George Gilliatt, a Product Design student, did a year-long placement with Lego in Denmark. We spoke to him about this experience and his course.
Why did you choose to study product design?
I have three subject-based strengths: design technology, art and film production. Product design was the perfect choice for me because you do all of these three subjects in one. There is a lot of art in drawing out your design ideas and coming up with final renders of a product. And film making is becoming more prevalent in the course eg a big part of our final launch section is to make a Kickstarter video. Plus in second year, we had to come up with a kind of a self-promotion video to send to our placement company of choice. I chose to promote myself to Lego because I’ve been a Lego fan all my life.
Tell us about your placement
My time at Lego never felt like work. I would wake up and actually want to go to work. I would cycle over to the Lego building and spend maybe 12 hours there each day. I felt like I was literally just playing all day long.
The placement itself was split into two sections. In the first four months I was part of a group of six interns working in the prototyping department. We were doing a more traditional product design role, coming up with new Lego bricks or new ways to play with the Lego pieces. It was all very experimental, involving cutting and gluing bits of plastic together and coming up with new things.
By good fortune, Lego then introduced more intern positions within the actual product teams – these are the teams that actually design the products – and they asked me if I wanted to stay on and do another six or seven months.
What’s your proudest moment from your placement?
There were a lot of proud moments. The proudest one of all is having two products I worked on hit the stores in January. Three more I worked on will be released in summer. I can walk to even Sainsbury’s down the road and my products will be on the shelves. I get emotional when I think about this because I’ve been a Lego fan all my life. At my childhood home, my mum’s display cabinets are full of my Lego creations. I never really stopped playing Lego and was still entering Lego competitions at 14 and 15.
But there were lots of smaller proud moments. You were allowed to pitch to the CEO of Lego if he walked around. So, there I was, standing right next to the CEO, pitching my idea to him, and he stood there and listened. He sat down and it was like he was a boy again looking at the model I’d made. That was a special moment. I never felt like an intern when I was there. Everyone treated me as a valuable member of the team. There are even suggestions that they are struggling without me and might like me back…
Did you get support in getting your placement?
Yes, you work on getting a placement throughout the whole of your second year and you also get help throughout from the placement office. They tell you how to make a good CV and do practice interviews, and they speak with you about the type of placement you want to go into. I really wanted to get into film marketing as it’s relevant to product design. So, I applied for jobs at Disney, Warner Brothers and the Discovery Channel. I got interviews and went through various stages but kept being rejected at the last stages. It got to the point where the year was over and I still didn’t have a placement. I was really disheartened. But the placement office keeps working through the summer to try and help you. When the the opening came up with Lego, I thought “might as well give it a go. Nothing to lose”. So, I sent off the video and heard back within literally a matter of days. When I then found out that I had the job, I was so excited that I ran into town hoping to bump into anyone I knew to tell them my exciting news.
Do you recommend doing a placement?
Definitely. I think a placement is invaluable. Everyone in my year did different things. Some went on an Erasmus programme and learnt a lot about working in culturally different environments. Others worked at big companies. Others worked in small companies with just three members on the team. We all had valuable experiences and learnt things about the professional world. You can be told on your course how processes work and how industry works, but there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself.
Has your course helped with your employability?
Definitely. I doubt I’d have got the Lego placement without having studied my course. But also, the skills I have learnt on the course have been invaluable. Each year on the course, we design a different product, going through the whole design process of research, ideation, development and launch. All of this proved very useful on my placement year. I can also really see the progression in my own work. Some of our work from first year is still on display in our design studio, which I find a bit embarrassing. I can see how far I’ve come.
Why did you choose University of Brighton?
I went to a lot of other universities on open days to look at their product design departments, and none of them had the same inclusive vibe as here. We have a shared design studio space that’s exclusive to our course. Having this shared space means we all work together and inspire each other. In the final year, you even get your own personal desk in the studio that you’re allowed to personalise. I’ve got a basketball hoop on mine, and when I’m stuck, I sit there and shoot some hoops and have a think. That sense of community and togetherness is a real bonus of the course. Social groups have formed within our year, but we are all friends together. It’s very nice.
How does it feel being back at university after your placement?
When it was getting towards the end of the placement, I suddenly got really nervous about coming back to university. I’ve realised what the real world is like – you can earn lots of money to just play with toys. But I’ve got back into the swing of it and it’s nice to be back in Brighton. I love walking around town and seeing the different architectural and design styles. It’s the perfect inclusive community for creative individuals. I have to confess though that although I’m back in my final year I’m still working on Lego projects in my mind…