Online Degrees in Graphic Design

The work of graphic designers can be seen everywhere, from store shelves, to billboards, to commercials and websites. 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.

Online degree programs in graphic design generally combine two-dimensional drawing skills with interactive media technology. Students build upon their penchant for artistic expression with courses in areas such as client relations, digital publishing, motion graphics and video editing. Most degrees also focus on the computer programs utilized by graphic designers, including Adobe InDesign, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. Through their coursework, online design degree students often create a working portfolio with samples that can be shown to potential employers and clients.

Associate Degree in Graphic Design: An online associate program in graphic design usually takes two years of full-time study to complete. Students typically learn basic information about color theory, digital photography, logo design and Adobe Flash media. In addition to a foundation in these introductory topics, students often take general education courses, such as math, life science, and communications. Graduates of an online associate degree program may be qualified for entry-level positions as graphic designers or multimedia artists. Some students may choose to transfer to a four-year program and earn their bachelor's degree, as that's the level of education generally required to work in graphic design, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

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Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design: Degrees typically take four years to complete, and offer deeper training in the concepts and theories of graphic design. Classes may examine computer programs such as Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop, as well as Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max. Other topics of study can include logo design, the use of visual symbols in campaigns, project management and Web design. With a bachelor's degree in graphic design, graduates may be able to become graphic designers and eventually move up to the role of chief designer, art director or creative director with enough experience (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

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Master's Degree in Graphic Design: There are two primary graphic design degrees that can be earned at this level: a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) and a Master of Arts (M.A.). The M.F.A. is the terminal degree in graphic design, and earning it may qualify graduates to become educators or researchers, as well as pursue advanced professional opportunities. Courses in this degree program tend to emphasize presentation, communication and technical evaluation. Depending on the program, the M.F.A. usually takes two to three years to complete.

An M.A. program, on the other hand, generally offers students a more even balance between graphic design and liberal arts classes, and tends to have fewer total courses. The potentially shorter program may be beneficial for students who wish to qualify for senior positions at their current place of employment.

Both degrees typically end with a final project such as a thesis. The thesis is an independent project based on an original design idea. It generally entails drafting a design proposal, conducting research, and producing a commercial-ready composition under the guidance of faculty advisors. Completion of an online master's degree program is usually contingent on the success of this final project.

Career Opportunities for Graduates of Graphic Design Programs

Online degrees in graphic design typically train students in the technical skills necessary to help companies visually communicate their messages. Depending on their degree level, graduates of these programs may be able to become graphic designers, art directors, educators, or multimedia artists and animators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012) projects that demand for graphic designers will increase 13 percent from 2010 to 2020. Graphic design professionals may be employed by a wide range of businesses and organizations, or choose to work with clients directly, on a freelance basis. To learn more about available programs, request information from one of the schools below.

Graphic designers help create the striking promotional images that pervade modern society. Working with clients, designers produce visuals for targeted audiences using logos, typography, color palettes, and other design elements. These visuals can appear on product packaging, as well as in ads for television, billboards, websites, magazines and other media. To help prepare students, online associate degrees in graphic design teach them to use image editing, Web design, and animation software such as Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Java and Flash. Some educational programs ask students to put together a portfolio of their work for potential job interviews as a representation of their overall skills and unique design style.

What Does an Associate Degree Program in Graphic Design Entail?

Fulltime students can typically complete an associate degree in two years. Individuals often learn traditional artistry techniques, including perspective, anatomy, and proper proportion, as well as technical skills, such as basic programming languages and Web development applications. Examples of topics include:

  • Principles of Color Theory: An introduction into the fundamentals of color as it relates to design and form in both print and screen. Students learn the psychological and cultural aspects of color, so as to be able to make proper design choices depending on the audience. For example, if a client is requesting a website to be built for wedding information and services, designers may want to use a light color palette that connotes positive feelings.
  • Business of Web Design: Students learn the role of graphic designers in the business setting, with emphasis placed on content and presentation, site architecture and layout, and overall navigation. Students learn how to use HTML and software applications such as Dreamweaver in order to design and produce functional Web pages. Students may also receive basic training in XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript languages.
  • Objectives for Corporate Branding: Students are immersed in the theories behind logo design and corporate imaging. Case studies go over well-known brands and how and why each has been successful in effectively promoting a product. Students learn to analyze a client's objectives in order to design an appropriate logo. For example, companies wishing to expand into different countries may ask a graphic designer to create a logo that is culturally sensitive to a specific region.

In addition to the core set of classes, students typically need to complete general education courses. These courses teach fundamentals in areas like mathematics, English composition, and natural and social sciences. Students should contact an advisor in order to assess what requirements they will have to fulfill.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Associate Degree Programs 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. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2013), employment of graphic designers in the U.S. is expected to grow 13 percent from 2010 to 2020.

Graduates may also pursue assistant roles in multimedia design or animation. Like graphic design jobs, some employers may rely on the portfolio of an applicant and their technical skills to determine their qualifications. Computer graphics on mobile devices may help spur demand for designers with mobile-specific training, as customers download and play more games and apps on smart phones and tablets. Bls.gov estimates that employment of multimedia artists and animators will grow 8 percent from 2010 through 2020.

Graphic designers create images for print and electronic media in order to convey a message in a memorable way. They do this by producing images by hand, with computer programs, or a combination of both. Designers work alongside clients to construct corporate logos and images to promote a particular product or message. Online bachelor's degree programs in graphic design help develop the artistic and technological skills needed to build layouts for websites, magazines, advertisements, and brochures. Coursework may also train students in business aspects of design, such as marketing, sales and finance.

What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Graphic Design Entail?

Full-time students can usually complete this degree in four years. Students learn the concepts behind using color, typography and special effects in their designs, as well as how to work with a variety of mediums. They also learn about Web design technology, and build competency in using graphic design software such as Adobe's InDesign, Flash, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. Some examples of courses include:

  • Utilizing Flash Media: This course teaches students how to use Adobe Flash to create and edit audio, video and animation for the Web. Students learn how to work with both vector and raster graphics to create Web pages. Graduates can use their knowledge of this platform to help clients embed advertisements and video into their websites, producing a more interactive experience for users. For example, a client may want to include a video about how a particular product works. Graphic designers will be able to correctly embed this video on the Web page, allowing customers to view it.
  • Typography: In this course, students are introduced to common typography concepts. They typically learn about typefaces and fonts, and how to manipulate point size and line length in order to make sure text remains legible and in-line with the intended design. Typography is used in many forms of mass communication, including print, Web, film and television. Students can use skills learned in this course to help filmmakers find or create a suitable font for the introductory credits that matches the theme of the movie.
  • Business Strategies for Graphic Design: This course focuses on common business practices and how they apply to graphic design. For example, students may learn to collect Web analytics in order to measure success. As a result, they are better able to contribute to websites and marketing campaigns that create positive customer experiences.

Along with the core class work, students in this program typically must fulfill certain general education requirements. These courses are designed to offer foundational competencies in the social and natural sciences, mathematics and communication. Students may also take electives that align with their interests and connect with their major. For instance, a course in art appreciation can provide a background in the history and growth of art as an industry. Students can incorporate classic forms in their modern designs, creating something new but that is also grounded in tradition. Check with a school representative for more information on course listings and requirements.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Graphic Design

The increased use of Internet media is helping contribute to a growing demand for graphic designers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this field will rise 13 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020. However, those employed in computer systems design or related services should see a massive 61 percent employment gain, indicating a clear shift in the field from traditional to digital work. The BLS reports that those trained in website or interactive design will have an edge in the hiring process.

"Graphic Designers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Arts-and-Design/Graphic-designers.htm
"Multimedia Artists and Animators," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm

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