Hi and welcome.
Firstly, let me start by saying that the following is in no way intended to put you off. However, currently the market is saturated with wannabe designers who did an online course in photoshop and who feel it qualifies them to be a designer. This means that to stand out, rather than skimming the surface because design is a ‘cool’ career, you need to actually know what you are doing and have substance.
There are two ways you can to this. Firstly get a entry level job in the industry and work your way up, learning everything you can along the way. However, for me, unless you are one of those few super-talented, constantly inquisitive, sickeningly brilliant types, you could easily miss out on one facet, that industry experience alone may not teach you. Namely, the academic; history, theory, critical thinking etc. If you are lucky enough to find employing a good studio and with a good mentor, the commercial pressures of business, mean no one is actually likely to stop and teach you these things.
To that end, my take would always be to get yourself a good education at a good university first. I know it is costly, but what price is invaluable? Firstly, if you meet the entry criteria, you would be assessed by people qualified to give you an idea of your aptitude. This is important. There are many things I love, but know I have no aptitude towards and no matter how much practice I put in, it will never result in the outcome I might want.
Once you establish that you do have an aptitude, then getting on to a good course will teach you things you don’t even know you don’t know yet. This, in itself is not a bad thing. We’ve all been there.
You ask what style or trend you should adhere to. This is entirely the wrong question to ask. The answer is none. Trends are transient. You need to learn how to come up with solid, effective ideas that solve problems and communicate them to the intended audience in the right way – not produce cool layouts that impress your peers. Questions about differentiation based on software. Again a long way off the mark, I’m afraid.
The best solution is a good education and then five years experience in the industry and then you might, just might, begin to be able to call yourself a designer. Sure it’s a hard slog, but there are no easy routes to anything worth having.
That is how you stand out from the crowd – and these days the crowd of charlatans is legion.
After all, those people interviewing you for a job will likely have enough experience to be able to tell the difference. With a good education, you also come to them from an expected direction. They’ll have a rough idea of what you already know and what you need yet to learn. If you are self-taught (unless naturally brilliant) you are a bit of an unknown. There’s no way of telling what you do and do not know, so you become a risk to employ. That said, if your portfolio is outstanding, then that will go a long way, but you NEED to be able to demonstrate your ability to solve problems. Of course there are always exceptions to any rule, but if you want to maximise you chances of building a long-term successful career, that would be the way to go, in my experience. Others may have a different take, but these are my thoughts on the matter.
Probably not what you want to hear, I’m sure, but better to get your ducks in a row at an early stage that learn it 5 years down the line.
Hope this helps, rather than disheartens.