Graphic Design Degree and Programs

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If you love art and are constantly told you could make a living at it, it might be time to consider a career in graphic design. Graphic designers harness their creative powers and artistic ability to create a wide range of visual concepts that sell products, captivate consumers, and entertain. General responsibilities of these workers include:

  • Meeting with clients to discuss project scope and goals
  • Determining the product message
  • Developing graphics and creative advertisements
  • Presenting designs to clients for their review
  • Incorporating changes and tweaking designs to client specifications

Graphic designers and other artistic workers can be found in a wide range of workplace settings. For example, many work in manufacturing, specialized design services, newspaper and magazine publishing, advertising and public relations, or wholesale trade. Because of the nature of graphic design, many graphic designers are able to telecommute and work from the comfort of their own homes.

Online Graphic Design Education

But, what makes successful graphic design students unique? According to Sarah Adams, professor of Graphic Design eLearning at the Savannah College of Art and Design, graphic designers really need a passion for visual communication to excel in their careers. In other words, graphic design students need to be dedicated to fulfilling their work mission — not just the fun parts.

"If someone is not willing to research, sketch and invest time in the creative process before moving to the digital phase, graphic design may not be for you," says Adams. "With all of my students they have a few things in common: they have a desire to learn, are not afraid to challenge and explore in-depth design, and have a longing to research, sketch and design."

Speaking of students, it's important for them to know which type of graphic design degree works best before they sign up for school. Whether students want to pursue on-campus education or online graphic design degrees, the degree level they choose can make a difference when it comes actually finding work.

"For students, deciding which path to take is dependent on what their ultimate goals will be long-term," says Adams. For those who may want to run their own graphic design business, a Bachelor of Fine Arts is a good route."

According to Adams, students with a Bachelor of Fine Arts are able to not only pursue graphic design as a major but supplement it with a minor, such as photography or marketing for mobile and interactive environments.

"In regards to the graduate programs, the Master of Fine Arts is for those who want to pursue that terminal degree with the possibility of teaching at some point."

In addition to Bachelor's and Master's degrees, many students also earn associate's degrees and certificates in Graphic Design. The following chart provides some additional details on each of these educational options and what they entail:

Degree Average Time to Complete Courses Required Probable Careers
Certificate 1-3 years Graphic Design, Print Production, Interactive Design, Fine Arts Craft and Fine Artists, Floral Designers
Associate degree 2 years of full-time study Graphic Design Theory, Computer Applications, Color Theory, English Composition, Photo Editing, Web graphic Arts Design Floral Designers
Bachelor's degree 4 years of full-time study Drawing, Color Theory and Application, Western Art, Speaking of Ideas, Typography, Graphic Design Media Management, Production for Print and Digital Environments Multimedia Artists and Animators, Art Directors, Fashion Designers, Graphic Designers
Master's degree 2 years of full-time study after earning a Bachelor's degree Integrated Design Media, Visual Communication History, Research, and Discourse, Visual Information strategy, Typographic Strategy Art Directors

While many schools only offer traditional graphic design instruction, others offer online graphic design programs that allow students to pursue their education and study from the comfort of their own homes. Furthermore, online graphic design schools often use the same curriculum and professors for both on-campus and web-based instruction, which means you are guaranteed an excellent learning experience on par with traditional education programs.

According to Adams, that's exactly how the Savannah College of Art & Design's online graphic design programs work, which also makes it possible for their students to bounce back and forth between their on-campus and online programs.

"The curriculum is the same, as well as the end goals for the students, which permits mobility for the student to study one or more quarters on a SCAD campus, such as Lacoste, France or Hong Kong," she says.

Graphic Design Career Outlook

Online graphic design schools prepare students for a wide range of creative careers. The following chart shares some of the most important statistics to remember when considering a job in graphic design or a related profession:

Occupation Annual Mean Wage in 2014 (National) Projected Growth 2012 - 2022 (National)
Graphic Designer $50,670 7 percent
Art Director $97,850 3 percent
Fine Artists, including Painters, Sculptors and Illustrators $51,120 4 percent
Multimedia Artists and Animators $69,410 6 percent
Floral Designers $26,520 -8 percent
Interior Designers $54,850 13 percent
Fashion Designers $73,690 -3 percent

Choosing the Right Online Graphic Design Schools

Where you once had to choose among brick-and-mortar schools that were near your home, you can now choose between local institutions and online graphic design schools. However, there are many factors you should consider before settling on a program. Here are some questions students should ask before they enroll:

  • Do I need to be online at specific times for lectures, or can I complete my coursework at any time of my choosing?
  • Can I study at my own pace, or am I bound to a specific timeline?
  • Does this school offer any online message boards that will allow me to communicate with my professors and peers?
  • Does this school offer networking opportunities for students?
  • Does this school offer assistance with employment after I graduate?
  • Is this school accredited?

Since not all online graphic design programs are created equal, it's important to do your due diligence ahead of time. First and foremost, that means finding out whether your school choice is accredited and exploring program options to find one that works with your busy schedule and personal style.

1. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh: Art Directors, Craft and Fine Artists, Fashion Designers, Floral Designers, Graphic Designers, Multimedia Artists and Animators
2. B.A. in Visual Communication, Savannah College of Art & Design, http://www.scad.edu/academics/programs/graphic-design/degrees/ba
3. Graphic Design Associate Degree Program Overview, Penn Foster, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/web-and-graphic-design/graphic-design-associate-degree
4. Graphic Design Certificate, Massachusetts College of Art & Design, http://www.massart.edu/continuing_education/design_certificate_programs/graphic_design_certificate.html
5. Interview with Sarah Adams, professor of Graphic Design eLearning at the Savannah College of Art and Design, August 15, 2015
6. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
7. M.F.A. in Graphic Design, Savannah College of Art & Design, http://www.scad.edu/academics/programs/graphic-design/degrees/mfa

Graphic Design Degree and Programs

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