For those of you who don’t know—
I’m Camilla Stark. I’m studying industrial design. I like to tell stories. Which is good, because in less than one week I’m going across the ocean. I’m going to Munich Germany, to be a Storytelling Intern for IDEO, to the opportunity of a lifetime, to four months that could very well shape the rest of my existence.
It’s finals week right now but I’m telling you a story that happened four months ago, during finals week in December. This happened four months ago but it still doesn’t seem real. Intern at IDEO—who does that? You don’t get internships at IDEO. It just doesn’t happen.
But apparently it happened.
So how did this happen? How did this happen? I am leaving in less than one week.
(How did this happen???)
I can trace this back very clearly to my father badgering me in high school to do the Honor’s Program. To taking that Honors Seminar class as a freshman, to being dazzled by the presentation of eccentric biologist Dr. C. Riley Nelson, to taking his class and relearning how to see the world, to working as his TA and learning how to write scientific papers, to being hired to do design research by the design professor Bryan Howell, and I swear to you if all of those things hadn’t happened then I wouldn’t be IDEO’s next Storytelling Intern for four months this summer.
I’m writing this for me but I’m also writing this for you. How did I do it? How did I get an internship at IDEO?
Here’s a comprehensive guide.
It was November and everyone was talking about I N T E R N S H I P S . Being the person I am that thinks ahead way too much, suddenly the prospect of choosing companies to apply to became fraught with eternal peril. Cause where I go now determines what kind of experience I gain, which determines where I go when I get hired. Which determines what I do the rest of my life. So obviously I need to decide now what I really want to do. Product design? Service design? Experience design? Consulting? Corporate? I DON’T KNOW. I’m a pro at identity crises and boy was this a good one.
But my other problem was that I hadn’t touched my portfolio since traumatically finishing it at 5am the day of the design symposium last March. It didn’t say what I wanted about my projects or who I am as a designer, but I was too scared/paralyzed/busy to try to fix it.
So it was November, and I panicked.
During one of my crisis moments in November, I was browsing the internet and went onto the IDEO website on a whim. Not that I really knew what IDEO was all about—just that they’re like, the dream, right? Aren’t they the ones that first started using design thinking in contexts beyond products, designing how businesses and systems interact? Aren’t they the ones with all the sticky notes? Aren’t they the ones with the vast social influence?
So I went on IDEO’s black and white website. Clicked on their “Careers” page. Selected “Internships” on the drop-down menu. Browsed.
And then I saw—
WAIT A HOT MINUTE.
You know me. All I do is tell stories
I read the description. It said I had to be able to tell engaging, emotional stories in a variety of formats—written, digital, video, motion graphics. That my specific skill set didn’t matter so much as my passion and desire to learn. That it was located in Munich, Germany. That it was to last 4-6 months and start as soon as possible.
Cause here’s the deal. To me, everything is a story. Anyone who knows me can tell you that all I do is tell stories. Anyone who reads this blog can tell you that all I do is tell stories. Everything is a story and I’m telling you a story right now.
I can’t do motion graphics but boy oh boy can I ever tell a story. I can tell a story with products and with images and especially with words. Boy oh boy can I tell a story and I was going to tell IDEO my story.
But wait. I’m a 21-year-old girl. I don’t speak German and last summer I almost lost my mind living in Paris. I can’t live by myself for 4-6 months in Germany! I just wanted to find a safe convenient internship in Salt Lake and commute up from Provo. That was the plan. Also, I found the posting on November 14 and the application was due on November 27. How on earth am I supposed to redo my entire portfolio in 13 days?
I didn’t want it. But I also wanted it. So I went to the professor’s office to talk with industrial design professor Bryan Howell, my personal world-traveling guru, to make him convince me to apply.
“So there’s this internship at IDEO in Munich, Germany that I want but I also don’t want and I need you to convince me to apply."
“You should definitely apply."
“…Oh also I had a question. They said they want storytelling in a variety of formats, so do you think it’s okay if I include some creative writing and stuff in my portfolio…?"
“Yes. And just be as much of yourself as possible."
…Well you didn’t have to tell me twice.
Anyone who knows me knows I have a LoT OF PerSoNALITY. I’ve been worried for a long time that having too much of it would be detrimental to me getting a job. That maybe I need to keep my head down and shut up after all.
But here was my chance to show my personality. Through my hair and my jokes and my handwriting. I realized I had to make a new portfolio, one that showcased all the possible ways I know how to tell stories. Photography, writing, industrial design. Storyboarding, posters, research. Words and images. Everything’s a story. Even my handwriting is a story.
And so I spent more or less two solid days making my portfolio over Thanksgiving Break. My roommates were gone and it was just me and blue cloudy light and the couch and my portfolio.
But the self-doubt didn’t end there. I was way behind on my Tupperware project and felt like I should have been working on that. I still didn’t want to live by myself in Germany. And you just don’t get internships at IDEO, you know? It’s just not a thing that happens.
I submitted my portfolio on the 26th, a day early. "Why did I just spend two days working on that portfolio for an internship I’m not going to get and don’t even want?” I asked myself. The blue cloudy light held no answer.
My inbox got a form email from IDEO basically saying that if I didn’t hear back from them within four weeks to assume that I did not get the job. So I sat back and went about my life.
Step 4—Complete Shock.
I mean, yeah, of course I wondered a few times in the next few weeks whether IDEO was going to get back to me, but I had THINGS to do. National holiday things. Tupperware things. Really crazy things at work that we had been preparing for the entire semester.
At work I had an hours-long conversation with Hannah Cardall in a darkened room full of people rating the perceived attractiveness of vegetables. She’s the one helping with the European study abroad and it costs a lot of money, but she told me about everything they were going to do and boy did she sell it well—
The next morning I was on the phone with my mom about how I wanted to do the study abroad. I basically decided I was going to do it and I hung up and sat down and opened my laptop and opened my Gmail and wait, what was that, does that say IDEO—?!
Many thanks for your application. We really liked your portfolio!
To get to know you a little better and to experience your storytelling magic we've got a little design challenge for you and ask you to complete the following task by Monday, 14th of December.
In the spirit of the holiday season we want to know, for you: What is joy?
Is it your first cup of coffee in the morning?
Is it snuggling with your loved one or your favourite furry friend?
Is it practicing your craft and pursuing your passion for a living?
Our ask: create a narrative that captures your definition of what is joy. It is up to you if it's long or short, if it takes the form of a letter, a photo love story, a series of tweets or a video on youtube. Surprise us!
“We really liked your portfolio!” IDEO really liked my portfolio??????
But wait. This wasn’t supposed to happen. People don’t hear back about internships with IDEO, remember?
I told everyone in the room what happened. Danced all around. It didn’t feel real.
“You’re on the shortlist!” my professor said.
But then the fact that they asked me a question set in. What was I going to send them? What is joy? They said to show them my storytelling craft. They told me I could use any format I want. They told me, “Surprise us!"
I looked at the calendar and did the math and suddenly I realized that I had to do this now, that today was December 9th, a Wednesday, and December 14th was right around the corner. And so I thought—what do I already have in my arsenal?
And listen here. I write like a crazy person. I write like a fiend. I write like it’s a compulsion. I write every single day.
And then I realized that I had my piece, that I had written it a month ago. The perfect one. It was a story, everything’s a story. A story about me. A story about hard things and good things and how everything in the world is beautiful.
But I knew I couldn’t just send them a story. In my original portfolio I paired words with images and told a story about the salt flats through writing and photography. How could I make this more compelling?
I don’t know how the idea came to me but I decided within 15 minutes to send them a physical object. A handmade book, filled with my story, hand-written. With objects and images pressed in the pages from the different time periods that my story spanned.
I told IDEO that I was sending them a physical object. I checked shipping rates to see if I could get it there by Monday. And I could. For $100. But I had to get it to the post office by the next day at 4pm. I had approximately 30 hours to make my book and send it off.
But here’s the deal. To get that book to Germany by Monday the 14th, shipping was going to cost $100. I had to do it, I had to, but I’m a poor student like everyone else, and how was I going to find $100 to send that book to Germany—
“How about everyone in the program just gives me five dollars,” I joked, “and then I…"
And then I realized that that’s actually a thing these days, that there are all sorts of websites dedicated to it, that it’s a thing called crowdfunding...
And so I made a GoFundMe really quick, called it “Help Me Send Feathers to Munich,” posted it on my Facebook page and asked people for a few bucks here and there if they could spare it. I wasn’t expecting much, but anything helps, you know—
And I tell you, within 29 minutes my dear beloved friends and family had raised me $100 and kept on going. I know it’s not a lot but it meant everything to me. One dear anonymous person sent their donation with a note that said—
Step 6—Abandon All Other Obligations.
So I had my money. But I didn’t have my book. And I had 30 hours to make it. So I skipped class, I skipped work, I didn’t sleep. My friend Janae drove me all around, getting photos printed as rush-order as we could get, buying paper and supplies from the store.
I skipped class all the next morning and I made my book. People treated me kind of like a tiny celebrity, everyone was whispering the word IDEO. I abandoned all other obligations but I had a free pass and I knew it, it was finals week and I was behind on everything but it didn’t matter, IDEO sent me an email, IDEO asked me to make them something.
Step 7—Bare Your Soul.
So let me tell you about this book for a minute. I already told you that I was going to send them a physical object. A handmade book, filled with my story, hand-written. With objects and images pressed in the pages from the different time periods that my story spanned.
“What is joy,” IDEO asked. Well I don’t know about you but to me joy is waking up some days with the bones of a bird and some days with a chest full of sand. Joy is spending some evenings staring at the walls and some evenings and laughing at the sky. Joy is opposition in all things, the good and the bad, the richness of life when it’s a tapestry and not just all of the same thing.
So I wrote them a story about the last five years with a fire in my head.
No, I’m not going to let you read my story. I’m sorry. You know I’m pretty open with you but there are still some things I don’t want to share.
But this was the most powerful piece I’ve ever written. I knew I had to give IDEO my everything, that I had to bare for them my soul. Cause if I know anything it’s that the most compelling stories are the ones with the greatest emotional connection. I was going to shoot them in the heart and I was going to knock their socks off and that meant giving them everything I had.
So like I said, I skipped class that day and went home to collect every journal that I owned. I stood in the back of the classroom that afternoon and covered a table with pictures and objects from the last five years of my life, deciding which ones had to go into the book.
I was sitting on the floor sorting notebooks when one of my professors came in, leaned down, looked at me.
“They asked you a hard question,” he said.
“Oh, I know exactly what I’m doing,” I said, which isn't something I’ve ever been able to say before.
And so I made my book, I hand-made it with paper and leather. I wrote my story, I wrote it by hand with my own psychedelic handwriting. And I filled my pages, I filled them with textures and colors, I filled them with objects I’ve slipped into my journal, I filled them with me.
I had printed off way too many photos of lights on the mountains. So I sewed them into the back of the book so they’d fall out like an accordion, connecting disparate photos so they formed a diminishing mountain range and fell from sunset to night. I wrote my favorite words on the very last page, holy holy holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.
Then I photographed every page cause I knew I’d never see it again. This book was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made and I made it in 30 hours. Or I guess I made it in five years. Or my entire life. Take your pick.
At the last second I wrapped the package in brown paper and tied it with a string. Janae drove me to the post office cause she’s a saint, we dropped it off at 4pm and once the papers were signed I realized I hadn’t eaten the entire day.
Step 8—Surround Yourself with Friends and Loved-Ones.
I sent my book on Thursday. But the deadline wasn’t until Monday. So I waited.
On Tuesday, I woke up and checked my email. I didn’t see anything and the work day was ending over in Germany, so I figured I wasn’t going to hear back quite yet.
At 10am I had a final presentation for my History of Products class. I had gotten very little sleep and everything hurt a little bit. My entire class was smooshed into tiny gallery space on the 5th floor of the library, 18 of us standing under warm yellow lights, presenting our final projects. Maybe it was the small space or emotions running high at the end of the semester, but I was filled with so much love for those people. I sneakily took pictures of all of them during their presentations, just for the memories, you know—
I had my iPod held up to my face taking a picture of my friend Josh in the middle of his presentation when all of a sudden I saw a notification on the top of the screen, that little blue mail icon, a subject line that said “Storyteller@IDEO—Hello from IDEO Munich”
Thanks for the amazing contribution to our little design challenge. We would love to schedule a google hangout with you to meet you in person and to see some of your work.
I was wondering if you had time for a call this Thursday (17th) at 4PM Munich time.
My body started shaking.
I scooted over to my professor. I handed him the phone. He held it and waited until Josh was finished. He read the email aloud.
Suddenly there were hands upon me, squeezing my shoulders from seemingly every side, Alison materialized and hugged me. I felt like I was buzzing. I was encompassed, surrounded by wonderful people that I love so much. The lights were warm and they were everywhere and colorful and my life felt like electricity.
Step 9—Be Yourself.
I had two days before the interview, and I spent both of them frantically finishing my sponsored project for Tupperware.
I didn’t get very much sleep and everything hurt. A lot.
I was wiped out on the couch reading up on IDEO online the night after my Tupperware presentation. My interview was at 8am the next morning, 4pm Munich time. I went to bed because I could barely exist anymore.
The next morning I woke up like a rocket. Got dressed and put on the shirt I made in sewing class, half blue denim and half salmon-colored. I said that being myself was what got me this far, and IDEO was going to get as much Camilla as I could give them in my current state.
I got to campus at 7am. Went into the studio. Very carefully arranged my setup. Put whiteboards covered with sketches and experience maps behind my head. Adjusted the height of my laptop with magazines and books. Took off all my rings so I wouldn’t mess with them when I got nervous. Put a sticky note on the door that said “Interviewing with IDEO—Don’t come in!"
I had thirty minutes to wait. I sat very still and tried very hard not to puke.
As the time approached I wondered whether I should contact them. I had confirmed the time of the call but they had never gotten back to mea after that. Was I supposed to call them? Were they supposed to call me? Aren’t Germans very punctual?
8:00am passed. Nothing. 8:01. 8:02.
Finally they called me.
And then we had ten minutes of technical difficulties. We couldn’t get it to connect. We switched from Google Hangout to Skype instead.
“Hahaha—technology, right?” they said when the call finally connected. They were so nice.
I expected interview questions like normal but instead they just asked me to go over whatever project I found most interesting in my portfolio. And luckily for me, I had finished my Tupperware presentation just the day before—
So I went over my project and they nodded emphatically through the whole thing. I was scared out of my mind and still felt like I was going to puke but I tried to give them as much happy Camilla as I could.
And then it was over in just 15 minutes and they had to go talk to the next candidate. They told me it was so good to meet with me in person. They told me they would get back to me at the end of this week of the beginning of the next.
After the interview I didn’t feel like I nailed it as much as I had with the book. I felt that it could honestly go either way. And so I went about my life, studied for finals, bought a cool coat, went to get crepes with my friends, and told everyone I knew about the interview, told everyone my story.
I woke up the next day at 7:15am with my heart pounding. They said I might not hear from them until Monday but hey today could be the day. Grabbed my little gold iPod and refreshed my email. Nothing. Refreshed it again cause sometimes Gmail doesn’t load the first time—
I have some good news to kick off your weekend! We are very happy to invite you to be our next storytelling intern at IDEOMunich. We are looking forward to the interesting ideas and skills that you will bring to our community!"
And I stared at my ceiling in my poor little exhausted body and all I could think about was how grateful I was for all the people who got me here. My high school art teacher and my crazy biology professor and the BYU industrial design program and my friends and my family—
For some reason all of fall semester something was broken inside me. I wanted to cry all the time but for some reason I couldn’t cry once. But finally that morning, staring at that ceiling, for the first time in months—