Product Designer: First Product is You

by Scott Young on April 13, 2010

College for Creative Studies in Detroit

I’m not the best, and I don’t claim to be. I do, however, know how to market myself as a product design student. I am currently attending the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan and I support my school only to a certain extent. The outer awareness of your school is more important than it is taught. You may not want to believe it, but we ourselves are also products. You spend 4+ years trying to market yourself so a company will buy you. But what differentiates you from your peers who are in the same class?

Throughout this article, I am NOT going to tell how to get an internship; anyone can get an internship. I am going to show you how to become a valuable product designer so a company will select (buy) you over someone else. Designing “you” should be the first product you create.


Initiative: If you don’t have your design work online at this point, do it now. Is it online yet?… Depending on your career placement program from your school to find you an internship should be your last resort. You should be flooding your email outbox seeking for opportunities within companies.

Many students are on their way to graduating without a single internship and should be hitting the panic button. The competition within your class only goes to that extent; your class. Constantly be aware of the graduates from other schools. An example is the University of Cincinnati ID program in that it requires four internships before graduating. How can someone without any “professional” experience compete with someone with four internships? On most levels, you can’t.


People: If you have time to be partying away the weekends while in an Industrial Design program, something’s not right. In this competitive field, if you really want to succeed, you must live and breathe design. Surrounding yourself with the right type of people is key. A few common designer profiles to watch out for:

“The Procrastinator” – we all know him. Most of us turn into this guy on a daily basis, but we all know that one procrastinator whose always in the computer lab. You try to avoid him but he’s “gotta show you this new youtube clip.” He’s always has a crumbled-up bag of McDonalds he ate that afternoon. He’s usually got one headphone in, while the other one out, blasting European Techno, so just incase you call his name, he’ll hear you.

“The Rich-kid” – He’s here cause his parents are in some creative field and his previous GPA couldn’t get him anywhere else. He’s usually older because he spent a few years at another university partying away his parent’s money. He takes design somewhat serious but knows his parents are connected, so he just coasts.

“The Creepy Crawler” – No one ever confronts this kid, but we all know he didn’t do that sketch. He’s friendly, but way too friendly. Usually asks the question, “Hey can I take a look at your sketchbook.” You spend an entire week in the computer lab working on an assignment and you don’t see him once. But once class time arrives, he has a magnificent rendering done with 3D glasses for everyone to view it. How did he do it? No one ever knows, but we continue to let him slide.

“The Design Director” – He’s thinks he’s the best, the greatest, and he’s always the first to criticize your work. He’s usually a “hit or miss” type of designer. One week his work is great, but then the next week, it’s eh. While squinting his eyes, he always asks the most irrelevant question, “Well if this phone is suppose to run off solar energy, what happens in areas of the world where the moon only shows.” Most of the class just lies in wait for the next great quote from this young “Design Director.”

“Mr. Connection” – This guy knows everyone. Or at least claims to. He’s usually got that summer internship locked down because his next-door neighbor’s dog belongs to the same canine massage parlor that the head designer of Sharper Image belongs to. He’s a good guy to know, but not the guy you want to work with.

“The Trapeze Artist” – This guy is always hanging on a thin wire. He’s usually got a second job and always uses that excuse for why he doesn’t have his work. If the assignment is to do 20 sketches on 11×17, he puts up 5 pages on 8.5×11. It’s usually of the wrong assignment. He presents his work as if no one notices the 15 missing pages.


This is only but a few of the common characters I observe. The next profiles are the kids you should be surrounding yourself with.


“The Connor” – Dedication, Passion, and good-heartedness is all this guy is about. Most people in the computer lab tend to work near him because of he’s gained a reputation as an “Over Achiever.” His weekly class work usually out-does everyone else, but his modest approach is what makes this type of person someone to work with.

“The Late Night Duo” – These few designers are always in the computer lab working through the night. It is unknown whether or not they’re always there because they’re not utilizing there time correctly but when once 4am rolls around, these guys still have enough energy to keep you going.

“The Twin” – There’s always that one guy who’s always working on a project closely related to yours. By working with this guy, your competitive nature has you working even harder just to out-do him. Having this kind of designer near you keeps your work ethic in tact.

“That Old Dude” – Commonly mistaken as a teacher; this one guy, in his mid 30’s, doesn’t have time to waste. He may have a family or a just a cat to get back home to, but this guy utilizes his time wisely because he cannot afford all-nighters. Following his work ethic will help you work more efficiently.

“The H-Train” – Take a ride with this kind of designer. He has his own approach to design even the instructors don’t understand. His understanding of graphic layout design has many students run their projects through him before asking the teacher. He’s called the “H-Train” because it’s short for the “Helpful Trainer”.


You will learn more from your fellow classmates than from your professors. By observing and soaking up all the inspiration from the work of your peers, you can truly have a vaster library of design skill at your fingertips.


Faculty: The experienced designers in your studios will be teaching you all their skills and tricks to become the best possible. The only problem is that your teacher is only a single skill set. If you follow in your ‘mentors’ footsteps, you will only be a step behind. You must learn to ask ‘Why” whenever a lesson or reasoning is being taught. Always going against the grain will leave you in a train of regret, but venturing outside the box is what a design student is all about. By pushing the envelope, you will receive more lifted eyebrows than the student who followed all the rules accordingly.

Once you’re working in the design field, you’ll have engineers, marketers, clients, manufactures, and a boss who will tell you “that isn’t possible.” But as a product design student, nothing is holding you back. Break down walls, and convince everyone your concept will change the world.


Social Media: Get rid of your Facebook account for a semester. Try it. I spent nearly 10+ plus hours a week reading status’s of people I had barely ever talked to and looking through pictures of friends partying it up at their university. The ten hours (that I had previously wasted) was now put into my design work. This, right here, is a secret weapon; while everyone else is wasting time, you can jump ahead.

If you don’t want to take that approach, try this:

Facebook is much more than a social device; it’s a marketing device.  If your Facebook consists of pictures of underage drinking, jumping off buildings, or doing anything stupid, delete it. This is the portal HR reps look to before contacting you. But what if I just put everything on Private? Even worse. This may look like your hiding something but also, your Facebook profile is your resume, your advertisement billboard, and your first impression. Use this tool as an advantage. Look at all your “buddies” profiles and you tell me if you’d hired them?


Professionalism: How you present yourself is, in turn, how people view you. Lets shave that playoff beard you’ve been sporting, remove that “Skittles” color hair dye, and patch up all those piercings on your face. (Ignore the last sentence if you are targeting a more hipster/punk/emo type of company). A certain level of professionalism is needed in order to lock down that dream internship.

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” No need to be rockin’ a suit to an interview in this industry, but understanding what to wear/not to wear is important.


Effort: Only the students really know which students are putting in the most effort. Next time you’re in the computer lab, and the glare from dawn bounces off your screen, look around to see whose sitting there with you. There are the wannabe designers who do the bare minimum whom you see scratching their heads after graduation. “You get what you put in.” The kids scrambling just to meet the homework standards are the ones who will fade. Which one are you?


Personality: You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for yourself. Image means personality. Your personality is applied to everything you do. Bits of personal traits make up each product you create, and now all you have to do is show ‘The man behind the mask.’ Easy right?

You can be the best designer in the world, but if you can’t connect with people, your value isn’t nearly as high as the good designer with the outgoing personality. As a designer, you will spend more time in the studio than with your friends/family, so the ability to interact is important.

What it ultimately comes down to, is at the end of the day, people want to work with someone they can grab a beer with, end of story.

About the author – Scott Young is a Junior at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan studying Industrial (product) design. He took the initiative to write an article describing the problems he observes daily through many students whom have taken this major/industry so lightly. Check for more info about Scott at or

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ronakyle May 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

That is true… your design reflect who you are. I have read in a book that your color coordination tells something about your views in life.

Product Design Company


Metal Stamping China June 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Quite agree with you. That’s why we should repsect the original design of the designer. Good luck!


Litmus Branding June 14, 2011 at 11:01 am

Nice Article, helpful for product design students.


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