Making Choices About the Study of Communication Design

Many colleges and universities offer courses and degree programs in design. However, content, time spent in the major, and graduation competencies reflect various purposes. The label “design” carries many meanings. This diversity is healthy as long as students make informed decisions about the match between their own educational goals and what programs deliver in actual preparation for performance in the field.

The AIGA and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), which accredits college and university design programs, have prepared this discussion to assist students in making choices among educational programs in design. The text that follows is intended to help students consider the extent to which specific communication design programs can accomplish their published goals and the clarity and accuracy of claims about career preparation. Click here for a complete listing of NASAD accredited schools by state. A private art school listing can be found here.  

Communication designers work in print-based design (books, posters, magazines), environmental applications (exhibition and retail design, wayfinding, and signage), packaging, broadcast media (film titling and television on-air graphics), and interactive media (websites, games, and software). Messages, objects, systems, and services created by communication designers create the conditions for people’s experiences; they identify, interpret, inform, instruct, persuade, and entertain. Work in the field addresses the physical, cultural, technological, and economic aspects of specific situations and the cognitive and social behaviors of people as they interact with information.

A variety of titles refer to work in communication design: graphic design, visual design, visual communication design, advertising design, brand design, information design, interaction design, user experience design, and software design. It is quite common to find courses titled design in the beginning semesters of college arts curricula. It is important to understand the distinction between this instruction in the arrangement of abstract two- and three-dimensional form and preparation for the professionally oriented problem solving of communication designers. The field of illustration addresses image-making for communication purposes, but illustration courses alone are generally insufficient in addressing the full range of skills and knowledge for communication design practice. Likewise, some aspects of computer science are applicable to communication design but do not provide a comprehensive design education.