How Design Students Can Gain Experience without an Internship

Many students lost internship opportunities this summer due to the pandemic, and the competition for available internships is fiercer than ever. While summer is coming to an end, there are many options for students to supplement missed internship opportunities in the upcoming fall semester and beyond. We’ve gathered a list of ways students can grow their skills and gain marketable experience without having an internship lined up.

Complete Your Own Project

Internships frequently give students a project to manage, with deliverables due at the end of the internship. You don’t have to wait to be assigned a project to get this learning experience! If you’re managing your own project, you can also grow time management and organization skills as you work. Here are a few  ideas to get started on a project:

1. Design an app or website

Have you been thinking about improving your design skills? Create your own UX project by designing an app or website. Start by looking at some inspiration. Here are a few great examples of projects from start to finish:

Make use of Figma, Adobe XD, Sketch or any other prototyping platform and learn through tutorials. Your project should include several screens for your mobile app or website along with wireframes/sketches, an explanation of the process you followed, and how your solutions solve a problem. This will show that you can follow a design process, manage a project with deadlines, and create a professional presentation of your work.

2. Solve a problem in your community

With the rise of COVID-19 and social injustice, communities need support in all kinds of areas. Think of a problem you want to solve in your local community, and figure out a design solution that will help people. Here are some examples of work designers are doing for social good:

• Contact Tracing App
• Black Lives Matter Design Task Force
Restaurant Menu Solutions for a Post-Covid World
AIGA Get Out the Vote
Making Wayfinding Accessible

Consider reaching out to local organizations to see how your skills can be used to help in this time of need. Don’t forget to document your work so you can present it in your portfolio!

3. Work on your portfolio

If you don’t have an internship keeping you busy right now, consider using that time, to tune up your portfolio website or start building one if you don’t have one yet. As little as 30 minutes to an hour a week can jumpstart you in the right direction. This will help secure design internships or even jobs in the future! Sites like Awwwards feature inspiration for designing a great portfolio website.

4. Start an online shop

If you are into design or art, consider transforming your work into merchandise you can sell. Not only will you generate side revenue, you will also learn entrepreneurship and business skills that can show future employers you are a self-starter. Websites to start online shops include Etsy, Society6, RedBubble and eBay.

5. Participate in creative challenges

Design challenges are a great opportunity to improve your design skills, teach yourself discipline and time management, and connect with other artists and designers who have similar interests as you. Design challenges include Inktober and the Color Palette Challenge, to name a few.

Some AIGA student groups participate in design challenges as a group, where each student chooses one day to contribute a drawing. Check out your local student chapter or reach out to fellow students if you want to do these challenges with a group.

6. Take on a freelance project

Check out freelance jobs listings on places like Dribbble to gain experience working with real clients and add some work to your portfolio.

Immerse Yourself In Your Field

One major benefit of an internship is the opportunity to network and learn from professionals. Getting involved with professional organizations and taking initiative to delve into your field will demonstrate your interest in the field and also help you gain some of that valuable industry experience you might gain at an internship. Here are ways to enhance your skill set and engage with the design community:

1. Enhancing Your Skill Set

Online Certifications: Consider taking advantage of new certificate programs being offered by companies like LinkedIn, Microsoft and Github, and Google. These programs teach needed industry skills such as programming, information technology, project management and UX design, and best of all, they’re being offered at no cost for a limited time. Take advantage of them while you can!

Online Classes: All kinds of free classes in coding, video editing, graphic design and more are available on websites like CodeAcademy, Coursera, edX and of course educational YouTube channels like School of Motion. Pick a class to follow from start to finish, and by the end you’ll have a new skill to add to your resume. Some of these sites also have options to pay extra and get an official certification that documents your completion of the class.

If you want to spend a little to access courses, some more learning resources include LinkedIn Learning (some universities give students free access), General Assembly (with a free Learn to Code offering), Udemy, Udacity, Masterclass and Skillshare. While Skillshare is only $100/year, chances to win FREE a Skillshare subscription can be found on AIGA DFW’s social media! Follow us and stay tuned for more information.

2. Engaging with the Community

Attend Online ConferencesSome design conferences include Adobe MAX (virtual for 2020) Big Design (UX focus, virtual for 2020) and Circles Conference (design, art and UX, postponed to 2021). Attending conferences connects you to professionals in your field and helps you start building a network as a student. Keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities that give you access to discounted tickets.

More design conferences around the world can be found at

Attend MeetupsMeetups are a great way to connect with like minded individuals in your industry and learn from workshops. Here are some well-known DFW-based meetups:

Art and Design

• Design Jam
• Creative Mornings Dallas
Ladies Wine and Design


Dallas User Experience Group
UX Research and Strategy
Dallas Black UX
The UX Club
Ladies That UX
Service Design Dallas

But most importantly: Become a member of the AIGA Dallas Ft. Worth community!

With events ranging from portfolio reviews and mentor matchmaking to UX virtual roundtables, joining the world’s largest and oldest professional association for design is a great way to meet people, learn from industry professionals and fine-tune your craft while you’re still a student.

Keep Applying!

While many jobs and internships are on hold, other companies are still hiring or keeping potential candidates on file for when they begin hiring again. Keep your head up and keep applying! Check out these resources to apply for jobs and internships:

1. Design Job Boards

Job boards that feature design-specific jobs and internships can be found through AIGA, DSVC, and Creative Mornings.

2. The Creative Group

The Creative Group (TCG) is a staffing agency for creative and marketing professionals. Using a staffing service like TCG is a great way to find a diverse range of work opportunities! AIGA members also get a discount for both full-time and part-time hires.

3. Handshake

Many students have access to Handshake through their university. Handshake is typically for current students and alumni seeking jobs and internships. Some employers post to Handshake when they are specifically looking to hire students or recent grads, and students with access should take advantage of this curated resource.

4. Amazing Design People List

ADP List is a great resource to use if you are searching for a full-time job. They also offer mentoring sessions where you can sign up for portfolio reviews, interview coaching and career advice.

5. LinkedIn

Get a head start by building a great LinkedIn profile now if you don’t have one already, and start building connections with people in your field. This will make it easier for you to find professional opportunities in the future rather than building a network from scratch when you begin a job search.

LinkedIn also has a jobs section which you can easily apply to using the information in your profile.

We hope this collection of resources gives you ideas and inspiration for making the most of your time, gaining new skills, improving your portfolio and building your professional network. Find something on this list that speaks to you and give it a try. Did you find something that worked for you? Send us a message on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram and let us know!

By Sumayah Abdulla
Published August 24, 2020