At the Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degree levels, there are multiple choices due to the diversity of names in graphic design. Degree titles may include, but are not limited to the following:
- Graphic design
- Communication design
- Communications design
- Visual communications
- Visual communication design
- Interaction design
- Advertising design
- Multimedia design
This article references the more common graduate degree names. We will also use examples of different curricula to elaborate on the courses you are likely to encounter.
Master of Fine Arts
The MFA is widely recognized as a terminal professional degree, meaning that it qualifies a designer to teach in a professionally oriented university and to work at the highest levels of practice. For almost all schools, it’s the minimum qualification for teaching. For someone with a BFA in graphic design or the equivalent, an MFA program will span two to three years and 60–90 credit hours and may extend an additional year for someone who has a degree from another field.
Some schools include an internship in the program. For example, the inclusion of a 180-hour internship under the supervision of a professional working in the field of graphic design. Along with an internship, you can also gain invaluable experience in a 90-hour practicum where you will compile a body of creative work. Graphic Design internships and practicums are the best way to bridge the gap between earning a college degree and finding a job in the field you studied.
Master of Graphic Design
The Master of Graphic Design (MGD) program emphasizes user-based design and research. Coursework acquaints students with relevant theories and design research methods that frame and ground the design of propositional visual communication systems. Major topics address the cultures, the contexts and experiences of end users, and emergent social and information environments within which design operate. Studios and seminars expose students to practices, histories, and theories of design and other related disciplines that inform contemporary design practices.
You may also study design research methods appropriate to professional practice. Students investigate queries, individually and collaboratively, through making (sketches, wire-frames, artifactual prototypes, concept maps, and research posters), assigned and independent reading, discussion, critique, and writing. In addition, students create a body of work as they explore research interest areas within studio and seminar subtopics.
Master of Arts
The Master of Arts in Graphic Design (MAGD) is appropriate for professionals or recent graduates who seek an in-depth study of graphic design practice and theory. In a residency program, your classmates are professionals and graduates from complementary fields, including liberal arts, fine arts, architecture, media studies, and journalism as well as those who studied design as undergraduates yet desire a more comprehensive and rigorous education in the theory and concepts of graphic design.
The MAGD Studio portion provides an intensive introduction to design, taught with a strong emphasis on design fundamentals, process, visual research, and working across media. The Design Theory and Practice seminar build students’ knowledge of design history, discourse, and professional methodologies. The MAGD Workshop focuses on creating complex, well-crafted design projects and curating a portfolio. In the spring, MAGD students create and exhibit a self-directed design project and a professional portfolio.
Another M.A. degree option is a one year program for individuals from non-design backgrounds who want to complement their professional profile and credentials. You learn about the fundamentals of design for interactions, including visual communication, prototyping, and human-centered practices.
A one-year program is a sufficient introduction to design that will augment your skill set in this discipline. This could provide the impetus or means to a change in your career path. For others, this is the first step toward deeper studies that will ultimately lead to further your education. You might go on to complete a Master of Professional Studies (MPS), Master of Design (MDes), or Ph.D. program.
Master of Professional Studies
MPS degrees come in a host of flavors. A short list is Human Resources Management, Information Science, Information Visualization, journalism, real estate, art therapy, and design. The Education Advisory Board (EAB), which does market research for colleges and universities, reports that master’s degrees will account for nearly a third of all post-secondary degrees. This increase won’t be coming from “traditional” master’s programs.” According to the EAB, the new growth will come primarily from professional master’s programs focused on specific job skills.
Fundamentally, MPS degrees teach students very specific knowledge with the goal of helping them in their current careers, or in a career, they are aiming to pursue.
An example is an MPS in Design Management & Communications. The coursework brings together the worlds of creative management, design thinking, and business strategy. You’ll develop an understanding of creativity and the design process. You will master the managerial insights and leadership strategies needed to deliver business-focused outcomes.
This practical degree teaches creative strategy, design leadership, digital and traditional marketing communications, social media, management, and branding. Graduates will have the knowledge and skills to become a design manager or creative director in the professions of visual design and business strategy.