An Introduction to Graphic Design Careers and Education

by Frederick H. Carlson
An Introduction to Graphic Design Careers and Education

Mr. Frederick H. Carlson has 25+ years experience in the graphic design and illustration industry. His work has included everything from book design to wall-sized murals to cassette and CD covers, and his design clientele includes Sony Music, Rockwell, University of Pittsburgh, the National Science Foundation, The Wall Street Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post. Be sure to read his full bio on our partner site, DesignSchools.com.

Article Quick Links:

What is Graphic Design? Who Is A Graphic Designer?
The Past and the Future of Graphic Design
The General Outlook in the Graphic Design Industry
Salaries and Earning Potential in the Graphic Design Field
What Does It Take to Succeed in Graphic Design?
Putting the Interview Behind You When It is Ahead of You
The Actual Work and What to Expect
Related Careers
Education in the Graphic Design Field
What Kind Of Graphic Design Program Is Right For You?
Large Colleges and Universities with Traditional 4-Year Programs and Graphic Design Courses
Four-Year Design-focused Schools with Graphic Design Specialization
Graphic Design Courses at Community Colleges
Vocational/Technical Colleges with Design Courses
Graphic Design Workshops, Trade Conventions & Special Graphic Design Training
When Is The Particular Majro Important In The Graphic Design Field?
School Cost And Financial Aid Relating To Graphic Arts Education
Enrollment Qustions?
Location
Other Considerations
Admission Qualifications/Criteria in the Graphic Design Arena
Graphic Design Departmental Facilities
Reputations of Graphic Design Programs
Accreditation of Graphic Design Schools and Programs
Accreditation Organizations

 

What is Graphic Design? Who Is A Graphic Designer?

Allow me to quote the Bible of the industry, the Graphic Artists Guild "Pricing and Ethical Guidelines 9th Edition"...then I can roam free to fill in the unsaid realities! As a former National President of the Guild myself, I feel this description provides a great starting point for an introduction to this profession and will greatly assist the young artist who may be thinking about becoming a contributor to the colorful and rewarding business of graphic design.

"Graphic designers use both design and production elements (including color, type, illustration, photography, animation, and printing or programming techniques) to organize ideas visually to convey a desired impact and message. In addition to exercising aesthetic judgement and project management skills, the professional graphic designer is experienced in evaluating and developing effective communication strategies that enhance a client's image, service, or product."

Well, the young student has decided, this is a lot more than drawing cartoons, it is really involved! Add in the impact of computers and cyber-reality in our present day home lives, and things get really complex. Factor into the graphic designer's work day the providing of that service quoted above, not only for print but web and broadcast in the same time frame, and we thus have a profession that requires a deep dedication, physical and mental endurance, creative discipline, and that places a premium on the designer's ability to renew oneself and stay abreast of trends and styles. Although some segments of the industry treat the graphic designer with respect and good work yields response from the audience infrequently, quite often the working conditions are very tough and most consumers of designed product have no clue what they are looking at!

Is the thrill of seeing your work used in print and broadcast and on little screens worth the trouble? The fact is that people with these skills of taste, creativity, and deadline consciousness are in huge demand and "work" and "success" require sacrifice no matter what field you choose. Just because graphic design may sound glamorous or look cool, it requires a mental focus and natural quick-moving confident talent to make it look that easy, or that trendy. The same skill set that will cause you to consider a career in the graphic design field will get you through the admissions doorway at a school, and help you pass that first "portfolio audition" when you are being considered for your first job.

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The Past and the Future of Graphic Design

One of the unsaid realities of the graphic design field is that there really is no present, only history and a churning, chaotic future. If there is a present, we are often too tired to notice it! The graphic design field is under tremendous pressures both to provide technically savvy professionals into a marketplace demanding their skill and also to provide more and more service in the same time constraints using the production technologies of the computer revolution. As recently as the 1970s and early 1980s, the graphic designer's work product left their control and went through many production specific vendors before the piece was printed. Production specialists, pre-press separators, and printing technicians all had carefully defined and expensive roles in placing the designed work into the printed form. Today, the computer has literally collapsed the pricing on all these professions as they have become technically obsolete, and the graphic designer now has huge leeway in showing options and providing inexpensive graphic services to their clients. This production cost downward spiral has some unfortunate consequences as the lowering of budget realities for clients has also lowered their budget expectations concerning the human creator in the mix.

The trade is still assuming the shock wave of the computer revolution, and is dealing with these new expectations of the marketplace. It is cheaper than ever before for a business to consider, to create, and to implement a 4-color print campaign, but it is increasingly difficult to provide an increasing income every year for the practicing graphic designer within the budgets that are offered. The graphics worker today must extract a premium from themselves to master the technology to expedite projects very rapidly in the face of these budgetary realities. The contemporary graphic business scene offers many new options with digital output that can be exploited for the client's benefit, but it is hard to maintain the creative drive necessary to suggest, design and implement such creative notions if the rewards are so skimpy. Thus is the constant requirement of discernment, decision, and choices for all graphic designers, budding students or seasoned professionals alike: Let the challenges become new opportunities...

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The General Outlook in the Graphic Design Industry

The design profession in general is a fast growing field. 500,000 jobs were classified by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) as "designers" or related titling in the year 2000. This was an increase of over 200% from the Graphic Artists Guild survey reports of the mid-1980s. In our information age turbo-charged by computer interface and service industry growth this should not be too surprising. The employment growth rate of designers in general will grow faster than the average for all work descriptions through the year 2010, according to these statistics. In fact, BLS predicts a rise of between 21 to 35 percent over the first decade of the new millennium. This sounds fairly optimistic in the face of recently experienced economic slowdowns, but an information economy needs a way to express those messages and place them into production. The growing demand for graphic designers also comes from the opening of jobs in computer and web-based graphics and the expansion of the entertainment market, including television, movies, DVDs, CDs, gaming, and interactive internet publications.

Approximately 40 percent of design jobs were held by what is known as "graphic designers", or professionals who work in the businesses involving print reproduction, communications, exhibit design, presentation design, and other 2-D disciplines. But in spite of the optimistic outlook for the industry as a whole, as we have seen, individuals interested in a career as a graphic designer must expect to face very tough competition for jobs and job security.

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Salaries and Earning Potential in the Graphic Design Field

The earning capability for graphic designers can vary greatly. Some factors for both salaried workers and free-lancers include the market segment you work within and where you are located in the country. As a free-lancer your experience may include the knowledge of the avoidance of costly mistakes and print re-runs and may be presented as a factor in negotiating higher fees. The size of the potential budget of the client needs to be discerned clearly by the graphic design services supplier, and all potential costs and expenses factored in before fees are finalized. For the salaried graphic designer, a proven history of working in teams, managing projects internally, and good customer feedback eventually leads to better incomes and a higher salary average among experienced workers who stay in the field. Freelancers often use the lure of not being tied to the same office daily as a reason they prefer to work outside a full-time situation. They will try and maximize their earning potential by factoring budgets or hourly rates over the demands of the project on the workday, and will use industry knowledge and proven vendor relationships to keep expenses and costs as low as possible, thus maximizing their earnings. The graphic designer who is a better negotiator will obtain better budgets, and thus, career longevity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the latest year available, 2000, the statistics illustrate the median annual earnings for graphic designers as $34,570. The middle 50 percent of graphic designers earn between $26,560 and $45,130 annually. The lowest tenth earned under than $20,480, while the top tenth earned more than $58,400. In the industries employing the largest numbers of graphic designers the median incomes were listed as: Management and public relations sector $37,570; Advertising sector $37,080; Mailing, reproduction, and stenographic services sector $36,130; Commercial printing sector $29,730; and the Newspaper sector $28,170.

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What Does It Take to Succeed in Graphic Design?

Graphic design workers and managers must communicate efficiently while speaking, asking questions, and writing instructions and orders, and they must also utilize visual and verbal ideas together with taste and flair and class. Multi-tasking of many projects is common and an eye for detail and catching mistakes is essential. With design trends often changing rapidly, designers have to press down and restrain their own graphic design bias to remain open to new ideas and influences. They periodically must coldly reflect on how the effectiveness of their work is addressing their client's communication needs. This is not just art!

It is surprising to discover that three out of ten graphic designers are self-employed; this is almost five times the number for other professional and related occupations. Successful graphic designers have a strong problem-solving mindset and the ability to work independently. Self-discipline is a requirement to meet deadlines and production schedules. Good business sense, knowledge of contracts, and a basic sales ability are important additions to a graphic designer's knowledge base that is not often part of the educational mix. Graphic designers combine practical knowledge of process and technology with their artistic nature transforming abstract ideas into reader friendly designs that communicate about the services, merchandise, and publications we use, and the living/office spaces we inhabit. Despite the onrush of computer-aided software assisting graphic design production, a good sketching ability is still an important advantage in most types of design, enhancing effective communications during projects. Of course, the highly edited portfolio, now commonly posted on the web or on a CD in additon to the standard carry-around model - is the graphic designer's most prominent selling tool.

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Putting the Interview Behind You When It is Ahead of You

Obtaining a comfort level while describing your work is a skill that evolves through practice. It is naïve to think that high school or college level young people that are using this site to learn about the graphic design field can speak to their graphic design strengths in a way that clinches every prospect. Whether you are applying to a program in a school or later in the workplace, you will learn by practice and experience. Take the long view, learn from your mistakes, and be patient with yourself. Every company (or educational program!) has its own set of requirements; just look at the job description a little later on in this feature if you want to read about specific requirements! When they evaluate prospective graphic designers most firms will look at these in totality: the portfolio (this shows the ability and range of your talent); your interviewing skill (this points to the ability to stay on message and communicate effectively in a work environment); a few letters of recommendation (this shows your most recent track record working with others); and the transcript showing academics, grades and class rank (this will most likely be the least important part of your presentation in the eyes of the employer).

In the interview be confident about describing your motivations and passions. Remember that graphic design is not art and you need to prove that you can get over the hurdles of this rough marketplace. Be excited about the commitment to self-improvement. Show your openness to constructive criticism and to a new idea. In conclusion, remember that the ability to articulate your work and show justification for your design choices is part of communicating effectively and efficiently, and is a plus in demonstrating future sales skill.

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The Actual Work and What to Expect

Let me describe the graphic design work environment and pace using the following job description as a template... you might see an advertisement like this one recently circulated around my professional circles, or something just like it..."Graphic Designer Wanted-Status: Full Time Employee. One of the largest health insurers in the United States seeks a GRAPHIC DESIGNER to work within our award-winning, fast-paced creative department. We seek a talented, motivated and responsible individual to be entrusted with executive presentations, as well as a variety of other projects. The Graphic Designer's portfolio should demonstrate high quality designs including PowerPoint presentations, 4+ color printing and display design. Experience with interactive media is a plus. The qualified candidate must have 3-5 years experience in a professional environment and possess experience with QuarkXpress, Photoshop, Illustrator or Freehand software on MacIntosh. The ability to handle multiple projects and meet tight deadlines is required."

The job description continues: "We offer a dynamic work environment and a competitive and comprehensive compensation package. For consideration, please send resume to: "...and on it proceeds.

This job description helps us to understand the fast pace of the industry, the nature of the demands on the modern communications professional, the technical prowess that is now expected, and the speed of technological change within the very recent years. The range of experiences that graphic designers are expected to satisfy within one job are now wider then ever. The computer has made the production potential of one person expand enormously, and the present corporation knows this all too well. Fulltime jobs are not exactly rare, but the demands on the time and productivity of the professional are often impossible to convey to the non-graphically savvy business person.

I heard one graphic designer recently tell me that it was not unusual to have over 40 projects stacked at one time on his scheduling book. He worked at a university, which traditionally was a pretty slow gig! Not any more...

Here is a list of his typical tasks working for a PR office at a major university:

  • Identifying the universities' needs and desires and establishing objectives (holding to their mission statement)
  • Producing work that caters to the target audience in the finished print and web media
  • Working with writers and faculty to establish the text required for the subject area of the project
  • Designing the pieces by establishing the format or working from pre-existing formats
  • Making decisions and getting approvals on such variables as selecting the paper, design impact of the type and inks, the background colors, and proofreading copy after layouts are placed
  • To enhance the visual impact, often with little or no budget, the graphic designer must choose and place photos, clip art and animations from existing copyright purchased applications. The designer may be asked to create spontaneous freehand images and graphics if they are of that talent ability, and make use of scanning and retouching software to provide visual interest
  • Options are presented to the PR office director and administration for their final approval and review before production monies are spent in printing and mailing
  • The graphic designer needs to maintain files, documentation and stages for the projects to support final decisions and enable quick later revision and updating.

All of this on time and on budget, and more importantly, creating materials that look fresh and attractive and communicate nuance and detail effectively-can we breathe yet?

Now, certainly, the type of work described in the job opening and by my friend is not producing hugely keepable design product, but serves the churning and constant needs of the business and institutional world that puts a premium on constant communication. Routinely, we are exposed to multiple messages from the same source, because it is a known fact that our attention spans require constant hearing of a message before we prioritize it, and change our behavior to act on such a message. Creative and media budget planning accounts for multiple presentations of EVERYTHING we are exposed to in our average day, from the insurance plan we choose to the schools we select to help guide our futures. These messages influence the buying choices we make, and the graphic designer becomes the convergence of the message and the media, producing the actual "seen" things we are exposed to on everything from billboards to computer pop-ups.

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Related Careers

There are many careers and jobs related to graphic design, including:

  • Advertising
  • Apparel Design
  • Architecture
  • CAD
  • ComputerArt/Design
  • Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Exhibit Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Floral Design
  • Footwear Design
  • Furniture Design
  • Game Design
  • Graphic Design
  • Illustration
  • Industrial Design
  • Interior Design
  • Landscape Design
  • Magazine Design
  • Newspaper Layout and Design
  • Point-of Purchase Design
  • Product Design
  • Retail Design
  • Toy Design
  • Urban Design
  • Web Site Design

Related Career Fields for the Young Creative Person

  • Art
  • Interior Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Graphic Design
  • Photography
  • Advertising

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Education in the Graphic Design Field

A great number of programs are offered for graphic design applicants. Some, particularly those offered by large public colleges and universities, offer a broad curriculum, while smaller colleges, institutes and the growth of on-line schools may offer more specialized experiences, concentrating on a particular industry. Depending on the length of study, school accreditation, and course work emphasis, students may earn a certificate or they may earn an Associate, BA, Masters or Doctorate in any of the following degrees: Arts, Applied Arts, Fine Arts, Science, or Applied Science. Most technologically oriented graphic design career programs will emphasis the mastering of computer skills, particularly computer-aided design and common design software manipulation (CADD technology, and all design candidates should expect to receive general course work in art, history and, to a lesser extent, the humanities. Individual entering the job market will be expected to possess a portfolio, demonstrating their skills and abilities. These portfolios will weigh heavily in the decision making processes of prospective employers. Typically, novice designers can expect a two to three year period of apprenticeship in their jobs, where they handle routine tasks under close supervision. As the designers become more experienced in their respective fields, they will enjoy an increased amount of responsibility and challenge.

A bachelors degree is required for most entry-level design positions, and candidates with a masters degree hold an advantage. Formal training for some design professions also is available in two and three year professional schools that award certificates or associate degrees in design. Graduates of a two year program normally qualify as assistants to designers. The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is granted at four year colleges and universities. The curriculum in these schools generally includes art and art history, principles of design, designing and sketching, and specialized studies, depending on the discipline the student intends to concentrate in. For example one student may focus on photographic techniques, while another student may plan to work with Internet-based media. A liberal arts education, with courses in merchandising, business administration, marketing, and psychology, along with training in art, is recommended for designers who want to freelance or run their own businesses. Because computer-aided design is increasingly common, many employers expect new designers to be familiar with its use as a design tool.

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What Kind of Graphic Design Program is Right for You?

 

Large Colleges and Universities with Traditional 4-Year Programs and Graphic Design Courses

You may want an education that encourages interaction with a variety of people and subjects in addition to graphic design, and a range of degrees from the Bachelor's level to the Doctorate (Ph.D.) level. The university experience is probably desired in your case. Some very good graphic design departments are within the auspices of large universities, but often do not promote themselves as aggressively as schools specializing in design alone. You have to ask around to find out about such good programs within large universities. Coursework at large schools emphasize the liberal arts outside of one's major field, typically in areas such as English, History, Humanities, and the Sciences. The four-year program gives you the most freedom to focus later in your educational experience. You may get overwhelmed with the sharp focus of graphic design and switch majors! It has been my experience that I taught a successful illustration student after he spent 3 years in engineering school, so adaptability and many options are the benefits in this environment. The large resources of the endowments and state monies at these institutions have caused a great deal of program improvements in these large, often state supported schools, and tuition is competitive, especially for in-state students. The cost of new technology is often more easily assumed by these larger institutions. A warning here: please be aware of institutions that may offer courses in the graphic arts but do not offer specific career-oriented specific majors in that pursuit!

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Four-Year Design-focused Schools with Graphic Design Specialization

These art and design schools offer intensive, studio-centered graphic design instruction and theory, and advanced course offerings highly specific to particular markets. They increasingly offer liberal arts courses as well to round out the student for the future, granting degrees at the Bachelor's, Master's, or very occasionally the Doctorate level. Some degrees offered are graphic design-related and graphics career specific. The required coursework outside of the studio graphic arts classes is more industry-centered toward writing, art history, business, marketing, and advertising to broaden the young graphic designers' perspectives. It is easier at such schools to switch your major to something else specific outside of graphic design if your interest leads you elsewhere. You'll have to transfer out of such an institution if the specialization is not what you are after. One advantage of these schools is that they are used to crafting a graphic design course mix to blend full-time and part-time adjunct faculty that provides a great range of practical and theoretical experiences for the student.

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Graphic Design Courses at Community Colleges

Community Colleges typically offer two-year degrees in the form of associate's degrees or certification. They offer a shorter program then colleges, universities, and 4-year design schools, often with a vocational focus in specific areas that serve the graphic design business, such as commercial graphic production, computer graphics, and the printing vocation. These credits and degrees can either serve the student for life depending on their drive and desire or serve as transfer credits to a four-year school. These community colleges are designed to meet the needs of those just beginning their post-high school education without a clear idea of where they may wish to work or study, those who want to supplement a prior degree, or those who have already entered the work force and are looking for a part-time education around a full-time job. A major trend among all institutions of higher education is the part-time or adult education programs; but community colleges most often fill this need.

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Vocational/Technical Colleges with Design Courses

A vocational/technical education is planned to teach you exactly what you need to know to get a job in a small segment of the graphic design field, including programs in the applied graphic arts, printing industries, and computer graphics training. These colleges and academies offer associate's degrees, certificates, or diplomas. Coursework stresses practicality and hands-on experience at the expense of general educational goals, especially in the areas of graphic design principles and graphic design theory. Employment networks are organized around these schools that help these graduates into employment situations upon completion of their course of study. These institutions are the most job-targeted approach to an education and you'll need to learn outside the job to expand your overall education. An individual with excellent drive, personal ability, and desire to self-teach can use the particular educational experience of the vo-tech situation productively, save money, and complete satisfying career pathways in the graphic design business.

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Graphic Design Workshops, Trade Conventions & Special Graphic Design Training

One can prosper from brief, intensive training in a desired subject or skill set by attending graphic design workshops often publicized in graphics trade publications or by mail that are offered in your preferred discipline. Graphic design schools, colleges with graphic design programs, and other trade associations like the GAG (Graphic Artists Guild) and the AIGA (American Institute of the Graphic Arts), both of whom often use universities and colleges as hosts, will often feature special programs bringing adults together to educate and congregate in graphic design workshops that renew and update horizons in particular graphic arts trade segments. Graphic design workshops, often focused on new computer software and new advances in reprographics, can focus training into a day or a series of days instead of taking the semester-length approach. Many of these offerings also are concerned with building better business and market conditions since after all, your goal in small business is to succeed! Graphic design students are often welcome at a reduced cost. You may need to travel if there's nothing like this offered in your area, but this sort of graphic design training can be well worth your while, especially with technology changing so quickly in today's marketplace. You can also sign up for special design courses on a part-time and/or evening basis without enrolling in a graphic design degree program at many of the institutions mentioned above.

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When is the Particular Major Important in the Graphic Design Field?

Most often, BA's and BFA's in graphic design or related technical fields in design are the reward for your 4-year program at colleges, universities, and design-focused institutions. These bachelors' degrees at accredited institutions demonstrate the young graphic designer's ability to complete a demanding curriculum, work with others, and learn differing degrees of technical and studio expertise. Graphic design programs with a conscience and desire that their graduates succeed prepare the young designer to be ready and engaged to start a search for satisfaction in the graphic design marketplace or post-graduate education in a highly specialized study like web interface design. The quality of the portfolio you start with, the design work you produce in your assignments and internships, and the professional consistency of the graphic design graduates of your school's program will always get you started productively. Usually, only after some time in the field will it be most common to express the desire to teach or to get an advanced degree for business management that will influence the desire for an MA, MBA, or MFAs. Business degrees do matter increasingly in communications, marketing, corporate executive responsibility, and product line management within the graphics world.

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School Costs and Financial Aid Relating to Graphic Arts Education

College costs vs. expected financial rewards in the graphic design field are hard to gauge. The rewards might be more certain then a general study in the arts field would be. Monetary risk is again, a personal choice that should be considered among every other factor when deciding on a graphic design school and graphic design career specialty. Financial aid is a reality for almost everyone going to college today, but one should be very careful about high loan amounts after college graduation without a specific employment track. A high debt load after college seriously impedes your financial and business options, credit rating, and your future enthusiasm for the graphics field.

Financial aid comes in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study employment (on-campus student jobs), and/or internships. Additionally, national, state and personally guaranteed loans can figure into the equation, and when you leave school you have varying time periods to start paying the loan back. If there is a clear path from your degree to an adequate loan-paying income, college costs become less of a distraction to your plan. If you're concerned about tuition, fees, and not taking on more debt than you can handle, speak frankly with the financial aid counselors at the schools you are considering. If they can help you, you're probably considering the right schools.

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Enrollment Questions?

The number of students at a school has a big effect on the campus environment, but this is only one factor in your decision. A school with tens of thousands of students may have a greater variety of extracurricular activities available to accommodate a broader range of interests. A school with a smaller student body is less socially distracting. On the other hand, small schools may have social circles that are more close knit, or a particular club or residence at a larger school may provide this sort of connection.

In terms of your graphic design studies, the faculty-to-student ratio is an important factor in program size. Considering the amount of information that needs to be successfully conveyed at the top graphic design schools, one-on-one time spent with faculty is essential. Smaller schools often have the best faculty/student ratios. Typically though, in a larger university the faculty-student ratio tends to improve as the particular studies become more of a specialized experience, where graphic design is commonly placed. If you are completing your general liberal arts coursework (history, sciences, etc.), which are required of all students in the university setting, you may have the experience of being in a class where a professor is lecturing to over a hundred students. But obviously, your graphic design classes are shared by a much smaller percentage of the student body, so there may be only 10 students in your typography studio class. In my own experience as a student, the Psychology course was in a huge lecture hall while the independent study projects in my graphic design specialty were set up in a professor's cluttered office. These variables in size will shift from school to school, so have a good idea of the school size that appeals to you in advance. This will help you narrow your search a bit, at which point you can inquire further from the schools that make it onto your graphic design "short list."

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Location

Climate, closeness to home, opportunity off-campus, and rural settings vs. urban settings are common variables for any student, not just those students ready to enter an education in graphic design. Since the profession of graphic design is so closely involved with print markets, mass communication and media, business needs, and technical requirements and services, institutions specializing in graphic design are most often in urban areas. For extra-curricular and cultural prospects, institutions in urban locations have more opportunities for young students and professionals who crave to be tuned in to the national graphic design field, and trade groups like AIGA and the GAG are most likely to have representation in cities of size. The graphic design field can have major cultural exposure in a university town with decent museums and galleries and practitioners who care about the field and these towns are often in the rural areas of the country. Your particular goals and specialties for the future are key in deciding on the location of your future school.

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Other Considerations

 

Admission Qualifications/Criteria in the Graphic Design Arena

Certain design schools and graphic design programs will place great value on college admissions tests such as the ACT and SAT, while other schools lean more toward the content of a prospective student's portfolio, or at smaller technically-focused institutions they consider the portfolio almost exclusively. Basically, excellent overall academic and extracurricular performance in high school is a plus no matter where you apply, especially in admission to highly competitive graphic design programs. Design schools with graphics specialties should be able to give you an idea of minimum requirements when asked or more importantly, have such information on the web or in catalogues. Your portfolio as an applying student in a graphic arts program should show basic visual ability, some editing toward an understanding of what the graphic design discipline entails, and provide a guide for your suitability of working in the assignment-oriented world of the commissioned graphic design experience. Many schools have a policy of not allowing formal entry into a bachelors degree program in a specific graphic design major until a student has successfully finished a period of time up to two years length in basic art and design courses. Applicants in some highly specialized programs may be required to submit a portfolio after two years to enter some degree granting specialties.

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Graphic Design Departmental Facilities

Graphic design is a field where presentation and communication is key and technology is increasingly an important part of both the academic and practical world, especially in the area of emerging web site usage and intranet interactivity. Facilities featuring clean individual studio spaces and efficient communal computer labs are a must for the discerning graphic design student. Good student studio spaces show a care for the student's professionally oriented growth once they are in the program. It is poor use of an expensive education to create in a tiny space, so try and assess spaces for students realistically. In the graphic design field, specific equipment and facilities are a must, since beginning designers are expected to be comfortable using a vast amount of presentation technology the day they come to work. A good graphics program should have computer labs with a decent number of printers, good A/V and lecture rooms, a specific graphic design collection in the library, well-lit crit spaces, and good access to a variety of commercial materials commonly used in the business. Ask about the equipment and software you may have already had contact with and what the school provides in preparing you for the future high tech environment. More frequently a graphic design program with a good reputation may have invested more heavily in faculty rather then technology, so be selective in letting facilities dictate your choice. Some good programs have sacrificed basic principles and courses for the latest (often easily outdated) equipment, so watch for this as well. The right balance is not only an ongoing tough issue for the schools, but this tug of war between technology and faculty priorities make decisions of the incoming students more difficult. No graphic design program is perfect, but try and get honest answers from the faculty about the balance between theory and presentation in the graphics program curriculum you are looking at.

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Reputations of Graphic Design Programs

Graphic design programs and graphic design departments always have detailed resumes and vitae of their full and part-time faculty. This should be easily available upon request of students interested in their particular school. Course descriptions from basic to specific and curriculum tracks that lead to the specific degree majors should be easily available and understandable. From web or catalogue review, check out both the instructors' reputations in their field and the overall impression of the school within the particular graphic design trade or graphic design industry group, this is a very necessary task for those seeking the best programs for what they want to do. The young student and their parents should speak to a professional in the graphic design field that has no bias to obtain another level of advice. Some graphic design schools' programs and reputations are so strong that employers want their students every graduation season. The reputations of such schools often mean higher tuition, reflecting a purposeful investment in graphic design faculty and facilities alike, but is a good return on investment for the career-driven graphic design student.

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Accreditation of Graphic Design Schools and Programs

An accrediting institution is a governing organization made up of the participating programs that periodically examines the instructional program at a graphic design department or school to determine its merit within the specific graphic design discipline. If the visiting accrediting committee sees that set standards are met, the accrediting institution approves the school's right to grant degrees in the various graphic design subject areas. It is common for a school's graphic design program to be accredited by one accrediting board, and another academic program such as electrical engineering to be accredited by another board. If you're considering a particular graphic design program, find out who accredits the specific disciplines that interest you and research the accrediting institution and any public reporting it may have on your school. Design school accrediting bodies are nationally respected and are known for approving the best graphic design programs, while some regional boards will approve the less competitive programs.

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Accreditation Organizations

Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)
National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA)
College Arts Association (CAA)
New England Association of Schools & Colleges, Inc. (NEASC)
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA)
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WASC)
European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA)

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) accredits over 200 institutions with programs in art and design; most of these schools award a degree specifically in design or graphic design.

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