Design Majors Guide


Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Study Design?

A professional designer works on the visual aspects of print and electronic advertisements, newsletters, promotional pieces, Web sites and more. Most of their work is done for advertising, but their services are also utilized for internal and personal presentations such as employee communications, shareholder publications, formal announcements and even wedding invitations and stationery.

As a designer, you can specialize in a particular area of design, such as automobiles, industrial or medical equipment, home appliances, clothing and textiles, floral arrangements, publications, Web sites, logos, signage, movie or TV credits, residential or commercial interiors, merchandise displays, or movie, television, and theater sets.

About 30% of designers are self-employed; at the same time, many salaried designers and those trained in the field do freelance work in addition to their regular jobs.

To be successful in the design field you should be creative, imaginative, and persistent. You must be able to communicate ideas visually, verbally and in writing. You'll also need to keep up with tastes in style and fashion by being well read, open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react to changing trends. Problem-solving skills and the ability to work independently and under pressure are important. You'll need self-discipline to start new projects, to budget your time, and to meet deadlines and production schedules. Good business sense and sales ability also are important, especially if you're freelancing or running your own business.

Career Education in Graphic Design and Digital Design

Design schools and online design courses for college credit

Very rare is the individual who could take his or her creative talents and launch straight into a successful design career. A bachelor's degree in design, complete with an extensive portfolio, is widely accepted as the minimum requirement for new design recruits. The design theory courses of a formal education can also be an excellent opportunity to create portfolio work through class assignments, illustrating your mastery of design fundamentals and your ability to problem-solve.

An Arts & Humanities degree in design combines standard, long-held design principles with exposure to computer technology. You'll learn how the process begins before you even get to the drawing board -- how to determine the focus or purpose of the piece, or how to interpret your client's needs before you start generating ideas. Then you can begin applying the rules of color, proportion, placement and typography to your initial sketches and translate them into a computerized version where appropriate or necessary.

Many designers use computer-aided design (CAD) tools to create and visualize their final product, to experiment with variations and to make critical alterations. Industrial designers use computer-aided industrial design (CAID) tools to create designs and programming instructions that communicate with automated production tools.

Online Design Schools

Because of its close relationship with emerging technology, the field of design is particularly well-suited to online study. Online college courses in a variety of design specialties allow students to learn the skills of their craft from the comfort of their own homes.

What Kind of Design School Should I Attend?

It's important to have a solid understanding of design concepts before selecting your niche. A medical illustrator needs different education and skills than an industrial designer, for example.

Certificate Programs and Associate Degrees

An online diploma in digital design can introduce you to industry design fundamentals, lettering and typography, and graphic design. You may also receive practice in creating color composites and renderings, and using computer applications and sophisticated software to create high quality layouts and designs. The courses in a digital design diploma program may be applicable to associate's degree programs in graphic design.

An online associate of science in graphic design is another first step toward a career in commercial graphics. Students are expected to develop or enhance their color, composition, design, typography, and drawing board skills. Emphasis is placed on computer graphics, electronic imaging, and production. Learning tools can include scanners, digital cameras, and computer-based hardware and software.

In fashion design, employers seek individuals with a two- or four-year degree who are knowledgeable in the areas of textiles, fabrics, and ornamentation, and fashion trends. Set and exhibit designers typically have college degrees in design.

Graduates of two-year programs normally qualify as assistants to designers, or they may enter a formal bachelor's degree program. A bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level design positions, except for careers like floral design and visual merchandising, where aesthetic ability and junior college may be all that is necessary.

Browse associate degree programs in digital and graphic design.

Bachelor's Degrees in Design

Online bachelor's degrees in design are more specialized and can range from graphic design to animation. Online graphic design courses for college credit include more work with design fundamentals and hands-on practical experience with the techniques and mechanics of the chosen career path. For example, a Bachelor of Science in information technology with a concentration in graphics and multimedia may be a good way to learn about the professional tools used for vector graphics, vector graphics animation and image processing.

Anyone wishing to work in Web design and development will need some knowledge of coding languages such as HTML and Java. Web design college courses should also cover software, networking protocols and graphics applications such as Photoshop, Fractal Painter, and 3-D modeling. A bachelor of fine arts in visual communications can include advanced training in the latest software such as Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Pagemaker. Industrial designers use sophisticated computer applications for the aerospace, automotive, and electronics industries.

A bachelor in animation degree shows you how to combine visual effects with live action applied to 2D and 3D objects. Since animation is a blend of art and technology, you'll require creativity and good visualization skills, but also specialized training in industry-relevant design software and digital media equipment. The online animation degree covers topics such as the laws of human motion, physics, psychology as applied to 2D and 3D characters, life drawing and rendering techniques and the addition of audio and video to an animation project.

Many online design degree programs offer coursework in marketing, advertising, publishing, management and general education, since graduates are likely to apply their skills in these areas. By understanding creative problem solving, critical thinking, logic, and communication, students can learn how to create solutions that are effective in the business world.

Browse bachelor's degree programs in digital and graphic design.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Design?

The BLS predicts that overall employment of designers is likely to grow at an average rate between the years of 2002 and 2012. Keen competition is expected for both salaried jobs and freelance work, because many talented people are attracted to the visual arts. Primary employers are expected to remain ad agencies and design firms, publishers, department stores and grocery chains, television and motion picture industry.

Experienced designers in large firms may advance to chief designer, design department head, or other supervisory positions. Some designers teach at design schools, colleges or universities. Many faculty members continue to consult privately or operate small design studios to complement their classroom activities. Some experienced designers open their own firms.

Graphic Design

Graphic designers use a variety of computer software programs, as well as electronic, print and film media, to create their designs. They consider physical, mental, cultural and social factors in developing designs.

Graphic designers work on corporate reports, magazines, newspapers, journals, and other publication layouts. They produce marketing brochures and promotional displays for products and services, design distinctive logos for products and businesses, and develop signage systems (this sector is called environmental graphics). Median annual income for graphic designers was over $36,000 in 2002. You can earn substantially more as a senior designer, with decision-making authority that reflects your knowledge of graphic design; as a design director, the creative head of a design firm or in-house corporate design department; or with ownership or partnership interests in a firm.

Commercial and Industrial Design

Commercial and industrial designers develop manufactured products, including airplanes, cars, children's toys, computer equipment, furniture, home appliances, and medical, office, and recreational equipment. They combine artistic talent with research on the use of a product, on customer needs, and on marketing, materials, and production methods to create the most functional and appealing design. Industrial designers typically specialize in one area, such as kitchen appliances, auto interiors or plastic-molding machinery.

Most commercial and industrial designers are employed in manufacturing or architecture, engineering, and related services. Median annual income for commercial and industrial designers was $52,000 in 2002.

Fashion Design

Fashion designers design clothing and accessories. Most fashion designers work for apparel manufacturers, creating men's, women's, and children's fashions for the mass market. The average income of a fashion designer was $51,000 in 2002.

Set & Exhibit Design

Set and exhibit designers create sets for movie, television, and theater productions and design special exhibition displays. They study scripts, confer with directors and other designers, and conduct research on the historical period, fashion, and architectural styles. They then produce sketches or scale models to guide in the construction of the actual sets or exhibit spaces. Exhibit designers work with curators, art and museum directors, and trade-show sponsors to determine the most effective use of available space. Set & exhibit designers earned about $34,000 a year on average in 2002.

Medical Illustrators

Medical illustrators must demonstrate an artistic ability and have a detailed knowledge of anatomy, surgical and medical procedures. Their education usually includes a bachelor's degree in design or fine arts and a master's degree in medical illustration.

Design Certification, Licensure and, Professional Associations

No specific certification exists that applies to all designers, since the careers within the field are so diverse. However, here are a few professional associations that might be of use to a budding graphic designer. Further opportunities for networking and professional improvement may exist in larger arts communities according to the industry and type of work you do.

  • The Graphic Artists Guild provides membership benefits such as advocacy, personal and professional services discounts, professional development, and information.
  • The American Institute of Floral Designers offers an accreditation examination to its members as an indication of professional achievement in floral design.
  • For set designers, membership in the United Scenic Artists, Local 829, is recognized nationally as the attainment of professional standing in the field.

Pursue your Graphic Design Major today…