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Graphic Design Degree & Career Guide

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Graphic designers work with drawn, painted, photographed, or computer-generated images. From inconspicuous objects like gum wrappers to eye catchers like billboards and t-shirts, graphic designers inform, persuade, stimulate, attract, and provide compelling works of art. There are many exciting career opportunities in the field of graphic design open to those with a bachelor’s degree. If you have always felt that your imagination is one of your strongest assets, you may want to consider a career in graphic design.

To become a graphic designer, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in visual art or graphic design is required. Computer graphics and web site design are very valuable tools for a graphic designer and a knowledge computer science will increase your job opportunities in the future.

There are many graduate degrees that focus specifically on technical skills for the graphic designer. Additionally, being well versed in consumer reports and business would help a graphic designer, especially one that wants to be more entrepreneurial and work on a project-to-project basis.

Accredited Graphic Design Degrees

Accreditation isn’t important just for degrees in medicine or other high-stakes fields. This certification can also help you evaluate graphic design programs and choose a quality degree. Graphic designers have to understand the latest design tools in order to stand out in this technical career. Accreditation can be a way to tell if a program teaches the most up-to-date design skills.

What Accreditation Should I Look for in a Graphic Design Degree?

The first type of accreditation is institutional accreditation. It is important for all degrees, regardless of the field. In addition to institutional accreditation, there is also programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation only applies to a particular type of program or degree within a school.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design is the programmatic accrediting agency that accredits art and design degrees. NASAD accreditation is elective, and not all quality art institutions pursue NASAD accreditation. However, along with several other factors, NASAD accreditation can help you judge the quality of a graphic design program.

What Does NASAD Look for in Graphic Design Programs?

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design requires schools to meet many requirements before they can earn accreditation.[1]

  • Annual Reporting: To remain accredited, member schools must conduct a yearly survey of their art and design programs. They must let NASAD know about any major changes in their program or curriculum.
  • Curriculum Standards: Schools must meet curriculum requirements for different types of art and design degrees, such as liberal arts programs and two-year degrees.
  • On-Site Review: NASAD officers come to the school’s art and design unit to do an on-site review of the program and make sure it is up to the accreditation agency’s standards.
  • Program Standards: NASAD outlines the minimum requirements that schools must have in areas such as faculty training, facilities and learning resources, program governance, and community involvement.
  • Self-Study: Before art and design schools can commence with the accreditation process, they have to complete a self-evaluation. This evaluation considers how the school’s aims and structure align with NASAD’s requirements.

What Graphic Design Competencies Will I Learn?

NASAD outlines specific skills that graphic design programs should teach students. The following are some of the main competencies you would learn in a NASAD-accredited graphic design program:[2]

  • Business and Professional Understanding: Students should also be exposed to the professional process of graphic design, such as working in teams and completing a design project. NASAD encourages graphic design programs to include internships or field work experiences in their degree.
  • Communication Skills: Students learn to identify communication issues, find relevant information, and develop solutions to communication problems.
  • Cultural Competency: Graphic designers need to consider their audience background when developing graphic communications; the audience’s social profile, physical location, and other human factors are important to consider if you want to create effective graphic design.
  • Graphic Design Technology: NASAD recognizes the importance of the latest technical tools in design. The group requires accredited schools to teach interactive media skills.
  • The Broader Universe of Design: Graphic designers need to understand theories of design and art criticism, as well as practical skills. Other fields that can contribute to a greater understanding of design include linguistics, fine arts, and information technology.
  • Understanding of Visual Communication Principles: Designers learn how to apply concepts like typography, information hierarchy, and symbolic representation.

What Is the Bottom Line for Choosing an Accredited Degree?

Programmatic accreditation is not required for graphic design degrees, and quality programs do decide not to become accredited. However, programmatic accreditation can be a useful factor to consider, along with tuition rates, specialized design concentrations, and a robust career center (among other factors). You can also better understand what a graphic design curriculum should look like by familiarizing yourself with NASAD’s standards. An excerpt from NASAD’s handbook on graphic design curricula can be found here.


  1. ^"Overview: How Accreditation Works." National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Accessed December 12, 2012.
  2. ^Handbook 2012-13. National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Published November 6, 2012.
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