Annette: This task sometimes falls to a designer, but an experienced picture researcher should ideally be your first choice for book covers and items which have a high profile. That way you can ensure that you have a unique image, sourced by specialists with a great breadth of knowledge. For smaller and less prestigious projects, and intern will be able to do a good job, given proper guidance.

Book cover design

Annette: A no-brainer.

Social media

Annette: A no-brainer again – it’s got to be your intern. ‘Experienced’ often equals ‘older’, and while that demographic will probably know quite a bit about Twitter and LinkedIn (and also probably be active on Facebook) a younger person would win hands-down on Instagram. Your intern will know about most of the platforms you’d like them to handle for you, and the best type of imagery to use. For posts, which can be fleeting, it’s important to have a strong image – but this doesn’t necessarily have to be perfectly designed in Photoshop. Interns will be able to produce more than acceptable images and extend your branding using software such as Canva.

Percie: Instagram is a great platform for young people to work with; we’re the generation that has grown up with visual platforms like this and YouTube. The others will all be better handled by senior members of staff, but Instagram is also a social activity for most young people and something they use daily. The accounts that tend to do well do use more professional equipment so senior members will still be great at producing content for this, but young people can adapt – you can even buy tiny camera lenses to attach to phone cameras now – and provide content that is just as great as what’s been produced in a very laborious way.

Cost

Percie: In terms of cost, all my internships have been expenses only. I’m not from a wealthy background, so I couldn’t do unpaid internships, which was often a barrier when applying for entry level roles asking for two years of interning. Although strides are being made to make internships more inclusive, I question if this inclusivity in publishing applies to those beginning to work in this area or transferring to mid-level roles from different sectors. Senior designers will always be worth the money as they have far more experience and knowledge overall. My general feeling is that interns should be paid, as they are still doing work – although their skill level will be considerably less than a senior designer. It is a learning experience so it’s worth keeping this in mind as well.

Annette: An intern should never be free – they should be paid a living wage. This is slowly being addressed by the publishing industry where the lack of diversity is striking. Of course you are going to have to pay a lot more to get an experienced designer, but I hope you’d feel you were getting good value for money from them.

Balancing act

Annette: There are lots of pros and cons to consider: What is your budget? Who is more likely to understand your brand? Which person will fit best with your company? Whose personality do you prefer? How much time and guidance can you give? Who is available to meet your deadline? I think there is a place for both designers and interns in the workplace, but only you can decide what’s best for you

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