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There are hundreds of design programs in the United States, and
their content and philosophies vary widely. This gives you a lot of
options, but is also means that identifying the particular programs
best suited to your needs and interests can be difficult. The
following information can help you understand and compare your
Graphic design programs are found in a number of different kinds
of institutions and in different areas within these institutions.
You need to look carefully at each program; its curriculum, the
ratio of hands-on design work to academic classes in design or
other disciplines, and the type of degree awarded. You also need to
assess your short-term and long-term objectives, the kind of
college experience you want, and the kinds of career opportunities
available after graduation.
Generally, four kinds of institutions of higher learning can
prepare you for a career in graphic design. A university will
typically offer either a four-year undergraduate program leading to
a BS (bachelor of science) or BA (bachelor of arts) degree. Many
universities also offer a graduate degree, the MFA (master of fine
arts). Within a university, graphic design is likely to be a major
in the College of Fine Arts; smaller universities might offer
graphic design as a concentration within a fine arts major.
Four-year colleges offer only undergraduate programs leading to a
BA. Typically, graphic design courses are part of the offerings in
a fine arts major.
Art schools, often called schools of design or institutes of
design, offer a more intensive design education than colleges or
universities. On the undergraduate level, four-year programs lead
to a BFA (bachelor of fine arts). In an art school, you will
usually find a comprehensive graphic design major in its own
department. Some art schools also offer the MFA graduate
Two-year programs leading to an AA (associate degree) are
available from community colleges. These programs are often
designed to allow students to transfer credits to a college,
university or art school program. Check requirements carefully to
leave your options open.
Because there are exceptions to these typical programs, you
should look carefully at the curriculum and degree requirements of
any program you are considering. Always make sure that you
understand how the program prepares you both for employment and for
Particularly important is the number of graphic design courses
available versus the quantity of humanities courses (or, in some
cases, science courses) available or required. This ratio can be
very important to your post-graduate opportunities.
For example, in most college or university programs, students
receive a broad liberal arts education. Because their design
program may not be as comprehensive as art school programs, college
students may wish to supplement their education with internships or
concentrated summer programs in graphic design, and then get a
graduate design degree. However, because designers work with
diverse clients whose messages might involve content from abstract
art to zoology, a broad exposure to ideas and a well-rounded
education are often an advantage. By contrast, art schools offer
fewer humanities and social studies courses than colleges or
universities, but students are intensively prepared for current job
An associate degree program in a community college gives
students the technical skills to become production artists who
prepare art for printing. Graduates might work as assistants in the
design or printing industry. These programs give students
immediately marketable skills, but advancement in the field may be
difficult without additional study.
Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory
Edited by Sharon Helmer PoggenpohlAIGA update:
There exists another type of two-year program that goes beyond the
tech-school education in both intent and result. This type of
program is rigorous and likened to a graduate school in intensity
and in the fact that most of those who enroll already have
four-year liberal arts degrees from reputable universities and
colleges. Employing respected industry leaders as instructors,
these schools offer intensive, comprehensive design education, with
an emphasis on the process of design, especially as it is applied
to branding. These schools take an interdisciplinary approach that
parallels a real industry representation across all practices
including design, advertising, graphic design, media architecture,
photography and illustration. Graduates of these schools are
prepared to create a single brand experience across all media
environments and are capable of moving easily between the various
media. The structure of these programs parallels the industry,
wherein designers, art directors, writers, media architects,
illustrators, and photographers serve as immediate resources for
one another. These schools allow for individual attention, the
nurturing of each student's particular talents and strengths, and a
great degree of self-expression and experimentation.
Design education doesn't happen in the typical university
lecture hall or laboratory.
Section: Tools and Resources -
How can you find the design program that's right for you?
There are probably as many kinds of designers as there are kinds of
design, so how do you know whether a career in design might be
right for you?
Bob Sutton, business management guru, Stanford professor and author of Weird Ideas That Work, The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss, pulls from his considerable body of business research, analysis and well-informed common sense to advise in-house designers.
Section: Inspiration -
in-house design, INitiative, advice, collaboration
Learn to facilitate interdisciplinary problem-solving sessions in this professional development workshop series hosted by AIGA chapters around the country.
Section: Why Design -
Event, professional development, leadership, Design for Good
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