Online Design
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The field of design is broad and varied, with numerous narrow specializations. Many students choose to begin their design education with a core curriculum as they prepare for their academic and professional targets. This guide can help students find online design schools to meet their individual interests and commitments. Design education comes in the form of a certificate, associate degree, baccalaureate or graduate degree.

Online Design Colleges

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Options for Design Degrees

Both traditional and online design schools give students the opportunity to tailor their studies for a particular specialty, often a blend of art and technology. Associate degrees in the field could offer sufficiently intense training to launch graduates into entry-level design positions as their first jobs or as a career change. Bachelor’s degrees in design often include a core curriculum of liberal arts courses, followed by studio time for more intense study and experimentation. Many bachelor’s programs incorporate aspects of multiple creative disciplines, such as graphic design and photography. Graduate degrees offer opportunities for advanced analysis and critique as well as academic research and design projects within a specific concentration.

Digital Tools for Online Design Schools

Several design colleges provide a selected list of their degrees in a virtual format. This includes programs for certificates or associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees in subjects such as media arts, fashion marketing and graphic design. Students pursuing online design degrees take advantage of the high-tech aspects of the industry: Designers use an array of software applications to create visual communications that are often presented via electronic media.

Prospective students can turn to online design schools to avoid relocating or commuting to campus, also gaining flexible scheduling options to help them meet personal and professional obligations. Individuals currently employed in related fields can apply lessons learned in class to projects in the workplace.

Spotlight: Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Design

Distance learning design programs offer a flexible way for busy students to prepare for diverse roles, from game developer to corporate communications designer. In addition to the required general education courses, students take core classes such as typography, digital layout, color theory, drawing, web design and concept development to learn industry-specific skills, techniques and knowledge. Graphic design studies are well-suited to electronic delivery, and many programs are completely online. Students access lectures, assignments and other course materials using learning management systems like the Blackboard platform as well as email and even YouTube.

Online design schools allow students to choose from a variety of electives, enabling them to specialize in one or more areas. Online bachelor’s degrees in graphic design typically consist of 90 to 120 credit hours. Students enrolled full-time can generally finish the program in about four years. Graduates can explore opportunities in layout, branding, creative arts, website design, advertising, photo editing and other related areas.

Associate Degrees at Online Design Schools

Although associate degrees in design include some general education courses, the majority of the two-year program is focused on building a foundation of basic design principles. Graduates gain skills that could translate to at least entry-level work in specific areas of design. Students usually build a portfolio to showcase their training in a chosen specialty. Below are a few courses that some associate degree programs may feature:

COURSE NAME overview
Drawing Basics Students learn how to draw with charcoal and other mediums, implementing principles of light, shading, composition, depth and color.
Adobe Illustrator A full review of Adobe Illustrator, a universal design software application. Students experiment with shape, freehand and type tools to build works that undergo a class critique.
Advanced Graphic Design High-level practicum encouraging production of work for commercial art, editorial publications, advertising and other applications. This course offers students critical feedback and opportunities to develop their portfolios.
Layout Design A study of layouts for print applications including spatial ratios, positive and negative space, focal points and other design principles apparent in printed work.

Bachelor’s Degrees at Online Design Schools

The core curriculum within most bachelor’s degree programs includes a range of liberal arts and studio classes, building a conceptual foundation for the more specialized work ahead. Although specific courses vary by school, most programs teach basic design principles and how to apply them to industry settings, as well as researching and analyzing trends. Some of the courses below appear in bachelor’s programs across multiple majors, including industrial design, architectural design, fine arts and fashion design.

COURSE NAME overview
Critical Reading and Writing A review of various design media from a critical perspective, with heavy written analysis.
Modern and Post-Modern Art Survey of two major art periods and the movements making up the age, including cubism, expressionism, futurism, pop and more.
Urban Laboratory An introduction to urban design, incorporating urban research methods, demographic data and policy analysis.
Product Design: Interfaces, Ergonomics and User Experience A study of the human element in product design and feature development.
Creative Team and Project Management Overview of interpersonal techniques that address conflict, collaboration and time management issues affecting creative projects.
Studio Workshop Studio course provides practice with advanced design tools and gives senior level students time for capstone projects.

Master’s Degrees at Online Design Schools

Students pursuing a master’s degree in design have either an undergraduate degree in the field or significant professional experience. The first year of a two-year program is devoted to foundational courses, helping students learn about the role and impact of design in business, artistic and social innovation, and history. Second-year coursework is geared toward development of a final thesis based on the student’s independent research and studio design work. Below are some courses that may be featured in a master’s program at an online design school:

COURSE NAME overview
Thesis Preparation Workshops designed to help students build a framework for their thesis, including sourcing research, outlining initial thesis concepts and securing advisers.
Design Research Methods Examination of research methods for interactive design to be applied toward studio time.
Structural Technology Explanation of materials and structural dynamics in architecture. Studies usage and limits of building materials and units such as steel, concrete, beams, columns, etc.
Photography Thesis and Exhibition An assessment and critique of a proposed thesis from its written proposal to its budget.
Adaptive Materials Lab-based course covering experimental and established materials for all design applications, including synthetic and biologically based materials.
Advanced Computer-Aided Design Intensive focus on 3D modeling and design using shifting perspectives and learning how to transition materials into rendered models using AutoCAD.

Doctorates at Online Design Schools

The highest online design degree is ideal for those who are interested in a career within academics or as leaders in research and practice. Depending on the school, a PhD in design can take three to four years to earn. Programs tend to include topics such as research techniques and teaching practices, with specialization in an area of choice. Doctoral candidates are required to conduct independent study, usually in consultation with an advisor or committee, as well as deliver and defend a dissertation.

Advanced studies in design can lead to positions in academia, whether in administration or teaching. Other graduates may serve as consultants in advertising, commercial and industrial design, architecture, publishing or even public policy.

Opportunities after Online Design School

Design students prepared for one focus and career often find themselves shifting toward another completely different specialty in almost random fashion. Yet they are able to adapt quickly and call upon their basic training.

One reason design students are able to transition across specialties is because many tools used to execute a design overlap across many industries and applications. For instance, computer-aided design (CAD) software is an increasingly big part of schoolwork and professional projects and its various software products are used in design-focused industries from architecture, industrial design, and commercial product design to fashion, media, and the visual arts. As a result, designers with a strong aptitude for CAD tend to have a leg up against those with minimal CAD training. Below are just a few professions with education roots in various design specialties:

Featured Careers

  • Architectural/Civil Drafters

    Architectural and civil drafters are a crucial part of the building process. They draw architectural and structural features for buildings, roads and bridges. They may draw by hand or use computer-aided drafting (CAD) equipment. They also plan room arrangements, check material dimensions, prepare for excavations and interpret topographical data that could be important for large projects.

    Median Salary: $47,870

    Median Hourly: $23.01

    Est. Growth: 0.8%

    No. Employed: 83,410

    Minimum Education: Associate’s

  • Commercial/Industrial Designers

    Commercial and industrial designers utilize computer software programs to develop, design and modify manufactured products. Skilled in design, engineering and business, commercial/industrial designers develop a wide range of products, including toys, automobiles, electronics and home appliances for businesses and individual consumers. Additionally, they evaluate the safety and functionality of these products and implement plans to improve upon or modify designs. Professionals in this field have expert knowledge of design, mathematics, computers and electronics.

    Median Salary: $59,610

    Median Hourly: $28.66

    Est. Growth: 4.4%

    No. Employed: 29,030

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Electrical/Electronics Drafters

    Electrical/electronics drafters create and draft plans that serve as visual instructions for building products and structures. Utilized by construction and production workers, these plans are developed through computer aided design and drafting (CADD), as well as traditional drafting methods. Electrical/electronics drafters may create wiring diagrams to aid workers in the installation or repair of electrical equipment and electronic devices.

    Median Salary: $55,700

    Median Hourly: $26.78

    Est. Growth: 9.6%

    No. Employed: 28,160

    Minimum Education: Associate’s

  • Fashion Designers

    Using traditional, hand-drawn sketches as well as computer-aided design (CAD), fashion designers create clothing and accessories such as handbags, shoes, scarves, hats and sunglasses. After sketching an initial concept, fashion designers select fabrics and materials and work with a team of designers and tailors to produce prototypes. Designers may create collections for their own companies or brands or they may be employed by businesses such as apparel companies or film studios.

    Median Salary: $62,860

    Median Hourly: $30.22

    Est. Growth: -3%

    No. Employed: 16,560

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Graphic Designers

    Graphic designers convey messages by creating images for magazines, brochures, websites, advertisements and film. Using hand-drawn sketches and computer software programs, graphic designers use visual elements such as text, graphics, illustrations, diagrams and images to communicate a client’s desired message or representation of a brand. They also work closely with clients to modify project ideas as necessary.

    Median Salary: $44,150

    Median Hourly: $21.22

    Est. Growth: 6.7%

    No. Employed: 191,440

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Interior Designers

    Interior designers sketch and implement designs for commercial or personal spaces, such as homes, stores, hotels and hospitals. They assess the overall purpose of an interior and develop a design strategy to improve the aesthetics, safety and functionality of the space. They may select products such as furnishings, lighting and flooring and may also create blueprints for construction workers and installers. Interior designers may specialize in numerous areas of design or can choose to specialize in a single area, such as kitchen and bath, sustainability, or lighting design.

    Median Salary: $47,600

    Median Hourly: $22.89

    Est. Growth: 12.8%

    No. Employed: 40,750

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Mechanical Drafters

    Mechanical drafters develop, design and modify diagrams and specifications for mechanical devices, components and equipment. Using a variety of computer-assisted tools, including computer-aided design (CAD), mechanical drafters may develop product manuals, blueprints and other technical documents to ensure the functionality and safety of mechanical products. They may also be responsible for developing the specs for new products or reviewing specifications and implementing changes to current products.

    Median Salary: $50,360

    Median Hourly: $24.21

    Est. Growth: -4.9%

    No. Employed: 63,220

    Minimum Education: Associate’s

  • Set/Exhibit Designers

    Set and exhibit designers create stage elements for television, film and theatre. They examine the scope and purpose of a client’s project and develop sets or exhibits to bring their client’s vision to life. This typically involves overseeing the design process from the beginning stages to the final production, including researching the content and theme of a project, developing and monitoring a design budget and directing the overall production of sets and exhibits. These designers are also responsible for acquiring all the materials and tools needed in the production of sets and exhibits.

    Median Salary: $50,300

    Median Hourly: $24.18

    Est. Growth: 6.3%

    No. Employed: 8,680

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s