Dan Villalobos, Shillington Graduate and Intern at I-AM

We often encourage our graduates to enter competitions. It’s a fantastic way of keeping up design momentum when making that transition from graduate to designer. So when we circulated the word of a competition to win an internship at branding studio I-AM, recent #ShilloLON graduate Dan Villalobos jumped at the opportunity. 

Constructing disposable VR goggles from an envelope Dan caught the attention of the designers at I-AM and was awarded with a 12 month internship to start learning the ropes as a designer. We caught up with Dan to see how he was getting on. Read on to find out more about Dan’s competition entry, advice he’d give to those curious about being an intern and his experience at Shillington. 

How did it feel to win the I-AM Competition, can you tell us a bit about your entry?

It felt great! I still can’t believe it. The theme for this year’s “I-AM Grad” competition was “Push The Envelope”. The competition brief asked to show what an envelope is but more importantly what it could or should be, in any way we wanted, via Instagram. For my entry, I made a video to show a concept for an envelope that folds to become a disposable VR viewer with your phone. It took quite a bit of planning, and testing. I ended up making two final envelopes–one for back-up–but luckily the first one worked out!

What’s it been like working at I-AM so far? What does a typical day look like?

Working at I-AM is fun; they are a really close group of people at the studio. Working under some tight deadlines on projects with big brands attached to them. I have been a little nervous to begin with, but everyone’s been really friendly and welcoming.

We have a catch-up as a group at the start of the week to see where everyone is at, and then carry on with a project or start on something new. Still, every day is a little different to the next. You can be working on your a project or task but can be asked to help out on another project at the last minute.

What sort of work have you been taking on as an intern—how would you describe the experience so far to fellow graduates about to take on an internship?

I’ve been mainly assisting some of the designers and directors of the company with on-going projects. Most of this has been working on amends for presentations, and designs. Luckily, I have been put on a small branding project for the past few weeks, which has allowed me to do some design and conceptual work. The project has involved working on a video and creating a website, so I’ve learned a little CSS and Adobe After Effects, which is great because I’ve been wanting to get my head around that for a while now! Because there are also great 3D designers at the studio, I’m also learning new terminology in architecture design and how spaces are created. It’s very interesting.

For graduates about to take on an internship or placement, I’d say it is OK to feel intimidated or nervous, it’s natural. But it almost feels like an extension of your time at Shillington, so that soon goes away. You’re in a room with other designers, music is playing all day, and you can ask anyone for feedback–just like you would at the college.

I came out of Shillington with the right skills, so I’ve been focusing on understanding the studio’s culture and what the workflow is like.

What was your experience of Shillington like, do you feel like the course prepared you to work in a fast paced agency like I-AM?

Definitely. My experience at Shillington was great. The work is structured in such a way that without having any experience as a designer, I learned and understood it three months. Everything you learn on the second day builds from what you did on the first, and three months later, you feel like you’ve learned a new language!

Coming out of Shillington, I have been able to dive in to work, no problem.

I know how and when to generate ideas on paper, and how to operate the necessary Adobe CC software and use their shortcuts without thinking about it. The environment at the college mimics that of a real studio, which is great. I’m structuring my work days the same way as I did at Shillington, which really helps me from going off-track. Still, being new to the industry I feel I can get faster with time!

What would you say to someone thinking about enrolling at Shillington?

Stop thinking about it and go for it! There will be ups and downs, but in the end you’ll have an amazing, intensive experience—make friends for life, and come out with a great body of work in your portfolio. You end up with so much more experience and skills than you would with a traditional 1-3 year full-time course. A great thing about the course is it covers a range of topics in addition to traditional graphic design, so it’ll open doors for jobs in branding, UI and UX, if you’d like to go down those routes.

Alongside design you have a talent for music, particularly music production. Did your love of music lead to your decision to become a designer and do you think the two inform each other?

I think music and design are intertwined. With music, there is a more personal artistic freedom, but you still often work to a brief; a specific sound palette, style influence(s) etc. so there is an overlap.

I was always going to do something visual or musical at University. I have a BSc in Music Technology which led me to production. But I always had an interest in art and design. I have always enjoyed looking at album artwork and how it can be expanded to brand an artist’s album life cycle. Photographs and graphic elements from an album cover can spill out to things like merchandise, advertising, costume and stage design, and I find that really interesting. I love seeing artists enriching the fan experience that way.

Now that I think about it, my first experience with digital image manipulation was using Corel Draw back in the 90s (!) I loved it… So I’ve been using Photoshop and other image editing applications ever since, for websites, music artwork/covers, social media and hobby projects so it was a matter of time before I decided to learn design properly.

Where do you see yourself in 12 months time—is there an area of graphic design you’d like to work in specifically?

I would like to have learned lots at I-AM! I hope to reach the level of junior designer by then, with a great grounding in branding. I am pretty keen on working on more animation projects… motion and interactive design, that kind of thing. I think a lot of brands are becoming more dynamic, so I see a lot of exciting possibilities for motion applications, going forward. I’m looking for the best way to merge music and graphics together… I’d like to explore immersive technology like VR or AR for this. We’ll see!

Huge thanks to Dan for speaking with us and sharing his experiences so far. Be sure to check out Dan’s design website as well as his music production site. Keep up with Dan on his Instagram feed.

Thinking about a career in graphic design? Find out more at one of our info sessions. We have campuses in London, Manchester, New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.