A Starving Unpaid Intern


Individual project


A VR speculative design to exaggerate the pathetic situation of unpaid interns.

2 months



The Vlog 

for a starved unpaid intern ( please turn on the volume)


I hope my design can successfully convey a helpless and pathetic feeling of an unpaid intern. In that case, I could provide an honest perspective to let my audience make a thoughtful decision and psychological preparation when receiving an offer with zero salary, but so-called "experience".


As The Atlantic writer Phoebe Maltz Bovy says, “mostly young people from rich families are usually able to afford to take unpaid positions, which excludes the opportunities for the ones from relatively poor families.”

But what if those “young people” would starve? What if payment is FOOD?

Design process -- the 2030 story


In 2030, the extreme environmental contamination causes food scarcity. The government abolishes money, but uses food as payment. The amount and quality of food is decided by professionals.

Starved poor people could apply for eating “ice cake”, a food placebo with 0 calorie and 0 nutrition, but could make people feel full

One day, Jessie, an unpaid intern at Hailey’s company, applies for a Strawberry Shortcake Flavor “Ice Cake” to celebrate her birthday.


She puts the Ice Cake on a luxurious plate and uses her immersive glasses to scan the code of the Ice Cake box. Then she can enjoy the cake in a specific scene generating natural beauty.


During the immersive experience, Will, the tour guide of the Strawberry Shortcake Scenery, affirms Jessie to repeat her satisfaction towards her unpaid work. He induces Jessie to admit and assure herself as a selfless employee who does not care about payment at all.

Jessie must speak out loud with determination, such as “I am not worried about no payment at all” or “Smart people pursue paychecks, but wise people pursue dreams” to let the scene generate beautiful grass and maple trees.


Finally, after Will makes sure Jessie is a content unpaid intern, he guides Jessie to find a large strawberry shortcake with a fancy table setting. Jessie could finally eat the placebo and imagine herself eating the delicious cake.

Of course, if Jessie disobeys Will, neither the beautiful plants nor the cake would ever appear.

Future iteration

My design successfully conveys the physical and mental struggles of unpaid interns and evokes a feeling of aversion towards unpaid internships, among both my target and non-target audience.

However, according to the feedbacks, my work just displayed the social problem in an artistic but superficial way. In other words, what people strongly want is a deeper exploration and research on a real solution. Therefore, I hope that for the next semester, I can expand and deepen the topic of unpaid internships to achieve the expectation of my audience.

Designed by Shuqi Zhu, 2020