United States Graduate Graphic Design Programs

Graphic Design Graduate Programs offer students the ability to develop themselves professionally and artistically. Graduate degrees in graphic design explore a very distinct form of communication that continues to evolve through computer animation, motion arts, and digital imagery. Students could thus be in for a dynamic course of study that allows them to take their portfolio of design skills to modern heights.

Graphic Design Graduate Programs

Graphic Design Graduate Programs: Overview

Today’s Graphic Design Graduate Programs often meld ‘old school’ art techniques with computer software classes to help students create visual concepts for multiple platforms.

Individuals enrolled in graphic design schools could learn how to master the technical skills and artistic versatility to work on projects that range from advertisements and brochures to websites and digital publications.

Also, for those who want to pursue a career move that involves a more creative or managerial role, some programs could help students learn how to keep a budget on track. Or, keep a team of creatives motivated.

DID YOU KNOW?
17% of Production Managers and Design Directors report they have a Masters degree. i

What is Graphic Design?

As graphic design is both an art and a practice, students enrolled in design graduate programs might learn to plan and project ideas and stories with images and textual content. Also, through projects, feedback and some managerial courses, students might learn to more effectively communicate and/or navigate some of the commercial art business operations.

What is the Difference Between Graphic Design and Multimedia Design?

The difference between graphic design and multimedia design is somewhat blurred these days. Essentially, graphic design is the foundation for every kind of design. Think business card to billboard, and everything else – web, cartoon, brochures

and so on.

Multimedia design is the brainchild of static design meets multiple interactive platforms. There is usually some type of computer genius required to help images move, so think animation, video, movies, game development and more.

Graphic Designer Education

Some graduate graphic design programs might include a full spectrum of computer-assisted art and design, printmaking, sketching and technical drawing. Graphic design grad students might also take courses in color theory, digital imaging and multimedia applications. Fine arts-oriented programs might include a class in still and life modeling as well as studio technique.

Sample Graduate-Level Graphic Design Courses

Graphic Design School’s course lists are your window into what you might study there, so preview the sample topics below, then check out individual programs. Align courses with professional interests or artistic goals.

  • Professional Workflow
  • Aesthetics and Theory
  • History of New Media
  • Special Effects
  • Graphics in Video and Film

Types of Graduate Degrees in Graphic Design

Graduate degrees in graphic design are primarily available at the Masters level. Graphic Design Masters programs could lead to a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA). However, some graphic design schools may offer graduate certificates and even, doctoral level program options.

Popular Masters in Graphic Design Programs

Program

Degree Awarded

Format

Master of Fine Arts in Media Design

M.F.A.

Online

Interdisciplinary Design -Master of Arts/Master of Fine Arts

M.A./M.F.A.

Campus

Master of Fine Arts in Communications Design

M.F.A.

Campus

Master of Arts in Graphic Design

M.A.

Online/Campus

Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design

M.F.A.

Online/ Campus

Most design graduate programs lend themselves to some structure via core requirements and some freedom via a chosen focal area. Basically, a graduate-level graphic design degree could provide an intensive way to define a specific skill set and expand theoretical knowledge. Course plans are sometimes coupled with individual research which might allow participants to make an original and visionary contribution to their field.

MFA Graphic Design

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Graphic Design is widely recognized as a terminal professional degree. What this generally means, per the Professional Association for Design (AIGA), is that a MFA may enable a designer to pursue a career as a “teacher in a professionally oriented university and to work at the highest levels of practice.”ii

Participants in MFA Graphic Design programs might work to strategize and solve complex problems that exist between the studio and boardroom. A robust MFA program might also value creative research, theory and method, to spur students to think critically as they approach their capstone.

This final project or thesis could show off students’ independent thought and inquiry. Depending on the program, the thesis could culminate in an exhibition or screening of the student’s completed work and a thesis paper.

That stated, there are a variety of MFA program emphases which could target a specific area of graphic design and/or highlight particular courses.

Media Design: A MFA in Media Design could focus on areas such as client communications and the team dynamics needed to drive successful creative campaigns. Workflow, brand strategy and consumer behavior courses might also be discussed

Digital Animation and Motion Arts: A MFA in Digital Animation and Motion Arts could help students create evocative stories and films with 2-D and 3-D digital animation. Courses in live action, motion graphics, storyboarding and storytelling are some possible features

Digital Imaging: A MFA in Digital Imaging could take an enthusiasm for photography into the electronic age. Students might be exposed to courses in 3-D printing, digital photography, and silkscreen lithography 

Computer Graphics: A MFA In Computer Graphics could delve into in areas of design that might include content, print, web, interactive design, exhibition design, and interface design  

For someone with a BFA in graphic design or the equivalent, an MFA program could span two to three years and 60–90 credit hours and may extend an extra year for someone who has a degree from another field. There are also online graphic design MFA programs which may be offered in an accelerated format and may require about one year for a full-time student to complete.

MA Graphic Design

A Master of Arts (MA) in Graphic Design is usually more academic and liberal arts-oriented than the MFA. In some schools, a MA is planned-out to enable students to develop and blend their technical, critical and aesthetic skills.

The way a MA degree is planned-out varies. For instance, they could be designed around a from 30 to 48-credit structure which a full-time student might complete in about 2 years. Frequently too, these programs focus on a particular application or subdomain within graphic or communication design such as emergent media.

Diverse courses from across the spectrum of history and contemporary contexts could provide breadth of knowledge, while student-chosen electives could tailor studies to personal interests. Some sample MA courses are listed below.

  • Digital Design Concepts
  • Emergent Digital Tools
  • Making Educational Games
  • Sustainable Design

Participants might take several foundational graduate courses, computer lab or studio work, a wide array of electives, research methods courses and a final project and/or thesis. Some type of internship may also be required.

MS Graphic Design

Where the MFA might provide more studio arts courses, and a MA might meld art and academia, a Master of Science (MS) program in Graphic Design could provide more technical instruction. That stated, the MS programs could enable artists to bring their creativity to life through things such as advanced printing technology, fabrication printing and laser printing.

MS students could also find fewer electives in favor of courses in areas such as applied engineering, business systems, product development and management. Other MS courses could include some actual science (E.g. material and polymer science). Preview some sample topics below, then refer to individual course lists.

  • Additive Material Deposition
  • Subtraction Printing Technology
  • 3-D Surface Printing
  • Accounting and Finance

Throughout the program, students might also take part in research-based real-world projects that use advanced technology and design solutions. A final thesis is usually required in a Graphic Design MS.

PhD in Graphic Design

A PhD in Graphic Design is a research doctorate. Students may be exposed to a rigorous course plan where they might be creatively and intellectually stimulated to and define new forms of design experience, inquiry and scholarship.

The core of a PhD in graphic design program typically includes courses in qualitative and quantitative research methods, and design theory and criticism. Students might also explore the interplay between cinema, design, emerging media and critical thinking.

To this end, some PhD programs in graphic design fields cover topics from multiple disciplines. Students may need to take a wide spectrum of foundational courses, then, might be able to plan out the rest of their curricula based on a chosen concentration.

A thesis project or dissertation that requires original research is typically a requirement as well. Candidates may also complete a teaching assistantship. Some areas of research that may be investigated by PhD students might include topics such as the examples provided below.

  • Interactive Architecture
  • Database Documentary
  • Digital Historiography
  • Games and interactivity
  • Immersive Journalism

Depending on the school, PhD students might spend time in various research labs, and may work closely with faculty.

Applying to a Graphic Design Graduate School

Admission to Graphic Arts Graduate Programs could be different at each school since this is where the standards are set.

Generally, applicants to Masters in Graphic Design programs need a Bachelors degree with a school-stipulated undergraduate major and GPA. Applicants who may lack the foundational design courses or are not proficient with industry-standard computer programs may be required to take prerequisite coursework prior to admission.

For PhD programs, less common for sure, an applicant might need both a Bachelors and Masters (with thesis) in a related area of study. In addition, students may need some professional design experience, as well as an area of interest upon which to focus doctoral research.

Aside from a completed application and transcripts from prior education, some of the following material may be required.

  • Portfolio of Creative Work – usually in a digital PDF format
  • Letter of Intent
  • Recommendations
  • Resume

Earn a Graphic Design Degree Online or On Campus

Have you always wanted to study graphic design in a certain city, state or country? Location could present an opportunity to extend studies into the community – whether through its art museums, galleries or partnerships.

On the other hand, an online graphic design degree could bring an element of flexibility, especially to the at-work graphic artist. Factor your schedule needs into the equation as you examine the various programs to make your choice.

Find Graphic Design Graduate Programs & Apply Now!

Filter Graphic Design Graduate Programs by format (campus, online) and level (Masters, MFA, Doctorate, Certificate). Compare programs to see which ones you want to apply to. Then, use the on-page form to quickly contact partner schools.


[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/27-1011.00 | [ii] aiga.org/guide-designprogramsdiffer

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