Graphic design surrounds us in our daily lives. It is the arrangement of visual elements to convey information, tell a story or even provoke an emotion. You can see it virtually everywhere: on billboards, magazines, book covers and product packaging and on the Internet. Graphic designers try to combine form and function in their work. For example, when designers arrange elements on a page or screen, they take into account how the human eye naturally scans the page. Graphic designers work in industries such as advertising, marketing, publishing, Internet technology and software development. They can also be found in the movie and television industries.
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Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards. When deciding on a school to earn your certificate in graphic design, evaluate whether the program will develop your marketable skills. AIGA, the professional association for design, also recommends in the article How to Select a Design School that you evaluate aspects of schools such as the curriculum, the credentials of the faculty, the quality of life at the school, the facilities and feedback from professional graphic designers.
You can become a multimedia or production artist in a design firm in as little as 1 year with a certificate in graphic design. However, to qualify for most jobs in graphic design and to be competitive on the job market, a bachelors degree is recommended. You can complete a bachelors degree in graphic design in 4 years.
Certificate in Graphic Design
Undergraduate certificates provide the knowledge and skills for students to obtain jobs providing support to graphic designers. This option does not require students to hold a bachelor’s degrees.
- Credit hours/length of study: 1-3 years (30-60 hours)
- Coursework: While studying for your certificate in graphic design, you can expect to take courses in graphic design for web and print media, typography and print production. You will also take courses in commonly-used graphic design software such as Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop. Some certificate programs also cover the business of graphic design.
- Employment prospects: You can qualify for jobs as a production artist, multimedia artist or illustrator. If you have skills in website technology, you can work as a web designer.
Graduate certificates, also known as post-baccalaureate certificates, allow students to refine their skills and add more diversity to their portfolios. This option requires students to hold bachelor’s degree in order to apply.
- Credit hours/length of study: 1-3 years (30-60 hours)
- Employment prospects: With a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a graduate certificate in graphic design, you can work as a graphic designer, information architect, project manager or branding expert.
Associate Degree in Graphic Design
An Associate in Graphic Design is a good way to gain immediately marketable skills or to obtain an introductory knowledge of the subject. If you plan to continue your education with a bachelors degree in graphic design, an associates degree is an affordable way to begin your studies in the field.
An Associate of Arts (AA) in Graphic Design provides an introduction to graphic design and general education courses in liberal arts. This degree is not very different from the AS degree. The AA option is recommended for students who intend to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program after completing the AA.
An Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) in Graphic Design focuses on design and artistic technique. The AFA option is intended for students who will transfer to a bachelor’s degree program after completing the AFA.
An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Graphic Design emphasizes the career and technical skills used in graphic design. This option is intended for students who plan to begin work in graphic design directly after graduation, although the AAS can sometimes be used to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program.
An Associate of Science (AS) in Graphic Design provides an introduction to graphic design and general education courses in science and mathematics. This degree is not very different from the AA degree. The AS option is recommended for students who intend to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program after completing the AS.
- Credit hours/length of study: 2 years (60-90 credit hours)
- Coursework: While studying for your associate degree in graphic design, you can expect to take core courses in typography, design fundamentals, drawing, layout and graphics software applications. In an AA or AS program you will also be required to take general education courses in subjects such as social science, English, health, history, mathematics and natural science.
- Employment prospects: An associate degree in graphic design will qualify you for jobs such as a production artist, multimedia artist or desktop publisher. You can also continue your studies in graphic design, media arts or related fields such as web design, information design or user experience design.
Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) provides a broad liberal arts education with some courses in design. It is similar to the BS degree. The BA is a good option for students who have broad interests that include graphic design, or students who are looking for a more affordable bachelor’s degree.
A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) is a professional degree with courses primarily in design. BFA students also take some courses in liberal arts. This degree is a good option for students who are preparing for a career as a graphic designer.
A Bachelor of Science (BS) provides a broad education in science and mathematics with some courses in design. It is similar to the BA degree. The BS is a good option for students who have broad interests that include graphic design, or students who are looking for a more affordable bachelor’s degree.
- Credit hours/length of study: 120-180 hours
- Coursework: You will take courses in color, 2-dimensional design and 3-dimensional design. Art courses will teach you drawing and photography. Business classes will teach you the principles of advertising and marketing and how to run a graphic design business. Depending upon the program, you may also have coursework in computer graphics, electronic publishing or graphic design production. Throughout your education in graphic design, you will be developing a portfolio, which includes samples of your work to showcase your ability as a designer.
- Employment prospects: You can work as a graphic designer, multimedia artist, production artist or desktop publisher. With a few to several years of professional experience, you can work as a project manager or creative director. If you have knowledge or experience working on websites or other interactive media, you may qualify for jobs as a user experience designer or an information architect.
Master’s Degree in Graphic Design
Master’s degrees in graphic design are offered as the Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA). These programs are not very common or necessary for a career in graphic design.
The job outlook for graphic designers is fair. The number of jobs is expected to grow at a rate of 13 percent, which is about as fast as the average rate for all professions. However, there will be strong competition for jobs. By 2018 there will be an additional 36,900 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graphic designers with experience in website design and animation will have the best job prospects. Design projects are increasing in interactive media, including websites and mobile phones. In particular, growth in Internet advertising is expected to increase the number of graphic design jobs. Many graphic designers are currently employed in print media, where jobs are decreasing. Jobs are also decreasing in desktop publishing.
- Graphic Designer
- Production Artist
- Multimedia Artist
- Creative Director
- Project Manager
- Desktop Publisher
- Information Architect
- User Experience Designer