Graphic Design Degrees

Graphic designers use print and electronic media to create an array of materials for clients, including a variety of publications, web sites, and television and film credits. Clients usually present a designer with a message that they want to convey in some specific form. It is the designer’s job to translate that message into an attractive, appealing, efficient, and understandable item. Designers often combine color, type, illustrations, photography, and layout to produce the best product.

Skills: Because clients want materials that are unique and interesting, successful graphic designers need to be creative. They also need to be sensitive to consumer trends in order to satisfy the needs of clients. Self-motivation and the ability to work independently are key contributors to success. Designers who are self-employed need to have both good business sense and well-developed sales skills. As the technology available to them changes and evolves, designers should be able and willing to adapt their methods and abilities to create the best possible product.

Course Requirements: Many schools offer degree programs in graphic design. These programs usually touch upon several aspects of the field, including studio art, printing techniques, and website design. A general liberal arts education is also usually required, consisting of courses in subjects such as art history, writing, foreign languages, and business. Many programs also require prerequisite courses in basic art and design.

Aspiring graphic designers who have just completed their degree usually spend between one and three years working as an assistant to an experienced designer. Assistants typically follow instructions to complete a part of the design. After gaining some years of experience, designers may move into supervisory positions. Some choose instead to teach graphic design courses.

Job Outlook: Employment of graphic designers is expected to grow by about 13 percent over the next several years. The majority of the job growth will be related to online and computer-based opportunities, and designers with experience in these areas will have an advantage. The average annual salary for an experienced graphic designer is about $45,000. Entry-level designers earn an average of $35,000, while senior designers earn an average of $60,000.

Graphic Design Degree Options

Certificate Programs

Graphic design certificates are a good way for a student to gain formal education within this particular field. Furthermore, the earning of these certificates does not require as significant of a monetary commitment as other forms of education for this discipline, such as bachelor’s, master’s and even some associate’s degrees. To that end, the earning of these educational certificates is a great way for students to learn more about the formal principles and concepts associated with this trade, which will help them to decide if graphic design is truly something they want to pursue fulltime. Additionally, the earning of these certificates will significantly help candidates if they decide later on that they do in fact want to reinforce their educational experience in this field with a formal degree. Much of the scholastic work involved in certification programs relates to and can be applied to study for a formal degree. However, if candidates decide later on that they do in fact want to acquire a degree in graphic design after earning certification in this discipline, they should be advised that most certificates will not count toward actual credit units for an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree, and they will still need to fulfill the requisite number of years and units of fulltime necessary to procure their credentials.

However, one of the supreme advantages to earning professional certification in the field of graphic design is that doing so allows one to establish one’s professional credentials if one chooses to work independently as a graphic designer. Whereas most companies expect candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, people who choose to pursue this profession as an independent contractor can simply earn a certificate in this area of study (at significantly less cost that is required to procure a bachelor’s degree) and start work with their own enterprise (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Associate Degree

Students who have associates degrees should realize that in order to work at most companies as a graphic designer, they will ultimately need a bachelor’s degree. The great thing about earning an associate’s degree, however, is that doing so enables one to continue one’s education and earn a bachelor’s degree in half the time. Most Bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete, whereas if one already has completed his associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree can be finished within two years of full time study (BLS).

Similar to a Bachelor’s degree program, there is also liberal arts component to your typical associate’s degree program. This part of the coursework will deal with subjects such as writing, foreign languages, and business. However, the core curriculum of this program will focus on computers and the software needed to render various effects and aspects of graphic design. Students should be aware that there are approximately 300 postsecondary institutions that have programs in graphic design (including associate’s degrees) all across the country that have been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Several of these schools also require students to show offerings of their work, which may be drawings or computer-based designs.

Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree in graphic design is the standard credential for most entry level positions in graphic design. Whereas it is possible to get started in the field of graphic design with either an associate’s degree or a certificate and begin working as an independent contractor, the vast majority of firms that employ graphic designers typically require candidates to have a Bachelor’s degree in their field. Furthermore, the procurement of a bachelor’s degree in this discipline greatly increases the likelihood that professionals will eventually be able to obtain an advanced position within their profession.

Most bachelor’s degree programs in this field are offered at conventional colleges, universities, and at private design schools. The vast majority of the curriculum for this discipline is related to computers, software, and subjects such as studio art, web site design, commercial graphics production, computerized design and fundamental design. However, students should also be aware of the fact that the vast majority of bachelor’s programs require students to complete at least a year of courses that pertain to design and its correlation to art before being allowed entrance into their program (BLS).

Master’s Degrees

Individuals attempting to establish a career in graphic design should know that a master’s degree is not required to work within this field. However, these graduate level degrees can play a significant factor in helping candidates to achieve advanced positions within this line of work. It is possible that with a bachelor’s degree and the right amount of experience, candidates can also earn advanced positions in graphic design. However, the likelihood that one can earn these positions is exponentially increased if a candidate holds a master’s degree in this discipline. Upper echelon positions within this trade include employment in a supervisory capacity such as a chief designer or as the creative director of the art and design department for a large company.

Additionally, it should be noted that graphic designers who specialize in services related to computer systems design typically make the most money out of all the different areas of graphic design, which usually include printing, specialized services, books and periodicals, and public relations. Those graphic designers who are able to earn master’s degrees will increase the possibility of their reaching advanced positions within the area of computer systems, of which animation and web site design are becoming increasingly popular (BLS).

Another common option for those who earn a master’s degree within graphic design is to teach at the postsecondary level. It may be possible for candidates – who have enough experience – to teach at this level of education with only a bachelor’s degree. However, those with master’s degrees will have more of a likelihood of being able to do so, and can possibly even consider the position of a professor or some other form of faculty member at a distinguished university somewhere down the line.

What You Need to Know About Accreditation and Graphic Design Schools

Accreditation is the process of reviewing an institution to determine if it meets certain standards of excellence. In America, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is the sole body responsible for accrediting arts and design schools. NASAD is not directly part of the U.S. government, but it has been given the authority to review and grant accreditation by the U.S. Department of Education. According to the mandate established by the Department of Education, NASAD is responsible for accrediting degree programs and non-degree-granting programs as well as campus-based institutions and online-learning programs.

NASAD’s accreditation process consists of three stages.

  1. The institution seeking accreditation (or seeking to renew accreditation, which institutions must do periodically) evaluates itself and describes its programs.
  2. A team of NASAD evaluators visits the school for on-site review of the curricula, teaching methods, and facilities.
  3. A commission reviews all of the information gathered in the first two steps and makes a decision on whether or not to grant accreditation.

NASAD strives to strike a balance between holding institutions to specific standards of quality and guidelines, and allowing for variety and innovation in curricula and programs. After all, Arts and Design programs must reflect the quickly changing graphic design profession, so strictly holding institutions to specific curriculum requirements would prevent them from innovating to meet the needs of new graphic design students.

For a full list of accredited institutions, visit the NASAD website.

Is It Necessary To Attend an Accredited Institution?

There are currently 305 graphic design programs that have been accredited by NASAD. Must you attend one of these programs? Not necessarily.

If you hope to strike out immediately as a highly paid freelancer, or start working at a high profile agency, then getting a degree from an accredited institution is essential. This is particularly the case if you plan to working in markets glutted with design professionals such as New York or Los Angeles. If you’re content with slowly building your graphic design skills while supporting yourself in another manner, non-accredited schools are a legitimate option.

Ultimately, what matters is that you learn the principles of design and gain the technical skills necessary to operate the software programs that are standard in this field. Self-motivation matters more than anything else, and you can learn these skills anywhere. You can build a strong portfolio while attending any school, on campus or by distance learning, and with enough perseverance and patience, a stellar portfolio and work experience will help you rise in the field.

Article Resources:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Association of Schools of Art and Design