5 design student stereotypes to avoid

So you’re at design school with your essential kit. And you’re doing pretty well. So well, in fact, it might be going to your head. If you don’t want your design career to be dead in the water before you even graduate, take heed of the failings of those who have gone before you. 

While there are plenty of proactive positive actions you can take to set yourself on the path to success, there are also some pitfalls to avoid. Here are five archetypal design student attitudes that are sure to make you crash and burn, and give your fledgling career the rainbow doughnut of death…

And when you have made certain these student types don't describe you, you'll need to make sure that portfolio is in order. Luckily, we've got some brilliant portfolio examples to help you get straight into the job market.

01. The rip-off merchant 

Student stereotypes: Lizard on wire

Gosh, that design sure looks familiar [Photo by Himesh Kumar Behera on Unsplash]

They say there’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation. Don’t cross it. As a student, you’re a crisp, blank sheet of paper, ready to be doodled with fresh ideas. But if you rip off someone else’s style, you might as well be a battered old photocopier.

News can travel quickly if you plagiarise, too, and if the creative in question calls you out and burns you publicly on social media, it’s a long way back if you want to be taken seriously again. The industry is smaller than you think (see for yourself in our article dissecting how designers deal with plagiarism).

02. The walking cliché

Student stereotypes: Dog in glasses

Heavy-framed glasses aren't for everyone [Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash]

We all know the well-worn stereotype for how a creative should look and dress. But skinny jeans, a checked shirt, beard and glasses do not a designer make. Don’t spend your student loan on dressing the part and expect success to fall into your lap because you can blend in: it’s about standing out, after all.

Any design studio worth its salt will value your portfolio, your attitude, and your ideas above your appearance. If that’s your style anyway, knock yourself out – but if not, be yourself and you just might blaze a trail of your own.

03. The arrogant one

Student stereotypes: arrogant one

Get your ego in check – you still have plenty to learn [Photo by Melanie Hughes on Unsplash]

Nobody likes an over-inflated ego – particularly from a student. And yet, it’s an all-too-common sight. Sure, you’ve landed your dream placement and are on track for a first-class degree: great, good for you.

Don’t start strutting the halls and crowing your accomplishments from the rooftops. And don’t ever think you’re above the tasks you’re given. Your potential studio mates will soon go cold if you think you’re God’s gift.

You don’t have to be a brown-noser during placements or your first real design job. But – as our article on how to transform a design internship into a job points out – it does pay to be humble, to soak up the experience around you, and to go above and beyond whatever is asked of you.

04. The hasty bridge-burner

Student stereotypes: bridge burner

There goes another client relationship [Photo by Dawn Armfield on Unsplash]

It’s all about who you know, and when you’re first starting out building up a contacts book, every one of them is gold dust. You never know who they could introduce you to, or where the rabbit hole could lead.

Treasure those relationships. Nurture them. It can take time – and remember, they’re not just boxes to be ticked or rungs of a ladder to climb. They’re people. If you get a knock-back from your first attempt at getting a foot in the door, be gracious and try again later. Don’t lose your cool and douse that already rickety bridge in petrol.

05. The turd-polisher

Student stereotype: turd polisher

Sparklers won't help if your pie doesn't taste good [Photo by Lucy Heath on Unsplash]

If you’ve overcome the previous four hurdles, you should be a humble, honest, level-headed creative with an individual spirit and a passion for learning. In short, you’ll be mega employable.

The final step is to value substance as well as style. It’s all very well having the skills to make something pop in Photoshop CC, but that’s not what great design is. Get into the habit of paring your ideas back to the absolute basics before you develop them. If they work as a thumbnail sketch or a one-line pitch, you’re well on your way.

In short, if a great idea isn’t there at the core of a project, don’t just roll that turd in glitter and stick a sparkler in it. You’ll thank us later.

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.