Graphic design training curriculum for high school teachers

This curriculum was created specifically for high school art teachers who wish to incorporate graphic design in their art classes and help their students understand what graphic design is and how to use it. It focuses on the similarities between art and graphic design, and reinforces the common foundation of technique, materials, and craft. The curriculum will give high school students exposure to design thinking and the design process as a way of introducing them to visual communication.

Adhering to the National Visual Arts and K–12 curriculum standards, the curriculum is designed not only to be educational for students, but also practical for art teachers to apply in their classrooms. In addition to visual communication, a core focus of this curriculum is on design thinking, a strategic form of creative problem solving that is not limited to graphic design—or even art—but is being applied to a diverse range of problems. While the curriculum has been created to help prepare students interested in pursuing graphic design at the college or university level, its focus is on how people communicate visually and how to utilize design thinking to help students prepare for any occupational or academic field they may choose.

The curriculum has been built to support a full course on graphic design with plenty of room for customization based on the unique classroom dynamics, access to technology, and needs of each individual art teacher and their particular classroom. Though the intent is for teachers to use the entire curriculum, any unit can stand alone. The curriculum has been created in an effort to be inclusive and therefore does not include the use of specialized technology (hardware or software).

Beyond simply communicating, graphic designers strive to stimulate intellectual and emotional responses. The role of graphic design is not only to communicate and explain, but to be the catalyst that propels a viewer to a new way of seeing, experiencing, and thinking about the world. Successful design comes from empathetic people, not machines and technology.

Created by AIGA Minnesota with support from AIGA Innovate.

The below handouts, rubrics, and resources are free to use. Simply fill out this brief form to gain access.

Table of contents

Unit 1: Introduction to Graphic Design

Students are introduced to the industry, what designers do, and what graphic design actually is. Students will get a taste of what is to come in Units 2 and 3 by learning and practicing the creation of thumbnail sketches, rough sketches, and comprehensive design, the building blocks of the design process.

Introduction to Graphic Design

Unit 2: 2D Design Basics

Students learn the fundamentals of two-dimensional design, the foundation of art, graphic design, and visual communication. This unit focuses on how through simple, yet intentional visual manipulation, points, lines, planes, gestalt, and color can communicate and create meaning.

Unit Introduction
Gestalt—Shape, Balance, Rhythm, Unity

Unit 3: Design Process

Students will learn and practice the design process and explore it through a simple five-step plan. Designers practice the design process in order to find solutions to the visual problems they take on. Students will be able to identify each step in the design process, understand the importance of each step, and implement them.

Define the Problem
Generate Ideas
Design Development

Unit 4: Typography

Students will be introduced to the power of words through typography. After a brief but important history of the alphabet, students learn to use typography as a communication tool—not only to make artful design, but to organize and communicate the meaning of an idea. Students will understand how type can be used to make text more readable and understandable and how it can organize content for ease of use and comprehension.

Typography in Action
The Language of Type
Font Pairing and Hierarchy

Unit 5: References; Glossary

A list of the participants who helped create the curriculum, references used in its creation, and a glossary of terms for easy reference.



The handouts are supplementary documents linked directly to the specific unit sections. They are referenced specifically in those sections.

  • Handout 1A.1-Thumbnails
  • Handout 1A.1-Thumbnails
  • Handout 1A.2-Roughs
  • Handout 4A.1-History of the Alphabet
  • Handout 4B.1-Elements of Art
  • Handout 4B.2-Principles of Design
  • Handout 4C.1_Font Pages
  • Handout 4C.2_My Name Is
  • Handout 4C.3_Typeface Anatomy
  • Handout 4C.4_Pica Rulers
  • Handout 4C.5_Alignment
  • Handout 4C.6_Star Tribune Sports
  • Handout 4D.1_Guide to Font Pairing

These customizable rubrics are are meant as examples of how to assess this curriculum. There is one available per unit; unit 4 includes additional rubrics for use within that unit.

Other rubric examples:

  • Unit 4B Rubric-Typography In Action
  • Unit 4C Rubric-Language of Type
  • Unit 4D Rubric-Font Pairing and Hierarchy
  • Unit 1A Rubric
  • Unit 2B Rubric
  • Unit 3D and 3E Rubrics
  • Unit 4D Rubric