Graphic Design Schools

Article Sources
  • BA in Graphic Design, American University, http://www.american.edu/cas/graphic-design/BA-DSGN.cfm
  • Graduate Graphic Design, Otis College of Art and Design, http://www.otis.edu/graduate-graphic-design
  • Graphic Designers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm
  • Graphic Design Certificate Programs, Sessions College for Professional Design, http://www.sessions.edu/graphic-design
  • Graphic Design, Undergraduate Programs, Fashion Institute of Technology, http://www.fitnyc.edu/2306.asp
  • Graphic Designers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271024.htm
  • Projections Central, State Occupational Projections, Long-term projections through 2022, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
  • 3 Most Popular Certifications for Graphic Designers, Briscoe, Crystal, http://famousbloggers.net/certifications-graphic-designers.html

Graphic designers convey visual messages, which is why they are sometimes called communications designers. Their work appears in print and digital media such as magazines, brochures and video animation. Using computer software and the skills they can learn in graphic design school, graphic artists select, edit and lay out design elements such as images, text and decorative touches.

Expert Insight

"Graphic Designing will challenge you by both pulling at your creative side of the brain to craft original work and digging into the logical side of your brain to make sure you fit the required content into your layouts proportionally and strategically." Read the full interview with Kyle Christensen from Red Branch Media

Attending a vocational or technical school to study graphic design can provide you with the basic technical training that is typically required for advertising, marketing and other design work. Many choose to become a graphic designer online, as it can be easy to get online training and certification in the Adobe Suite or other graphic design tools used in the industry. As a trained graphic artist, you might focus on a specialty such as developing product packaging, corporate brand design or visuals for webpages used in online sales or marketing promotions.

Specializations for Graphic Design

Educational programs for graphic design careers teach conceptual and technical skills, but you need to have artistic talent to benefit from the training. Once you have learned and put into practice the basic concepts of graphic art, you can decide to specialize in areas such as these:

  • Environmental graphics, including signs and exhibit design
  • Editorial design for annual reports and publications
  • Advertising or promotional design
  • Logo/corporate identity design
  • Interactive Web design

Experienced graphic artists in advertising and marketing organizations may advance to positions as art directors. Some also choose to teach courses in a postsecondary graphic design program.

Certificates and Degrees for Graphic Design

Technical schools and colleges with training in graphic design may offer some or all of these types of program options to their students:

  • Vocational certificate: Students typically study the basics of illustration, Adobe Illustrator, graphic design, typography, color theory, logo design and Photoshop
  • Undergraduate certificate: Similar to vocational certificate coursework plus drawing, design and composition
  • Associate degree: Approximately two years of full-time training usually covers graphic design courses included in the certificate programs plus English composition, HTML and CSS programming, computer technology, art history, psychology, marketing, business and technical writing, Dreamweaver, layout, packaging, portfolio development and a capstone project
  • BA or BS in Graphic Design: In addition to courses similar to those in the associate programs, a bachelor's degree in graphic design typically includes courses in motion graphics, digital and multimedia design
  • Master's degree: Two-year graduate programs in graphic design involve studio work, research, readings and a final project to help experienced designers with a bachelor's degree reach the next career level with their master's degree

How to Become a Graphic Designer

Becoming a graphic designer requires creative abilities, digital know-how, and the ability to communicate your ideas to others. Here are a few steps to think about if you are want to pursue a career in the graphic design field.

  • Complete your high school education: This can mean either obtaining a diploma or completing your GED. Many vocational and college programs require students to have a diploma or GED to enroll, but a diploma may also be required by employers for hiring. While in high school, you may want to take classes in art and design to begin building your skills.
  • Enroll for a college program: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a similar field (see Q&A below) is needed to enter the field. Of course, you can begin your education by completing a certificate or associate degree program first and then looking for a job or continuing on to a four-year education afterward.
  • Have a portfolio: As you work through school, keep your best graphic designs in a portfolio, whether these are physical pieces, digital pieces, or both. Your portfolio can speak volumes about your creativity, vision, and abilities, and be a testament of your work when talking to a potential employer.
  • Obtain certifications: Whether of not you want to seek certification after hiring is up to you, but it could prove worthwhile and make you more competitive on the job. Certifications are typically offered through specific vendors. Ones that could be pertinent to the field include Adobe CS5 Certification, Autodesk 3ds Max Certification and CIW web design Certification.
  • Keep on learning: As with many fields, graphic design is one that requires you to stay on top of the newest technology, particularly as new design software begins available or is updated. You also can enroll for more advanced classes through a college, or find out what organizations like the AIGA - the Professional Association of Design offer in terms of continuing education.

Expert Q&A about Graphic Design School

While most graphic designers hold at least a bachelor's degree in art or design, there are still many paths to becoming a graphic designer. To get more information about the education process for this career, we spoke with Kyle Christensen, a graphic designer for Red Branch Media, a full-service B2B marketing agency in Omaha, Nebraska.

About The Expert
Kyle Christensen a graphic designer for Red Branch Media, a full-service B2B marketing agency in Omaha, Nebraska.

What is the typical educational path needed to enter this career?

Though it can help you get a head start or pique your interest by taking more art or design classes (if they're available) in high school, a lot of people start this educational path in college. Depending on where you want to go, you have plenty of options. You can choose to go to a community college and get an associates, you can continue after community college and finish out a bachelors degree at a university, you could get your entire bachelor's at a university, or you could go to a creative/arts college and get your associates or bachelors degree there. Another factor is to understand what each college will offer. For example, my university didn't offer a bachelors degree in graphic design, so I had to get a bachelors in studio arts with a concentration in graphic design.

How long does it typically take to complete education/degree/certification for this job?

As I mentioned earlier, it just depends on what educational path you choose to do. In my opinion, I feel like you're really credible with a bachelor's degree, though some people only get an associates, while others are self-taught (which I don't recommend, as school will teach you the principles of design, provide you with a design eye, and give you a tremendous leg up against those who choose not to go to school). If you get an associates, this will take about 2 years, while a bachelors will take about 4 years. What I would recommend is that while you're reaching the last year or two of your educational path build a portfolio, go to local design conferences and have portfolio critiques with local professionals, get involved with your local AIGA chapter and to get an internship. These added things will boost your credibility, give you a look into the daily lives of local designers, give you a higher probability of obtaining a career and will give you a better understanding of how to apply your knowledge of graphic design to real-world applications.

Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career? 

Graphic design is such an amazing career because there are so many different kinds of projects and work you can do each day and each week. Depending on if you get a job at an agency or at a corporation your week could look like this: one day making a logo, the next be working on developing a website, creating a video, branding stationary, etc. The point is, your advantage to being a graphic designer is that your days will never be routine or monotonous. It will challenge you by both pulling at your creative side of the brain to craft original work and digging into the logical side of your brain to make sure you fit the required content into your layouts proportionally and strategically. In my opinion, the only disadvantage to this career is that if you're a person who needs to know what they'll be doing every day, it might be difficult to adjust since each day could look different. Also, if you're an active person, you might not like sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day.

Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this career?

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to be open to criticism. It's something that most people feel is negative, but in fact it's just the opposite. Criticism helps to open your eyes to things you might have overlooked and gives the opportunity for other perspectives to weigh-in on your work. In the end, criticism will only help you to become a great graphic designer. Embrace it. After all, this career is all about listening and communication and the better you become at being open to criticism and revision, the better you'll be able to deliver quality work to your client that fits their needs. Finally, never expect your work to be done on the first round - even as a professional myself, there are almost always revisions. And that's okay. This job is not only about making great designs, but making your clients happy. Close collaboration and communication are your best friends.

Graphic Design Salary and Employment Info

Graphic artists are employed in a great many industries, not just in advertising and marketing agencies. Many medium to large companies have their own marketing departments, and an employee with graphic design skills can be a welcome addition even to a small business. If you are visually creative, willing to work hard to hone your skills and play well with others, you might be pleasantly surprised at how many opportunities there are for trained graphic designers. While job outlook is expected to stay about the same in upcoming years, the best opportunities could be available to those who work in several media forms, according to the BLS.

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Graphic Design Schools