Online Degrees in Graphic Design

The work of graphic designers can be seen everywhere, from store shelves, to billboards, to commercials and websites. They are the creative minds that help companies visually communicate their messages to their audiences in a memorable way across multiple mediums including print and digital media.

The College Board recommends being creative, tech savvy and organized. It also states that it can be helpful being a people person as graphic designers often work in teams and may also have to deal with difficult clients. As graphic design is mainly a computer-based design occupation, it can lend itself well to online education. Online graphic design degree programs can help recent high school graduates, career changers and working professionals expand their skill sets and gain the knowledge they need to work in the field of graphic design.

Depending on their skills, the type of media they design for and their position they hold, some of their tasks typically include:

  • Meeting with clients and art directors to determine project needs
  • Using software to illustrate, layout designs or edit photographs
  • Presenting design concepts to their superiors or clients
  • Creating logos, layouts, select colors and fonts to express ideas and messages
  • Incorporating changes as necessary and reviewing final designs for errors before publishing

Graphic designers collaborate with clients to develop visual representations of messages, targeting specific audiences through a wide range of media. Using equal parts art and technology, these professionals help create the text and imagery found in publications, advertisements, product packaging, company logos and other forms of mass communication.

Instead of being tied to a desk, workers are taking their laptops home or designing on the fly from a coffee shop or library workstation.

Listed below are some of the steps you need to take to build your career as a graphic designer:

  1. Sign up for art class in high school.
  2. Learn how to use as many computer design programs as you can.
  3. Start creating a portfolio of your design ideas.
  4. Enroll in an online graphic design degree program.
  5. Choose an area of specialization.
  6. Find an internship with a graphic design firm.
  7. Continue updating your portfolio with the best examples of your work.
  8. Join a professional organization and build an online presence through social media and networking sites.
  9. Apply to job openings that interest you or choose to freelance.

A bachelor’s degree in graphic design is typically the minimum qualification required to work as a graphic designer. However, simply having a degree may not be enough to succeed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains that graphic designers who are up-to-date with the latest tech are expected to have the best job prospects.

The table below lists the occupations related to the field of graphic design along with the total employment, job outlook, and average wages for the decade leading up to 2028.

Although the total employment outlook may look low, the BLS states that the employment growth for graphic designers varies by industry. Some industries are expected to grow. For example, the BLS projects a 24 percent growth for graphic designers in computer systems design and related services.

Careers
Employment
Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Graphic Designers215,930$52,1103%
Special Effects Artists and Animators29,340$75,2704.2%

Explore a world full of opportunities you can get with a degree in graphic design here. A graphic design associate degree online may act as an introduction to the field after which individuals may qualify for entry-level roles or continue their education with a bachelor’s degree. Many employers usually look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design along with a great portfolio of work. An online graphic design master’s degree may allow working graphic designer qualify for promotion or start their own graphic design firms while doctoral degrees may allow individuals to work in research or academia.

Out of more than 250,000 graphic designers in the U.S., almost 25 percent are self-employed.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

A graphic design associate degree online can give students a foundation in introductory topics like color theory, digital photography, logo design and Adobe Flash media. Students may learn traditional artistry techniques, including perspective, anatomy, and proper proportion, as well as technical skills

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Students usually take general education classes along with core coursework that may include basic programming languages and Web development applications. Some courses you may take are:

  • Color theory
  • Design and composition
  • Digital photography
  • Introduction to graphic design
  • Introduction to internet multimedia

Students may also have to complete a capstone project in order to satisfy the requirements of their online graphic design degree program.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning an associate degree in graphic design?

Although having a bachelor’s degree is often beneficial, it may be possible for graduates of graphic design associate programs to obtain entry-level work at an ad agency or design firm, especially if they have a standout portfolio. Graduates may also pursue assistant roles in multimedia design or animation. Potential job titles include:

  • Assistant graphic designer
  • Multimedia artist
  • Production artist
  • Web designer
71 percent of creative and marketing managers surveyed for the Salary Guide say it’s challenging to find talent with up-to-date digital skills.

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Online graphic design bachelor’s degree programs can offer deeper training in the concepts and theories of graphic design. Students may learn about logo design, the use of visual symbols in campaigns, project management and web design, to name a few concepts.

Typical duration: Four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Classes may examine computer programs such as Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop, as well as Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max. Additionally they may cover topics like the use of color, typography and special effects in designs, as well as how to work with a variety of mediums. Some courses you may take include:

  • Advanced digital graphic design for web
  • Branding principles
  • Design technology: digital publishing tools
  • Introduction to interaction design
  • Media communication and visual literacy

Students may have to compile a portfolio of their work and/or an internship as a part of their online graphic design degree program requirements.

Possible electives: History of design; history of photography

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a bachelor’s in graphic design?

Graduates of online graphic design bachelor’s degree programs may be able to find work in design firms, media houses, or even in businesses and non-profits where their roles involve putting their design skills to use. Potential job titles include:

  • Graphic designer
  • Advertising designer
  • Print and packaging designer
  • User Experience (UX) Designer
  • Visual Designer
Highly skilled creative pros typically receive multiple offers, and smart managers know to act fast when an impressive candidate comes along.

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online graphic design master’s degrees are typically of two types:

Master of Fine Arts (MFA): is a terminal degree in graphic design may qualify graduates to become educators or researchers

Master of Arts (M.A.): generally offers students a more even balance between graphic design and liberal arts classes and may be beneficial for students who wish to qualify for senior positions at their current place of employment.

There can be a considerable overlap in the topics studied and both degrees typically end with a final project such as a thesis.

Students may study advanced topics in graphic design and may expand their skillsets by studying advanced topics like the presentation, communication and technical evaluation of graphic design. They may also study entrepreneurship as a part of their online graphic design master’s degree program.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related field, portfolio of previous work

Typical coursework: Classes may cover a number of different areas covering design for different types of media. They may also cover how media is managed and distributed. Some courses you may take are:

  • Cross-media design solutions
  • Integrated communications – message synthesis
  • Type composition
  • Vector illustration
  • Web management and e-commerce

Students may also have to complete a master’s thesis as a part of their online graphic design degree program.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master’s in graphic design?

Graduates of master’s degree programs in graphic design may find work in large media companies or be qualified to start their own. If you’re wondering what jobs you can get with a graphic design degree at the master’s level, the answer is practically anywhere that needs design skills including advertising agencies, animation studios, educational institutions, businesses and public relations firms to name a few. Potential job titles include:

  • Art director
  • Brand designer
  • Digital design manager
  • Exhibit/environmental designer
  • Instructional designer
  • Website designer

Graduate graphic design certificate programs may be geared toward individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than graphic design or toward graphic designers looking to expand their skills in a particular aspect of the field. As certificate programs are extremely focused and include fewer courses than a graduate degree program, they typically take less time to complete as well. Online graduate certificate programs in graphic design may suit individuals looking to expand their design abilities but cannot enroll in a master’s degree due to time or financial constraints.

Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree

Typical coursework: Classes may include topics on how to use one or more design software, color theory, branding to name a few. Some courses you may take include:

  • Design principles and practices
  • Typography
  • Visual communication

There are no online doctoral degrees available in graphic design. In fact, the MFA in graphic design is widely considered a terminal degree, although there is currently a push for postgraduate education in the field.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process that schools undergo to demonstrate that their educational offerings meet or exceed the quality standards needed to work in the industry today. Attending an accredited program can be important to students of online graphic design programs not just to ensure that the college’s teaching are on par with professional standards but also for receiving federal financial aid, and transferring educational credits.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design is the main accrediting body for more than 360 postsecondary colleges, universities, and independent institutes with programs in art and design.

Specializations in Graphic Design

As a graphic designer, you may decide to be a jack-of-all-trades and dabble in every kind of design work that comes your way or you may choose to specialize in just a couple of types of design that you are interested in the most. You may be able to choose a specialization or concentration as a part of your online graphic design degree program or focus on one once you have started working. Some specializations you may be able to choose from include:

  • 3D modeling and animation
  • Brand identity and logo design
  • Layout and print design
  • Packaging design
  • Web and mobile design

Certifications in Graphic Design

Professional certifications in graphic design may not be mandatory; however, they may demonstrate your competency in one or more aspects of the field. Additionally some employers may require their employees to hold certifications in the software products they use or prefer hiring candidates who hold them over those who do not. Some examples of professional certifications are:

Employment Statistics

Graphic Designers

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Specialized
  • Printing and Related Support Activities
  • Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers
  • Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services
  • Other Miscellaneous Manufacturing
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Illinois
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Lebanon, PA

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

You may find there are scholarships and financial aid programs available for eligible students of online graphic design degree programs that can help ease the financial burden that goes with attending college. Scholarships may be offered by professional bodies, businesses and media firms, educational foundations as well as universities themselves. It can be a good idea to ask your university if you qualify for any of their financial aid schemes. Some scholarships that can help you get started in your search are:

Other resources for aspiring graphic designers

Methodologies and Sources

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Methodologies and Sources