A graphic design degree is ideal for creative students who want to turn their artistic talents into a career. This page provides a general overview of graphic design bachelor's programs and can help you decide whether the degree aligns with your passions, skills, and aspirations. The information below covers coursework, admission requirements, and common features of graphic design programs. The guide also explores common career paths and salaries for professional designers and discusses accreditation and how to choose a reputable program.
Overview of Graphic Design Degrees
Graphic design involves communicating ideas through typography, illustration, and photography. Posters, web pages, billboards, and magazine covers use principles of graphic design to grab people's attention and convey messages. Graphic design is important in branding, logo design, print journalism, and product packaging.
A bachelor's degree in graphic design allows artistic students to apply their talent and creativity to a career. Students explore the basic principles of effective design, learn to use popular industry tools and softwares, and gain experience designing websites. Some programs include internship or practicum requirements, which can help students develop a professional portfolio and gain workplace experience.
Job opportunities for graduates of online graphic design programs are plentiful, and graphic designers with coding knowledge are in high demand. As the e-commerce industry continues to grow, internet businesses need web developers to design attractive web pages and online stores. Due in part to this trend, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for web developers to increase 15% by 2026, with nearly 25,000 new jobs. BLS also projects a 4% increase in jobs for graphic designers, which translates to more than 11,000 new positions.
Applying to a bachelor's program in graphic design and applying to other types of programs require many of the same steps; however, graphic design programs may have unique requirements. Each school has a specific application process, so students should research each college's expectations before applying.
Design applicants must typically submit official high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores. Most colleges require applicants to have a minimum GPA of 2.0-3.5, but programs may admit students with GPAs below the threshold if they excel on other areas. Schools may also require letters of reference, personal essays, and interviews. In addition, most graphic design programs require applicants to submit a portfolio. Applicants select several pieces of artwork that demonstrate their design skills and write short descriptions of each. The original artwork may be in a variety of mediums and can usually be self-directed pieces or school projects. Many schools request that applicants submit portfolios digitally.
What Will I Learn?
Although graphic design programs emphasize practical design training, learners also study design theory and history. These programs introduce students to elements of design including line, color, shape, and texture and examine how these components have evolved over time. Students also explore art history and consider examples of exceptional design in film, print, and fine art. They study pivotal artistic movements, such as cubism, pop art, and expressionism, and explore the lasting impact of these trends. Programs often outline major concepts in advertising, marketing, and branding to prepare students to apply their artistic abilities in business environments.
Students earning their graphic design degree online typically complete 120-130 credits. Most undergraduate graphic design programs require 40-50 credits of general education, 40-50 credits of design coursework, and 20-40 elective credits.
This course covers the role of typography in effective graphic design. Students explore type as a standalone design element and learn to integrate type with imagery. They study the basics of typographic form and gain experience setting words, sentences, and paragraphs. The course may also discuss the history of typography in design.
- Basic Design and Color Theory
This introductory course deals with fundamental design concepts including balance, rhythm, and proportion. Students learn about essential elements of design including line, space, texture, and color, and they experiment creatively with these elements through hands-on projects. Students also gain experience with common computer graphics tools.
- Graphics and Layout in Print Media
This course explores basic design elements in-depth; learners study the applications of shape, texture, balance, and symmetry to print media. Students use Adobe Illustrator to practice logo design, typesetting, layout techniques, and other fundamental components of visual graphic design. Students explore the design process from initial concept to printed product.
- Graphic Design for the Web
Students learn to design web pages while considering user experience, functionality, and technical constraints. They gain experience designing pages for desktop and mobile applications, and they develop basic HTML coding and debugging skills. Students also learn about web-editing environments, typography, and templates.
- History of Art and Graphic Design
In this course, students broaden their knowledge of art and design by studying a variety of artists and movements. They study the causes and consequences of important design movements and explore how political and social circumstances affected design. Students consider how historical art movements contribute to contemporary design trends.
Students learn about the role of graphic design in brand identity. The course covers how various print and digital design approaches can align with brand strategies. Knowledge of branding, which is crucial to advertising and marketing, is useful for graphic designers across industries.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design?
Graduates of online bachelor's programs in graphic design can pursue a variety of positions. Students in these programs gain practical skills and knowledge that apply to careers in many fields. Designers have plenty of job growth potential; as they gain experience and build their portfolios, designers can advance to positions with more responsibility and higher salaries. The following sections cover the skills that undergraduate design students develop and common careers for graduates.
Graphic design students develop skills that allow them to excel in many types of companies and industries. Core courses help learners hone design abilities applicable to most fields. Students gain study typefaces, learning about fonts, spacing, and structure. Students also become proficient in essential design softwares, such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator so they can edit photographs, design layouts, and create illustrations. Students also learn to design and develop websites. They gain experience manipulating user interfaces in popular web environments like WordPress and learn to optimize graphics for internet use.
Through advanced and specialized courses, design students can develop skills needed for particular jobs. For example, in multimedia animation courses, students learn to develop 2D and 3D graphics for movies, online videos, and live television shows. In video game design courses, learners model characters and virtual environments. Publication design classes teach students to arrange text and imagery for newspapers, magazines, and online news sources.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Many industries employ graphic design graduates. Many design professionals work in creative fields, such as advertising or marketing. Designers in these fields, often called art directors, create ads for websites and physical locations and assist with video production. They also develop innovative packaging, logos, and promotional materials to help sell products. Graphic designers at record labels and publishing houses design album art, book jackets, and magazine covers. A variety of organizations and corporations hire graphic designers to create brochures, build websites, and design posters. Businesses also employ graphic designers to create attractive slideshows, visual aids, and diagrams that clearly present complex information.
Graphic designers may work in-house at a company or for a design firm that serves various clients. Graphic design is an ideal profession for entrepreneurial students; according to BLS, 18% of graphic designers in the U.S. are self-employed.
BROWSE BACHELOR'S IN GRAPHIC DESIGN CAREERS
Graphic designers use illustration, type, color, and layout to communicate ideas. They design logos, packaging, web pages, and brochures, and they work in nearly every industry. They may work in-house at a publication, advertising agency, or other organization, or they may work in a freelance capacity.
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Web developers conceive, design, and code websites for organizations and individuals. They meet with clients to determine a website's graphic and functional requirements, and they often maintain, update, and repair the site after it is published.
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These professionals oversee creative activities in a department or organization. They may direct projects related to graphic design, music, copywriting, or marketing. The responsibilities of creative directors vary depending on the industry and whether they work in-house or for an agency.
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Motion Graphic Designer
These designers often work in film, video, or television production. They use knowledge of graphic design to create moving graphics, 3D logos, and other animations. They typically master motion graphics tools such as Adobe After Effects and Final Cut.
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These managers oversee teams of designers. They may work under a creative director, making sure that artwork meets standards and maintains the appropriate design language for a brand. These managers oversee multimedia projects and approve materials from their team.
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Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Graphic Design?
Earning a graphic design online degree qualifies graduates for many creative careers. A bachelor's degree can help designers become entry-level art directors, layout designers, or web developers. However, more advanced roles often require a graduate degree. Professionals who want more responsibilities or who plan to pursue a specialized position should consider earning an MA or MFA in graphic design or a related discipline. Master's degrees provide the advanced skills and knowledge necessary to secure leadership positions, such as creative director or chief designer.
However, designers can progress in the field without earning an advanced degree. Design professionals can often earn a raise or a promotion by mastering new software and tools. Earning a certification in a graphic design software demonstrates competence and can make professionals more competitive for positions.
Accreditation for Graphic Design Bachelor's Programs
Prospective students should earn an online graphic design degree through an accredited school. All federal financial aid programs and most private scholarships are reserved for students at accredited institutions, and employers understand that accredited schools best prepare students for successful careers. In addition, attending an accredited school ensures that other institutions will recognize your credits and degree, which is important when transferring to a new school or applying to graduate programs.
Students should look for programs with accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, the major accrediting organization for design fields. However, institutional accreditation is generally more important than programmatic accreditation. Any prospective school should hold regional or national accreditation from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Regional accrediting bodies include the Higher Learning Commission and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Graphic Design Professional Organizations
Members of professional organizations can connect with fellow designers and learn about the latest developments in the field. Professional associations are especially valuable for students and recent graduates, since many organizations maintain job boards and offer student discounts for conferences. These resources can help early-career professionals explore job options, and members may receive advice from established designers. Below are some major professional organizations for graphic designers.
AIGA, the largest professional membership association for designers, comprises more than 25,000 members in more than 70 chapters. The organization supports professionals and students through conferences, mentorship programs, webinars, and discounts. AIGA also promotes ethical design standards and practices.
The Society of Publication Designers
SPD serves professionals who contribute to visual storytelling, including art directors, designers, and coders. Members receive access to a job board, exclusive events, and online educational content. Student members can attend student events and enter a design competition.
Graphic Artists Guild
This organization supports professionals involved in graphic design, including illustrators, animators, web developers, and interactive designers. The Graphic Artists Guild helps design professionals throughout their careers and provides articles, webinars, and networking and educational events. Members can access a pricing and ethics handbook.