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What is a Degree in Graphic Design?

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What is it?

The Professional Association for Design (AIGA) defines graphic design as the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form it takes can be physical or virtual and can include images, words, or graphics. Editorial design for web and mobile is the most tangible example, including websites and mobile apps for publication. Some digital design involves the presentation of rapidly changing streaming information, also known as data visualization, creating both interactive and non-interactive interfaces.

What does it take to be a Graphic Designer?

Designers are keen observers and lovers of useful and beautiful objects, communications, messages, and experiences. They pay attention as they move through their day, possessing a hyper-awareness of the visual and textual world around them. For example, you may look at the differences between a pocket dictionary, a novel, and a large-format travel magazine. Why are they different sizes? Why is the paper thicker and glossier in the magazine? Through this keen observation, you will find that each design decision—the scale of the publication, the layout of its pages, even the feel of the paper—is not arbitrary or subjective, but rather is meant to guide and influence the reader in some way. If you are by nature inquisitive and possess the creativity to design, then this could be the appropriate degree for you.

Undergraduate Education

Some Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design programs offer two concentrations: 3D modeling, animation, and web design. Coursework explores digital graphic design, desktop publishing, typography, and more, culminating in a graphic design portfolio. The curriculum prepares graduates for careers in graphic and web design, advertising, print and packaging design, and art direction.

Some of the courses you will take:

  • Digital Graphic Design for the Web: Students learn about the technical requirements of professionally created digital web documents. Topics include design strategies, web authoring/editing environments, color calibration and aesthetics, web typography, style sheets, template use, graphics format selecting and optimization, and HTML coding and debugging.
  • Graphics and Layout in Print Media:  Master Adobe Illustrator as a primary tool in exploring visual perception. Students gain proficiency with this software through a variety of creative exercises. These familiarize the student with basic visual principles such as figure/ground manipulation, shape grouping, letter form shape creation, and grid and system creation.

Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design

A B.S. degree covers topics like graphic design technology and software, history of the field, typography and drawing, vector illustration, and publishing. Students prepare to pursue a variety of careers utilizing graphic design knowledge and skills, including graphic designer, creative director, art director, film and video editor, marketing manager, product designer, animator, and photographer.

Students prepare to pursue a diverse array of careers in professional graphic design, including packaging designer, photo software editor, publication designer, advertising designer, print design specialist, and layout artist.

Typical Graphic Design Concentration courses:

  • Advertising Concepts
  • Form and Space, including Advanced Layout Design
  • Package Design
  • Business of Graphic Design
  • Publication Design
  • Art Direction

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design

The curriculum covers key topics like graphic design technology and software, history of the field, typography and drawing, vector illustration, and publishing. Students prepare to pursue a variety of careers, such as product designer, creative director, marketing manager, and public relations director.

Examples of courses in a Fine Arts program:

  • Introduction to Painting: The study of two-dimensional theory through the free form and experiential painterly process. Students recreate and build upon elements of design in a painterly manner through their own work. Subject matters range from the traditional painting genre of still life, interiors, and figure, to the abstract.
  • Communications Design: Emphasis is on creative conceptual approaches to communicating ideas in graphic design and includes analysis of content and graphics in project development for effective visual communication in design.
  • Web Design: This subject can be in three parts: I, II, and III. Incorporates typography and images into layout pages for the web environment. Through a case series of exercises, students learn about the concepts and applications of HTML5 and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Students advance to the use of HTML5 and CSS to develop a website including multimedia, video, and audio elements.
  • Vector Graphics: Study the creation of digital images through a sequence of commands or mathematical statements that place lines and shapes in a given two-dimensional or three-dimensional space. Focuses on further developing vector skills for effective design in visual communications in two-dimensional computer graphics.

Employment Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graphic designers had a median salary of $48,700 with a Bachelor’s degree as of May 2017. The job growth is only 4%, which is below average. On the brighter side, there were 266,300 employed in 2017 with an expected job change of 11,100 positions.

Those seeking employment may want to gravitate to where the highest number work. At the top is California (30,180), followed by New York (21,530), Florida (13,140), and Texas (12,120). You may earn the highest salary in the District of Columbia ($69,530), followed by New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The other three exceed the $60,000 threshold.

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