Graphic Design Programs To Consider

clif bar logoGraphic design impacts our lives on a daily basis. You might even call it the daily deluge. It’s a part Facebook and the morning trip to Starbucks, the billboards and ads for the local restaurant or hospital that we absorb on the way to school or work, that afternoon Clif Bar or CocaCola, the FedEx or Amazon package that arrives on our doorsteps, and the movie and TV credits that introduce us to our late-night entertainment. It sets a mood and entices us to try something new.

 Prospective graphic design students have a wealth of college and university programs to choose from across the country. Degrees come in a variety of shapes and sizes, at art colleges, liberal arts colleges, and large research universities. Program titles vary as well, and are not always straightforward. Communication Design, Visual Communications, and Design and Technology are just a few of the programs I found.

amazon-logoSo how do you differentiate between programs and institutions? One tool at your disposal is Graphic Design USA’s 50th anniversary survey about the industry. Just out in October, it’s a good resource for identifying top graphic design colleges. Even better, it also delves into the most influential graphic design firms in the country, as well as favorite graphics projects and logos over the past 50 years. Basically it’s a ton of graphics fun!

 The magazine surveyed 10,000 working design professionals to get their results. Some of the choices aren’t very surprising, but I like the range, from art colleges to some of the country’s top comprehensive institutions. Here are the top 10. I hope you’ll seriously consider the full list as well.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

School of Visual Arts (SVA)

Art Center College of Design

Parsons The New School for Design

Pratt Institute

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

Yale School of Art

California College of the Arts (CCA)

SCAD Savannah College of Art and Design

Want more information? I blogged about Graphic Design last year as well; I hope you’ll take a look.

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What Makes A College Unique?

Class critiques

Class critiques

One of my main objectives with Art.College.Life. is to try to identify the nuances that differentiate one college art program from another. It’s not always easy. Variables such as size, location and specialty are the obvious standouts, but delving deeper and learning more about each program brings out the true distinctions.

The Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning Department (DAAP) at the University of Cincinnati (UC) has found its place. The department participates in the university’s cooperative program (Co-op) offering students a real glimpse into potential careers while they’re still students. In existence since 1906, Co-op has become a mandatory part of the design curriculum. Beginning sophomore year DAAP’s fashion design, graphic design, industrial design, and interior design students alternate between semesters spent attending classes and working full-time in a professional area of interest. Integrating the two gives students the opportunity to apply classroom lessons to real-world situations, and bring on-the-job issues and concerns back into the classroom for further analysis and discussion.

Workplace assignments take place throughout the U.S. and across the globe. The list of companies and organizations in which DAAP students have engaged is impressive, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Fisher-Price, the Smithsonian Institute, and Warner Brothers Pictures. And, the benefits are fantastic; theory and practice live side by side as students gain first-hand experience, develop broad networks, and gain confidence in their chosen fields. The added time spent away from school means students take five years to complete their degrees, including summers. If cost is a concern, consider that Co-op students earn a salary during their working semesters.



Fine Arts and Art History majors aren’t left behind. Students here don’t have a cooperative requirement; however they are highly encouraged to intern or study abroad.

So how does DAAP fit into the big University of Cincinnati picture? UC is a public, land-grant research university located on 473 acres in Cincinnati, just north of the Ohio River. Its 42,000+ students divide themselvesinto more than 300 programs across campus. DAAP provides an intimate, liberal arts education inside the larger university context. Roughly 2,000 students study 10 undergraduate majors in four aptly named schools; Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning. The Design school engages about half the department with majors in Fashion Design, Graphic Communication Design, and Industrial Design. Art is comprised of Fine Arts and Art History; Architecture includes its namesake and Interior Design. Design majors graduate with a Bachelor of Science. Fine Arts graduates receive a BFA after four years; Art History majors receive a B.A.

UC_logoAccolades for the university are numerous. “Among the top tier of the Best National Universities,” claimed U.S. News and World Report in September, 2012. And Travel & Leisure magazine listed it as “one of the world’s most beautiful campuses” in 2011. Hitting even closer to home, the 2013 Design Intelligence survey ranked DAAP’s Industrial Design best in the nation, and Interior Design second best.

The news gets better once you’re actually on campus. According to Amberly Maryo, Senior Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, 93.3% of DAAP students entering as freshmen in 2012 returned to the university in 2013. That’s the highest retention rate on campus. Clearly they’re doing something right!

As a parent of two college students myself, I understand the anxiety that accompanies the transition from college to the “real world.” Any help bridging that looming gap will be readily appreciated and welcomed with open arms.

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Graphic Design – Where Will It Lead?

MICA Graphic Design studio signage at the top of the Brown Center building.

While waiting for the tour to begin at Maryland Institute College of Art this past week, another mom pondered aloud, “what can my daughter do with a degree in graphic design?”  I was glad to hear her thinking about life after college, but how could I give a simple answer to such a broad question?  The possibilities are almost endless.

Graphic Design – often referred to as Graphic Communications or Visual Communications – is one of the largest and most diverse fields of art study.  It’s also one of the most popular.

If you break it down, graphic design is a communication tool.  Whether looking at a magazine, an ad, a website, a company brochure, a CD cover or even film titles that roll across the screen at the duplex, graphic design plays an important role by guiding communication beyond just the written word.  It communicates information visually.

So, if your son or daughter is creative, self-motivated and loves getting lost in the details, this might be a good choice for a major and career path.  Coursework will include visual thinking, typography, trademark and logo design, 2-D and 3-D graphics, and multimedia design to name a few.  Study in Graphic Design will prepare your student to solve design problems, understand different audiences, work with varying technology and understand basic business practices like working within design teams.  And, integrated with other concentration areas it can lead to a world of career possibilities.

Graphic Design graduates work as independent designers or for a wide variety of companies across the globe.  They are creative directors, multimedia designers, web masters, educators, package designers and more.  Think Coca Cola, Target, the Boston Celtics, Nickelodeon or Johns Hopkins University.  They all have and need graphic designers.

According to the 2012 AIGA/Aquent Survey of Design Salaries a junior designer working primarily on web/interactive work will earn an average annual salary of $40,000.  A junior design working primarily in print will average $38,000.  A Motion Graphics Designer/Animator will average $65,000.

To learn more about school possibilities, I’d suggest talking to your high school art teacher as well as the admissions staff at an art and design school.  Communication Arts is another great resource for gaining insights into the industry.  And while you’re at it, take a look at MICA’s program, ranked one of the top in the country.

The Gateway, MICA’s newest multipurpose dorm

Another Rocky Mountain High

While soaking up the Colorado sun last month, I did some research into Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, a small, for profit, art school tucked into the western suburbs of Denver.  Offering classes both on campus and on-line, RMCAD provides opportunities for those choosing a more flexible learning environment.   With a student population of just 700 this might be the ying to UC Boulder’s yang.  RMCAD offers seven art programs – mostly for those seeking a BFA.  The most popular are the BA or BFA in Graphic Design and the BFA in Illustration.  According to admissions counselor Alicia Wheelock, RMCAD is the only stand-alone art school in the state that is NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) accredited.

This small campus has no on-campus housing but dorms and apartments offering discounted RMCAD rates are just 10 minutes from campus.  The school has a strong connection to art culture in Denver, a good place to be a working artist.  And just up the road is Boulder, named the most creative city in the country by The Daily Beast