From Bangkok to Helsinki – Matthew's design internship report
In the summer of 2015, I decided to visit Helsinki, Finland for leisure and to attend the Helsinki Design Festival that was taking place. I was a final year as a Graphic Design student and wanted to obtain experience here after completing my degree; Helsinki had an awesome design scene.
After contacting some agencies in Finland, Expression Marketing Agency replied. The agency had a very strong clientele and I thought it would be a great place to obtain experience. Päivi, the Managing Director, and Ville, the Creative Director, both kept in contact to set up an appropriate interview and arrange the work dates.
In October, I interviewed, and after discussion about the terms and my role, we decided I would start in January. The 2-months in-between gave me time to begin an application towards a necessary Residency permit and obtain a place to stay.
The entire interview process took place while I was visiting Bangkok, where I was enjoying the +30c weather and chilling. But the 2-month timing meant I had to act fast. The place I was staying was almost right by the Finnish Embassy in Thailand so I started my permit there.
The perspective of Finland for winter had always been cold, but I had not packed any “winter clothing” in Thailand. I assumed a leather jacket, T-Shirt, cargo shorts and a beanie would be enough initially to survive on arrival…I was foolish and shocked.
When I set off from Bangkok to Helsinki, having arranged a house viewing, it was +30c outside; so my dress attire was appropriate for that. 5 hours later through my flight, it was nighttime, and people fell asleep on the plane. I wanted to adjust to Finnish time fast so I fell asleep as well. A few hours later the plane lights came on, the silence slowly disappeared, and the sounds of movement and activity quickly presented itself in the passenger jet, breakfast was being served. I opened, the window cover to find a pure white fog. As the plane entered Finland and lowered altitude I quickly realized and wished that I had bought some sort of winter clothing. When we got out, I felt like freezing to death. It had gone from +30c to -30c in the space of 15 hours to me.
I got out of the plane and I was freezing, the chill of the wind and snow was getting to me and my Converse All-Stars were soaked. Brutally cold, I got my bags and took a taxi to where I was meaning to stay. I eventually ordered winter clothes online and buy some from the local shops in Helsinki.
I arrived for induction in December, having settled into a flat. Initially, I was a little apprehensive. I had no idea how to speak Finnish and was afraid that, as a designer, I wouldn’t be able to communicate well enough to get work done effectively. Fortunately, the agency was pretty much multilingual and spoke English fine to help me out.
I was given an assigned e-mail into their network and was connected to their forms of communication quickly. An added bonus was that there was access to paid online tutorials to enhance my learning further in the Graphic Design field during my free time.
The initial work set required fast strict deadlines. This was a big kick from the usual University experience of work where you have a much longer time to execute the design process, develop concepts, and go through numerous outcomes. The real world experience here is you do those things but the execution must be much faster. A one to two month design brief set in University could translate into a day’s project in this agency. Multi-tasking projects from multiple colleagues really strengthened my organizational skills, independence, and discipline in this field of work. A huge relief was being able to have critique from the Creative Director as I did work along the way. Another huge relief was the help given to me in translating Finnish text so I could understand its use into the work I was doing.
I did most of the print work using Adobe Indesign, which I had been trained to use in my degree, as well as Photoshop and Illustrator for handling graphics and assets. There was a fair amount of image manipulation needed using Photoshop. This is one area I have learned and developed a lot in during this placement. I knew enough Photoshop when entering to get by but I quickly purchased some learning materials to develop more skills quickly. The requirements needed were commonly to do with some sort of fast photo manipulation.
During my experience, I observed that tasks set for some large clients, generally were easier and simpler due to extremely strict guidelines and simple placement tasks of digital assets. Working to specific branding guidelines was a good professional experience. Some of the work felt very relaxed while some felt pressured due to strict deadlines. If any help was needed, the staff gave it, and translations information was never an issue, excellent for international experience.
The projects set and concepts I developed really helped keep me thinking creatively. The added challenge on some tasks of not fully knowing the text meaning forced me to think harder of the design problem to make it more effective. Projects ranged from Branding, to Web Mock-ups and concept designs of both print and digital work. To keep me familiar with the roots of print work, frequent smaller tasks of flyer designs and rollups were also given as well.
The 4-month placement for me finishes this week. I have had such an awesome experience, even through the long winter of snow and cold. The time here has been amazing and it is definitely going to be sad to go. I can whole-heartedly say that this agency experience has been the best choice I could have made. The design tasks and projects, which happened so much more quickly and the execution and thinking, which as a fast pace have really helped me develop professionally. It is probably the reason career recruitment postings require or prefer prior agency experience. The pre-exposure to large clients during this placement and communicating with colleagues as a team to get a brief set was also a beneficial team-building experience. I have learned a lot of new skills, to enhance my work and at the same time fine-tuned the skillset I obtained from my university. The support from the agency has been amazing and everyone was really easy to get along with. From an international point of view, the Finnish marketing agency, Expression, really welcomed me and provided me a very beneficial experience.
The overall Finnish experience has been amazing. Even with the freezing cold winter, I would definitely visit and be here again. There was a strong core of English speaking residents in Helsinki to easily help me navigate around initially. The public transport is awesome and so easy to get around and use. If I could have changed 1 thing during this whole experience, however, I would have probably asked for a longer term of a work placement. The culture, country, work, and agency have really made a positive impact on me. I would happily go through another cold winter to do all this again! Thanks Expression for making this happen, and all the best!
Are you interested in working as a design intern at Expression in Helsinki or Tampere area? Please contact our Creative director: