Graphic Design Schools and Colleges

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For creative, analytical types looking to develop and express their artistic skills, a degree in graphic design can be the start of a fulfilling career. However, there are several factors that should be weighed, such as the various types of graphic design schools and programs, how to select the best program to fit individual needs and possible career opportunities available upon graduation. This guide will provide the hard facts, along with insights from graphic designers and graphic design instructors, to help you make the best decision.

Top 10 Graphic Design Schools and Colleges

Rank School Location
1 Rhode Island School of Design Providence, RI
2 Boston University Boston, MA
3 The New School New York City, NY
4 University of Miami Coral Gables, FL
5 California Institute of the Arts Santa Clarita, CA
6 Pratt Institute Brooklyn, NY
7 Chapman University Orange, CA
8 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
9 Ringling College of Art and Design Sarasota, FL
10 George Washington University Washington, DC
Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Graphic Design Schools and Programs

There are a variety of graphic design schools and programs, ranging from programs in vocational schools and art schools to community colleges and four-year schools. These programs may culminate in a certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s. Graphic design programs should equip students with the skills they need to create artwork by hand, use computer software to create text, and design and manipulate images. In addition, students learn the fundamental principles of design.

Upon completion of a graphic arts program, graphic designers might be employed to create a range of materials, which can include tasks like drawing comic book sequences, creating text and images for the movie and TV industries, creating websites, designing logos and creating product packaging. They may also end up designing T-shirts, billboards and just about every other object that contains words, photos or other images. A graphic design degree can lead to such careers as art director, video game developer or special effects artist.

  • Vocational Schools

    Vocational schools usually culminate in a diploma in graphic design. These schools are designed to quickly help students get the training they need to pursue a job. With programs ranging from two semesters to a year, students learn the history of graphic design, the fundamentals of design and theories of color. They also learn how to use Photoshop and other computer programs to manipulate images and create graphics for different formats (such as print, TV and web). The program usually do not offer much in the way of general subjects, like English or math and students usually need a high school diploma to enroll, though this is not always a requirement.

  • Art Schools

    Art schools teach in-depth graphic design concepts, while creating an environment that that fosters innovation and problem solving through the development of critical thinking skills. Students in art schools should learn other aspects of the graphic design business, including effective marketing strategies, entrepreneurial principle and small business ownership, and how to leverage their artistic creations to spur cultural change. Art schools usually offer a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. Students generally need a high school diploma to gain acceptance into art school.

  • Community Colleges

    A community college offers a more extensive graphic design program than students would typically receive at a vocational school; however, the graphic design program is not as intensive as it would be at an art school. A community college usually offers programs leading to a certificate or an associate degree, with programs may ranging from a few semesters to two years. An associate degree at a community college usually requires students to take courses in other subjects, such as English or math. In addition, applicants typically need a high school diploma.

  • Four-Year Schools

    A graphic design program at a four-year university or college is much more intensive than a program at a vocational school or community college. A 4-year university has a greater emphasis on the academic side of studies, and for the first two years of study, students are required to take several classes in such subjects as math, English and philosophy along with graphic design courses. The last two years are more focused on graphic design and concentrate on designing in 2D and 3D, animation, digital imaging and digital video. Students who have an associate degree from an accredited graphic design program can usually apply those credits toward graduation from a four-year school.

Best Graphic Design Schools and Colleges


    Accredited Schools Online uses a proprietary blend of cost, quality, and student support services to determine overall rankings. The supporting data comes from reputable sources including the schools themselves. We focus our rankings on accredited and not-for-profit institutions.

    Our data analysis team and higher education experts have worked together to create a scoring system that includes key qualitative and quantitative measures. The data attributes are then weighted based on relevance.

    The scoring methodology includes factors such as:

    • Cost & financial aid
    • Number of programs and program offerings
    • Student-teacher ratios
    • Graduation rates
    • Placement and support services offered
    • Academic/Career counseling services
    • Employment services
    • And many others

    These factors are assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or bang for your buck of a college or degree program.

Best Graphic Design Schools and Colleges badge

With the constant evolution of technology, there is a growing demand for proficient individuals who can realize a client’s vision through graphic design. Many schools now offer graphic design programs that allow students to learn from experienced instructors who can teach them about the industry-specific standards and strategies. To help students sift through all of the available options, we have found the best graphic design schools and colleges in the country by weighing important factors such as cost of enrollment, class size and resources available for students. See who made the cut for our 2017 list below.

  1. Rhode Island School of Design

    Providence, RI

    Rhode Island School of Design in Providence started in 1877. Currently, more than 2,500 students attend this private university. These candidates benefit from an interactive 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and classes with an average of 14 learners. RISD admitted only 20% of beginning freshmen applicants for 2018-2019. Nearly 30,000 candidates possess RISD alumni status. RISD holds accreditation through the New England Commission of Higher Education.

    RISD offers a top bachelor of fine arts in graphic design that learners can complete in four years. This program emphasizes technical and aesthetic concepts of graphic design for creating projects that reflect client needs. The department also encourages learners to build unique styles for careers as freelance artists and business owners.

    Required courses include drawing, spatial dynamics, and typography. Students can also complete several design-related electives and studios. Assignments for these courses incorporate different media and methods, such as print and magazine development. Enrollees can also use the school's Design Center for this coursework, which includes tools for traditional and digital graphic design. Each candidate can also complete an internship and submit an extensive capstone project to graduate.

    Each applicant must provide a portfolio with at least 12 work samples, artistic responses to prompts, and writing examples.

    RISD students can visit the school's museum for events and lectures on different artistic concepts. The museum also offers resources, such as videos on art history and creative expression; it also provides research fellowships.

  2. Boston University

    Boston, MA

    The Newbury Biblical Institute launched in 1839, which would become the initial school for Boston University. This private school in Massachusetts now boasts more than 35,000 learners and ranks among the top national universities, best colleges for veterans, best value schools, and most innovative schools, according to the U.S. News & World Report. The New England Commission of Higher Education accredits BU.

    Its School of Visual Arts delivers a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design that requires 132 credits. Students can complete courses in tiers, beginning with foundation courses, such as drawing, painting, and sculpture. Second-year courses concentrate on principles of graphic design and include extended studio experiences. Juniors can study audience assessment to construct projects for unique company needs. For senior theses, students apply their individual styles and strategies to modern graphic design concepts. Throughout the program, learners can also complete electives that reflect their professional goals or personal preferences.

    The department requires several projects, with different levels of personal creativity, and it boasts faculty with great professional connections. Faculty can then can connect students with career opportunities. BU also encourages learners to engage with graphic design organizations.

    Individuals in the School of Visual Arts can also interact with the university's other schools and colleges. In particular, graphic design students may work with communication, computing, and business departments for projects and assignments.

    Graphic design students can also build knowledge and experiences outside of classrooms. For example, the School of Visual Arts offers the Visual Arts Resource Library and hosts the Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series. Additionally, the College of Fine Arts provides art galleries where students can participate in exhibit-building.

  3. The New School

    New York City, NY

    The New School, located in New York, began in 1919 as the New School for Social Research. This institution currently boasts approximately 10,000 students from 116 nations and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. U.S. News & World Report ranks this institution among the top national universities, best colleges for veterans, and the best value schools.

    The School of Art, Media, and Technology from Parsons School of Design delivers a bachelor of fine arts in communication design. This degree requires 120 credits, with classes that explore typography, imaging, and design history. The curriculum also includes studios, lectures, and seminars. Learners can take elective courses that relate to their personal interests.

    For this program, candidates can explore various types of graphic design, such as motion graphics, advertisements, and brands. Learners may also complete internships that involve other departments or organizations outside of the school. The department prioritizes research and communication skills. All students must complete a senior thesis.

    Each applicant must provide a portfolio of at least eight projects and a statement that addresses program interest. Students may transfer half of their program requirements from other colleges or universities.

    Often, learners can finish this degree in four years and then pursue The New School's master of professional studies in communication design. Candidates may also declare relevant minors in fields such as art and design history, photography, and printmaking.

    Students of the Parsons School of Design can benefit from career services, including a job portal and practice interviews. Candidates can also attend artistic events and displays through the school, such as the yearly Parsons Festival.

  4. University of Miami

    Coral Gables, FL

    The University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida started in 1925 and welcomed its initial class of fewer than 700 students in 1926. In 2017-2018, this private school conferred 2,661 bachelor's degrees and boasted a 92% retention rate for the 2017 cohort. Only 27% of applicants gain admission into UM. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredits UM, and the U.S. News & World Report ranks the institution among the top national universities, best colleges for veterans, and best value schools.

    UM offers a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design and multimedia that prepares learners to work in print and digital design. Candidates may explore theoretical and aesthetic principles to develop unique styles for art pieces. The department also embraces cross-disciplinary approaches and builds teamwork skills for group projects.

    The program prioritizes seven design concepts: entertainment, applied science, video art, design and craft, cultural theory, public interaction, and painting and sculpture. Students can learn to blend these artistic concepts for projects with specific audiences and messages.

    UM also offers a master of fine arts in illustration and multimedia. Bachelor's and master's degrees require a portfolio and participation in an exhibition. Learners for both programs can access the school's work stations and labs.

    Graphic design and multimedia students can showcase their projects at the UM Gallery in the Wynwood Building. Candidates may also earn prizes in the Department of Art and Art History's Annual Juried Student Art Exhibit contest.

  5. California Institute of the Arts

    Santa Clarita, CA

    The history of the California Institute of the Arts dates back to 1961 after Walt Disney imagined an art institution that embraced multiple fields. CalArts officially started in 1970. This private school educated more than 1,500 learners in fall 2018 and awarded nearly 400 degrees for the 2017-2018 school year, including 193 bachelor of fine arts degrees.

    Admission is competitive, with CalArts only accepting 27% of applicants in fall 2018. CalArts is accredited by both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

    The School of Art offers a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design that prioritizes technical knowledge, artistic theory, and personal style across different media. For instance, the program explores design concepts for books, film graphics, and branding through courses such as skills for visualization, design issues, typography, and digital photography. Classes often include group conversations and appraisals of artistic pieces and concepts. The School of Art also offers a digital arts minor for further field credentials.

    A candidate can graduate with a graphic design bachelor's in four years but must complete several workshops and a graduate portfolio review. After graduating, individuals can pursue the school's master of fine arts in graphic design or find work as artists, educators, and field historians.

    Resources include 24-hour studios and a blog regarding relevant topics in the field. Candidates can also participate in CalArts events, such as an annual print fair and a t-Shirt show. CalArts also provides extended studies opportunities for multiple types of art, including graphic design, visual art, animation, and film and video.

  6. Pratt Institute

    Brooklyn, NY

    Pratt Institute began in 1887 as one of the few U.S. schools to embrace male, female, and racially diverse learners. Today, this private school in New York boasts campuses in Brooklyn, Utica, and Manhattan to educate more than 4,500 learners. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredit Pratt.

    Students can pursue Pratt's four-year bachelor of fine arts in communications design. This degree trains learners to consider their audiences and intended messages to create clear designs in storytelling. The department introduces candidates to emerging media and technological tools for art projects. The curriculum also hones communication skills for building projects in groups and unveiling final products to clients and audiences. Candidates can explore social contexts for art design, as well as the field's history.

    Learners can choose focuses in graphic design, illustration, and advertising art direction. The graphic design emphasis addresses topics such as typography, film graphics, publishing, and product usability through classes like digital prototyping and themes in art and culture. Candidates may also complete labs, studios, projects, and internships for this degree.

    Graduates can consider related master's programs from Pratt, including creative arts therapy, fine arts, and digital arts and animation.

    Pratt helps learners study abroad in areas such as Berlin and Rome. The school also offers art-related events, such as awards exhibitions, through the Pratt Manhattan Gallery and the Rubelle and Norman Schafler Gallery.

  7. Chapman University

    Orange, CA

    Located in Orange, California, Chapman University started in 1861 and currently boasts approximately 50,000 alumni, more than 8,000 students, and over 175 student groups. This private school holds accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission and placement on several U.S. News & World Report lists. Specifically, Chapman ranks at 40th for best value schools, fifth for regional universities in the West, and third for most innovative schools.

    The institution offers one of the best graphic design degrees through the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. This bachelor of fine arts in graphic design prioritizes techniques and individual styles for designing digital and print projects. Specific courses include book arts, four-dimensional design, visualization, web design, color, and branding and advertising design.

    Candidates may also explore the history of graphic design and learn to build projects that cater to audience, purpose, and project regulations. Other emphasized skills include research and communication, along with self-reflection and assessment for project critiques. The curriculum also involves an internship and a graphic design portfolio.

    Forty-two percent of Chapman students participate in study abroad experiences. For this program, students can enroll in Graphic Design 308, which includes design experience in London.

    Program students can participate in the Margo Pawell Design Symposium, the OC Portfolio Design Club, and the Visual Thinker Lecture Series. The department also provides the Commpost magazine that updates readers on faculty, student, and graduate accomplishments. Students can access Commpost online. Candidates can also connect with the school's Digital Arts Club.

  8. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA

    The University of Southern California welcomed its first class of 53 learners in 1880. In the 2018-2019 school year, about 47,500 students attended this private institution, with less than 13% of applicants earning admission. USC awarded more than 15,000 degrees in June 2018 and currently boasts nearly 400,00 alumni. The institution holds accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission. The U.S. News & World Report ranks USC at 28th for most innovative schools, 37th for best value schools, 22nd for national universities, and fifth for best colleges for veterans.

    USC established the Gayle Garner Roski School of Art and Design in 1895. This school offers a bachelor of fine arts in design that builds research and artistic skills related to different media. This program involves explorations of two-dimensional and three-dimensional artistry, along with workshops, seminars, internships, and a thesis project. The department also relates graphic design topics to various disciplines and offers minors in fields such as advertising, communication, and business.

    Junior-level students may enter the BFA/MFA degree path. Bachelor's admission requires a portfolio with at least 10 original pieces, a declaration of artistic philosophy, and an overview of relevant experiences. Candidates can complete the degree in four years.

    The Roski School of Art and Design offers study abroad opportunities in England, Australia, Italy, and South Africa, along with prizes and fellowships for areas such as drawing and photography. Learners can also participate in the Annual Student Exhibition or request an Independent Student Exhibition through USC.

  9. Ringling College of Art and Design

    Sarasota, FL

    Ringling College of Art and Design started in 1931 and currently boasts around 16,000 students who learn through an interactive 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. This private college in Sarasota, Florida boasts accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

    Degree-seekers can pursue Ringling College's bachelor of fine arts in graphic design that examines various media, including two-dimensional and three-dimensional options. Candidates study the graphic design process, including material and technique selection. Students learn to consider purpose and audience and to interact with individuals from other fields, such as illustrators and copywriters.

    Learners can choose from interactive design, packaging, and branding specializations, though the department does not require a focus. Candidates can also declare a minor to personalize the degree. Relevant minors include film studies, art history, visual development, and photography and imaging.

    Notable graphic design alumni include art designers, product designers, visual designers, and creative assistants for companies such as Nickelodeon, Instagram, Facebook, and Walt Disney Imagineering.

    Ringling College offers three clubs related to graphic design: the American Institute of Graphic Arts group, the Type Club, and the Screen Printing Club. The department also welcomes graphic designers who can share expertise through guest lectures and at events.

    A student earning a graphic design degree can use the school's Design Center and assist with constructing the college viewbook. The institution's Collaboratory Commitment provides all degree-seekers with in-field learning opportunities, and the Career Services Center directs candidates on obtaining internships. Additional assistance from the Career Services Center includes professional coaching and workshops that address career enhancement.

  10. George Washington University

    Washington, DC

    George Washington University in Washington D.C. dates back to 1821. Today, this private institution includes 10 colleges and schools, 15 honors societies, and over 450 student groups. Enrollment exceeds 26,000 and represents over 100 nations. GW holds accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and placement on U.S. News & World Report lists for national universities, best value schools, best colleges for veterans, and most innovative schools.

    The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design delivers a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design that requires 120 credits. The program addresses technology and aesthetics for building designs that reflect their purposes and audiences. Learners can explore concepts such as branding, typography, motion graphics, and publication styles for business and cultural needs.

    Candidates can take classes such as design fundamentals, art history, and digital media culture, along with completing studio components that address drawing, lighting, and project materials. Each degree-seeker must also complete a thesis. This capstone requires each learner to consult a design expert, write a paper, and design a project. The department showcases these thesis projects at its yearly NEXT showcase.

    Each learner pursuing this graphic design degree must provide a portfolio with at least 12 pieces for admission.

    GW offers events that relate to graphic design, including information sessions. The department also delivers the Visiting Designer Series, where professionals offer field guidance through lectures. The school's Visiting Artist opportunity may also allow learners to obtain thesis guidance from field experts.

Advice for Graphic Design Students

Feed your brain with global design solutions. Read periodicals and case studies. Analyze solutions. Strong design is timeless.

Chip McElroy, MFA Program Chair, Digital Design and Graphics, Fisher School of Technology, Hodges University

Graphic Design Schools: Must-Have Elements for a Quality Program

When on the hunt for a school at which to pursue their graphic design degree, prospective students must take extra care to ensure that where they eventually enroll has all the earmarks of what it takes to earn a quality education. As students vet each school, they should keep in mind the below program elements:

The school and the program should be accredited by such organizations as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the National Office for Arts Accreditation. Accreditation ensures that the program maintains strict academic standards and guidelines. Accreditation is important because it determines availability for financial aid, and whether or not credits earned are transferrable to another program. Employers also look more favorably on graphic design candidates who have graduated from an accredited program.
Credit Transfers
Credits will not transfer from schools that are not accredited. However, accreditation does not automatically ensure that the credits will transfer. Schools always have the prerogative to accept or reject credits from another school; in particular, students at community colleges who plan to transfer to a 4-year college should obtain a copy of the transfer agreement between the two schools before signing up for classes.
Comprehensive Curricula
Coursework should help to develop a student’s analytical and critical thinking skills, while providing a comprehensive knowledge of graphic design. Principles of typography, drawing, design and color are just some of the topics that the graphic design program should cover. In a bachelor’s degree program, ideally 25 to 35 percent of the program should be dedicated to graphic design; 20 to 30 percent should be dedicated to supportive courses in art and design; 10 to 15 percent should be devoted to art and design history; and general studies and electives should comprise 25 to 35 percent.
Supporting Coursework
Depending on the student’s area of specialization, the program should offer general courses in support of these specializations. For example, students who focus on design planning, advertising or interactive media should also be able to take such classes as economics, organizational psychology, marketing or systems theory. Additionally, all graphic design students can benefit from the option of taking such classes as business, communication theory, writing and psychology.
The faculty who teach classes in graphic design programs should be qualified to serve in this role and must have the relevant credentials necessary to such a position. Teaching and supportive staff may include professors and instructors, professional artists, painters, photographers and even sculptors. The faculty should also be accessible to students who need additional help or may be struggling with their graphic design classes.
Challenging Projects
The program’s instructors should assign a variety of projects that can help to build the student’s skills, such as designing magazines and posters, creating websites, creating storyboards and designing product packaging. Depending on the specialization, graphic design students should be taught and allowed to create special effects, and perform video editing and other hands-on projects.
Internships and Career Placement
A good graphic design program places students in internships and helps them obtain jobs post-graduation. A reputable program has pre-established relationships with companies in a variety of industries, and these organizations often prefer to employ students from a school when they know that the student has been through a rigorous graphic design education. The program should also help student create portfolios, cover letters and provide job search advice.

Graphic Design: Certificates and Degree Levels

There are five levels of graphic design degrees and certifications offered. The graphic design certificate varies by school, and can either be offered as an entry level program of 204 course hours – taking less than a year to complete – or as an advanced program that is usually 30 credit hours (or three classes), and could take up to three years to complete due to the lighter coarse load. Associate degrees usually take two years to finish and are roughly 90 credit hours. They prepare students to pursue more career options than graduates holding certificates. Bachelor degrees are four-year programs of study and average 173 credit hours. They provide more in-depth knowledge and can give job candidates a competitive edge in the marketplace. The master’s degree program is often a two-year program that includes 36 credits. It is an advanced program and can often lead to management positions such as art director or senior graphic designer.


Graphic design certificate programs vary greatly. For example, in some programs, usually offered at vocational or community colleges, the graphic design certificate program is 204 course hours and is designed to be completed in six quarters. There are no prerequisites to enroll for these graphic design certificates – not even a high school diploma.

Other types of graphic design certificate programs – sometimes called advanced graphic design certificate programs and usually offered at art schools or four-year colleges – are comprised of only three classes (or 30 credit hours). However, it takes approximately three years to complete these certificate programs since students only take one class at a time. These advanced certificate programs are competitive and require a portfolio that demonstrates that the students have experience as a graphic artist (illustrator, photographer, painter, etc.). Students who don’t have previous experience are advised to take introductory graphic design classes before applying to the program.

Courses a student in a certificate program might encounter include:

  • Introduction to Graphic Design

    Students learn historical and applied issues in graphic design

  • Image Editing

    This course focuses on teaching digital imaging software and retouching tools

  • Print Design

    Students explore design elements and software related to creating print projects

  • Basics of Illustration

    Essential concepts of drawing, painting and sketching as a communication style are taught


Associate degrees in graphic design may be awarded as an Associate of Science in Graphic Design or an Associate of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. They are offered at community colleges, art schools and universities. An associate’s degree prepares students for entry-level positions, and generally take two years, or 90 credit hours, to complete.

  • Introduction to Typography

    Students learn basic letter forms and typesetting skills

  • Graphic Design 1

    Students discover the relationship between color, composition, texture, and shape in visual design

  • Animation

    2D, 3D, and other animation techniques are taught in this course

  • Web Design

    The concepts behind designing, writing and producing a website


The Bachelor of Arts in graphic design, or the Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design, is typically a four-year, 173-credit program offered at a four-year university or art school. Students receive a more in-depth, comprehensive educational background, and spend additional time gaining experience through hands-on projects. Only junior- and senior-level students may apply for internships, which may be in a variety of settings, and are subject to availability. Applicants typically need an associate degree in graphic design or will have completed the school’s pre-graphic design program.

  • Senior Thesis Project

    For their thesis project, students must create a visual graphic design project

  • Graphic Design Studio

    Working with actual clients on products, students work in a real-world environment on graphic design projects

  • Visual Identity Systems

    Students study visual factors that affect the creation of identity

  • Experimental Typography

    Advanced intent and meaning behind typography is explored

  • New Media: Interactive

    Students learn historical and innovative concepts in new media


The master’s degree in graphic design provides students with advanced knowledge in print design, web development and other aspects of graphic design. At this level, the philosophy of theory and practice are further developed, and students receive more real-world practice, participating in many various levels of actual design projects. The master’s degree typically takes two years to complete and consists of 36 credits. Students may be required to complete a final project or portfolio, and applicants will need a bachelor’s degree in graphic design prior to acceptance.

  • Advanced Illustration

    Line art, drawing, blending tools, transparency and gradients are taught in advanced forms

  • Advanced Imaging

    Students learn visual design and imagery technique, including how to use Flash and the Adobe Creative Suite

  • Color Theory

    Explorations of color trends and practices in contemporary art and design are covered in this course

  • Information and Publication Design

    Students examine concepts of numbers, statistics and other complex information as applicable to public design

A Graphic Designer’s Toolbox

To be successful in a graphic design career, students should graduate from a program with knowledge of the following:

  • Design techniques and principles
  • Computers and electronics
  • Fine arts theory and techniques
  • Media production and dissemination techniques
Personal Abilities
Helpful traits that graphic design students should work to develop include:

  • Active listening – to hear and ask the right questions
  • Critical thinking – to use logic to evaluate problems and solutions
  • Reading comprehension – to understand written instructions
  • Decision making – to weigh costs, pros and cons
  • Operations analysis – to decide what is needed to create an effective design
  • Teamwork – to work well with others
  • Creative thinking – to formulate new ideas
  • Visualization – to see how the final product will look
  • Fluency of ideas – to be able to generate several creative options on a regular basis
On the Job
Besides raw talent and skills, graphic designers should be able to work in certain environments and under a variety of conditions. For example, the following are every day occurrences, and good graphic designers will be able to handle them with ease:

  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Working under deadlines and time pressures
  • Face-to-face discussions
  • Competitiveness
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Performing repetitive motions
Tools of the Trade
Graphic designers need to be able to comfortably work with a variety of tools, including:

  • Cameras
  • Scanners
  • Photocopying equipment
  • Laptops and desktop computers
  • Computer laser printers and wide format printers
  • Wacom and similar tablets
  • Software like Adobe Fireworks, Adobe InDesign, Adobe FreeHand, Adobe Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Adobe Cold Fusion, Adobe Flash, and Final Cut Pro
It is important to distinguish between the graphic design certificate – which is an entry-level certificate that may precede an associate or bachelor’s degree – and various specialized certifications one may earn. Various software certificates are available for graphic designers to earn for mastering such programs as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

Graphic Design Career Snapshot

Graphic designers earn a median annual wage of $44,150 per year, or a median hourly wage of $21.22 per hour

From 2012 through 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 17,400 new graphic design jobs

The BLS predicts overall demand for graphic designers to grow by 7% through 2022; however, demand for graphic designers in computer systems design and related services will grow by 35% through 2022

Specializations in Graphic Design

Graphic designers may draw, paint, photograph or create computer-generated images and text as seen in books and magazines, on menus, billboards and in other printed material. They may also design websites or create animated images. Many well-known logos that you probably see on a daily basis – like the Nike swoosh, the CBS eye or Apple’s bitten apple – were all created by graphic designers. Graphic designers who gain experience may advance in their careers to become art or creative directors, leading entire design groups or firms. Those who have risen through the ranks have typically done so because they chose to focus on the mastery of one or more specializations in the industry, becoming experts.

Some of the specializations include:

  • Print and 2D

    Students on this track focus on publications, marketing materials, product and environmental design. They learn how to create content that is suitable for print and 2D formats, including layout design and color choices. Students have the opportunity to design labels, posters, direct mailers, menus, flyers, banners, hang tags and billboards.

  • Motion Graphics

    This track involves principles of movement, key-framing and rendering used to create 3D images and other types of animation. Students may learn how to create film and broadcast titles, music videos, graphics for mobile phones and television ads.

  • Interactive Design

    Students learn how to design for today’s technology, including web tools that can increase the user experience. This includes basic web page design, optimization of web imagery and graphics and mastery of such programs as Dreamweaver and Photoshop.

From the Drawing Board: An Interview with a Graphic Design Professional

Brit Casady is a graphic designer with a BFA in graphic design currently working for Blender Bottle. Here’s what she had to say about the graphic design industry, and what advice she’d give to someone looking to enter the field.

  • Why is graphic design a good career choice?

    Graphic design for me is a great career choice because it offers versatility in scheduling so that I can be home with my kids.

  • What's the best part about being a graphic designer?

    The best part about being a graphic designer is that I can express myself through a widely accepted medium. Graphic design is seen everywhere, and molding the scenery around us. It’s great to be a part of something like that.

  • What’s an interesting fact that most people don't know about graphic design?

    Something that many people maybe don’t know about graphic designers is that they are a rare breed. If you think about a typical painter, for example, generally speaking they are predominately right brained. Graphic designers are required to exercise both sides of their brain for their work and are typically a nice cross between being analytical and creative. They are artists that are also good at math and interested in sciences. Go figure.

  • Do you have any advice for potential graphic design students?

    The only advice I can give to potential graphic design students is to be serious about what you do. It’s a very competitive world out there for design. You need to really love what you do.

After Graphic Design School: What’s Next?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 259,500 graphic designers actively employed in 2012. The five industries employing the most graphic designers are as follows:

  • 14% Manufacturing
  • 10% Specialized design services
  • 9% Newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers
  • 5% Wholesale trade

Once they enter the workforce, environments may vary, but graphic designers usually work at computers and drafting tables. Some may work as part of a team, while others work independently. While many graphic designers work in an office setting, some go on to work as freelance designers from their home offices.

Those who have earned a degree in graphic design aren’t limited to jobs only in that specific field. Many other career paths are open to those who hold these degree, including:

  • Web designer
  • Type designer
  • Advertising specialist
  • Marketing specialist
  • Motion graphics designer
  • Art director
  • Creative director
  • Brand specialist
  • Illustrator
  • Animator

Featured Careers tool

  • Career #1: Graphic Designer

    Career #1: Graphic Designer
    Using either digital or tangible mediums, graphic designers create the visuals needed in the advertising, entertainment or corporate worlds. They may be involved in layout and production, and can find employment with a design firm or work freelance.
    Median salary:$44,150
    Hourly salary:$21.22
    Est. Growth:7%
    No. employed:259,500
    Minimum Education:Bachelor’s degree

  • Career #2: Advertising Manager

    Career #2: Advertising Manager
    Overseeing the creation of advertising content, from concept to finished product. Advertising managers run the teams behind these projects, and work closely in conjunction with all departments of a company, from sales to HR to upper leadership.
    Median salary:$115,750
    Hourly salary:$55.65
    Est. Growth:12%
    No. employed:216,000
    Minimum Education:Bachelor’s degree

  • Career #3: Art Director

    Career #3: Art Director
    Leading the process of project design, art directors are responsible for all aspects of the visual style on projects such as magazines, books, advertising and television.
    Median salary:$80,880
    Hourly salary:$38.88
    Est. Growth:3%
    No. employed:74,800
    Minimum Education:Bachelor’s degree

Advice for Graphic Design Students

“My advice for students is to be focused and make a total commitment to design excellence. If you have found your calling, embrace it 100 percent. If you love what you do in life, it is a great gift.”

Allan Beaver, artist in residence at High Point University

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