Good interns are like girl scouts. They are prepared for every possible situation and do their best to anticipate what a designer will need before they even have to ask. When I was interning at Steelcase, a huge chunk of my time was spent running errands, verifying site measurements, and helping transport furniture from one part of the campus to another. I absolutely loved it. In that time, I collected an arsenal of items that lived in my backpack in case of an emergency (there were many). I cannot tell you how many times I have used each one of these, and what a lifesaver they are in a pinch.
1. Moleskine Notebook - The Black 5 x 8 Notebook is iconic, classic, and professional. While I am all for personal expression, the workplace is not the time or place to bust out your Lily Pulitzer Planner. Unless of course, you work for Lily Pulitzer. I like Moleskines because they are timeless and you can get them with graph, lined, or blank pages depending on your preference. When you are starting out at an office with new practices and expectations, taking notes is essential. Write down absolutely everything and never assume you will remember, because you won't. I use my Moleskine to keep track of everything from to do lists and sketches, to observations and general notes.
2. Felt Tip Pen - A very wise boss of mine once told me "You are not a real designer if you use a ball point pen." And she was right. Never in my life have I seen an architect or serious designer use one. It absolutely MUST be felt tip. Our office favorite is the Pilot Razor Point, but if you like a bolder line (like me) the Pilot V Razor Point Extra Fine is a great option too. Carrying a few extras is always a good idea, just know that people will probably forget to return them to you.
3. iPhone Camera/Helpful Apps - This one is pretty obvious, but a good phone camera allows you to capture design details, existing conditions, and progress shots from various job sites. It is an absolutely essential tool when on site visits. Even better if you have the Photo Measures App (pictured below), which allows you to draw dimensions on the photo itself. Another helpful app is Dewalt Mobile Pro, which allows you to calculate measurements. This is a godsend when you are trying to divide a 14' -10 1/2" wall into four equal parts. Normal calculators can't compute feet and inches and doing the mental math is a real bummer.
4. Tape Measure - During my internship, I became known around the office as the "girl who always has a tape measure" which I did not mind one bit. To say that our profession deals with measurements a lot is an understatement, yet somehow, no one ever remembers to bring one. It's baffling. I always keep one in my bag and it has been used at every site visit I've been to. Mine is a Stanley LeverLock 30' and it's never let me down.
5. Laser Tape Measure - I got this as a Christmas gift, and it remains to be one of the most useful gifts I have ever received. In situations where 30' isn't enough, a laser measure is essential. You will never regret having one on you, and it feels really good to save the day when it becomes necessary.
6. Giant Ikea Bag I'm not talking about the smallish ones you get at check out, I'm talking about the HUGE blue plastic bags that a Golden Retriever could fit inside. The uses for these are endless. Most recently, our design team was staying late and a principal nominated me to go pick up pizza for everyone. It ended up being six pizzas, a salad and a couple of 2 liters. It would have been an ordeal to try and carry it all up myself, but because the entire order fit into the Ikea bag I keep in my trunk (for this purpose), I managed to carry the whole thing up in one trip. I walked in with the entire order slung on my arm, feeling pretty good about myself.
7. Smaller Tote Bag Not everything requires a bag that big, and it's worth it to carry a smaller tote bag to carry smaller items too. I like to use leftover Neocon bags, but if you want something that folds up tight, Baggu reusable totes are the best.
I used to think that some people are naturally unorganized, but now I see that preparedness is a skill. Do it enough, and that skill will become a habit that benefits everyone around you. As a junior-level designer, my job on site visits is usually to follow the senior designer, client, and contractor around taking pictures and jotting down notes. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to be able to say "Oh don't worry, I have one" when the contractor realizes he left his tape measure on another floor of the building. Crisis averted and you can feel good knowing that you contributed.