Rockstars, Ninjas, Gurus and Other Hipsters

You’ve seen it before – perhaps you’ve even dabbled in it yourself. There are all kinds of designers, developers and other freelancers out there in the community who like to refer to themselves as rockstars, ninjas and other such fanciful names.

The reasons, I think, are obvious. People are looking to set themselves apart, or to find some means of establishing their own authority in their particular field, and likely feel that these kinds of names might actually help accomplish this goal.

Of course, with the number of rockstars and ninjas out there, the stage is getting crowded enough that I wonder how people can possibly imagine that they’re actually standing out anymore.

I’m not one for telling people how to brand or market themselves, though, and the terms rockstar and ninja might actually work for some people. What I want to do in this article, however, is to just have some fun, by looking at some of the connotations that are presupposed about and the associations that are suggested by the most cliched and stereotypical forms of the more common metaphors that I’ve seen kicking around – the rockstar, the ninja, the guru and the diva.

Before getting started, however, I want to note the the character sketches that follow are generalized and not based on any individuals that I actually know. Moreover, they are also written with more than just a bit of irony, so take them with a grain of salt.


Rockstar Designer
The rockstar (not to be confused with the master musician) leads a life of style and luxury, but also craves the spotlight. They thrive on the praise and adoration of their screaming fans, and everything they do is surrounded by hype and pageantry. They are good at what they do, certainly, but may also rely on theatrics and showmanship to carefully suggest to their audience that they might be better than they really are.

As a designer, using this term for yourself basically suggests that your work rocks. But, while that is certainly something to be desired, I think that there are probably some other presuppositions that go right along with this.

A rockstar designer is likely to be showy and ostentatious. Their designs will probably be Photoshop-heavy, with all kinds of really intense graphics that will blow the viewer away with all the power of a brain-melting guitar solo. Even simple projects that require simple solutions are likely to be blown up for the purpose of showmanship that is necessary for the rockstar to maintain their persona.

The Problem: The rockstar designer craves the spotlight. They need all of the attention to be on them all of the time, and they go to any imaginable length just to ensure that it is. They create flashy designs that are aimed more at winning awards and accolades than at actually solving problems. Unfortunately, just like their musical counterparts, many will shine bright and then completely burn out.


Design Ninjas
Any good ninja will have mad skills, developed through years of disciplined training. Whether designer, developer or something else, ninjas will deploy these skills with remarkable, almost deadly precision. They are brutal, efficient and do their best work on their own.

Calling yourself a ninja certainly attempts to call on many of these desirable qualities. You are basically trying to tell prospective employers or clients that you are a highly talented designer or developer with, with valuable skills honed from either years and years of experience or hours and hours of practice and training. You’re also perfectly capable of working independently.

That’s all well and good, but let’s face it, ninja’s are basically just assassins. They sneak around at night, wearing black, covering their face and looking for an exposed back to stick a knife into. And if they can’t find that, they’ll content themselves with throwing razor sharp ninja stars from the shadows or slipping a nasty bit of poison into your Big Mac.

Simply summarized, ninjas aren’t nice people. In fact, they are very much the opposite of nice, and I bet you wouldn’t want to run into a real ninja in a dark alley.

The Problem: Being a ninja is a lonely business. It’s all about being the solitary design warrior. You have amazing skills, but you also feel the need to have a ruthless and cutthroat attitude just to survive. As a ninja, the people around you will certainly respect you, but they won’t exactly trust you, because they just never know when you might stick that insanely sharp pencil of yours in their back.


Guru Designer
The Guru is the very personification of wisdom. His knowledge runs deeper than the deepest well, and he is widely accepted to be an all but infallible master of his particular discipline. Students and would-be-learners flock to him with the hope of being asking just a signle question and partaking of his remarkable wisdom.

The design guru obviously has a vast knowledge of all things design. He can talk about leading, tracking and kerning from sunrise to sunset. Not only can he identify virtually every major and minor typeface ever created, he can also tell name the designer and the year it was released. And don’t even get him started on colour theory, or he’ll walk you methodically through the entire colour spectrum – twice.

When you get right down to it, though, the Guru is also a snob. He sits on his high perch or in his ivory tower, telling anybody who’ll listen about what’s wrong with this design’s typography or that design’s layout. Really, though, he just loves the sound of his own voice, and for all the time he spends talking about design, he hardly spends any time actually designing.

The Problem: being a real guru means having an absolutely thorough understanding of your particular area of work. Are you really that much of an expert? Do you have the time to commit to remaining an expert and keeping up on all recent developments? More importantly, do you want to spend all your time talking and writing about design rather than actually designing?

Also, be aware that there are many charlatans out there – people who pass themselves of as gurus when they are anything but. Unless you have a means of backing up your claims of guru status, prepare to be met with some skepticism.


Design Diva
The diva, much like the rockstar, craves the attention of the spotlight. However, rather than basking in the light of her celebrity, the diva goes to great lengths to emphasize the fact that she is a woman. From the way she dresses to the way she talks, everything she does is specifically intended to constantly remind us of her undeniable femininity, as if we could possibly forget that simple and obvious fact.

And, of course, just like everything else that she does, the diva designer invariably infuses her designs with an unmistakable, feminine quality. Her portfolio is the same. It may be sleek and stylish or sultry and sexy, but either way it leaves absolutely no doubt that it was designed by and for a strong and talented woman.

Behind closed doors, however, many of these divas are almost painfully insecure. They may feel alone or isolated, desperately fighting for recognition in a world seemingly dominated by men, and the only way they know how to combat these feelings are to draw attention to themselves as being an amazing woman who designs, rather than just being an amazing designer who is also a woman.

The Problem: Obviously, the problem with being a diva is that it puts too much emphasis on the somewhat incidental fact of being a woman, rather than on just being a designer. Establishing your identity according to your gender invariably places part of the attention on that gender, instead of focusing on what you really are: an awesomely talented designer.


As I stated at the beginning of this article, the primary purpose was to have just a little bit of fun, and I do hope you found the commentary to be at least mildly entertaining. That being said, however, I also hope that it at least opened your eyes to just how silly and ridiculous some of these metaphors can actually be.

There’s really no need for you to be a rockstar designer, design ninja, design guru or design diva. Just step up, face the world head on and tell it what you really are: a skilled and talented designer whose portfolio speaks for itself!

That’s all you ever need to be.

To wrap this up, while the four types of hipsters we looked at above seem to be the most prevalent (at least in my experience), here are a few of other different “hipsters” that I think it would be hilarious to see:

  • The Design Zombie
  • The Design Pirate
  • The Design Cyborg
  • The Design Samurai
  • The Design Spy

Your Turn to Talk

What about you? Are there any other hipsters that you’re aware of? Is there anything else that you think would be interesting or entertaining to see or at least talk about? Let us know!

About the author:

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. You can follow him on Twitter.


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