Graphic design courses

Jemma Smith, Editor
November, 2016

Combining creative flair and technical ability, graphic design is a popular choice among students and graduates. There are plenty of courses to choose from as you prepare for a successful career in this exciting field

The creative industries have seen rapid growth in recent years and the UK design sector (the largest in Europe) is helping to drive this forward. Like in other areas of the creative economy, the number of design jobs is increasing - great news for aspiring graphic designers.

To successfully secure one of these jobs you'll need the right training and qualifications and a unique and creative portfolio.

Find out what graphic design courses are on offer from undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications to short, intensive programmes and technical skills courses.

Graphic design degrees

A lucky few may be able to secure work as a graphic designer through relevant work experience and an excellent portfolio, but on the whole the design industry is made up of highly-skilled professionals, educated to degree level. Therefore, in most cases graphic design employers expect you to hold at least an undergraduate qualification.

A career in graphic design is open to graduates of any design-related discipline, for example 3D design, communication design, photography, illustration or visual art, but a specific graphic design degree will be the most useful.

A variety of institutions offer such courses, like the three-year Graphic Design BA at Kingston University, London. Year one introduces you to key areas of communication design and builds your design confidence through individual and team projects. You'll cover visual vocabularies, communication and context and communication design history. In year two you'll learn about the wider social and cultural context in which graphic designers work, gain career management skills and have the opportunity to undertake a work placement. During your final year projects you'll have the opportunity to specialise in one area of communication design; for example branding, editorial design, film and moving image, social design or typography, before completing a dissertation. To get onto the course you'll need a foundation diploma in art and design or equivalent and 112 tariff points from Level 3 qualifications.

At Loughborough University School of the Arts you can study a flexible BA in Graphic Communication and Illustration, which can be tailored to fit your interests. You'll develop creative ideas and visualisation skills while forging strong industry links. There is also the opportunity to undertake an international study visit. During your first year you'll cover visual research in practice, drawing: discourses and debates, and an introduction to modern and contemporary art and design. In your second year you are encouraged to sample a range of specialisms including sequential and narrative design, corporate identity, editorial and book design and packaging and information graphics. In your final year you'll produce a dissertation. During the three year course you'll get the chance to work on projects with companies such as Ford, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Reebok, Mercedes Benz and Swarovski.

The three year BA in Graphic Design at Northumbria University, Newcastle is a hands-on course designed to mirror the practice of a real graphic design studio. You'll work on live briefs from global brands and study core modules such as history and influences of graphic design, experimental processes for graphic design and introduction to visual language and communication. In your second year you'll cover research and critical approaches to graphic design along with a variety of optional modules. In your final year you'll submit a dissertation. Throughout the course you'll experience international field trips and guest lectures, and there is also the option to extend the course to four years to take a design work placement year in your third year.

Masters in graphic design

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a prerequisite for a career in graphic design but a Masters degree could help you develop industry contacts and make you stand out to employers in this increasingly competitive field.

The one year Graphic Design Masters at Arts University Bournemouth enables you to challenge and build on your previous achievements in a design-related discipline. For entry onto the course you'll need at least a 2:1 in an arts, design, media or performance subject. The course is taught by practising designers with a breadth of experience across the industry. On the programme you'll work individually and as part of a team to complete modules such as strategies for practice: materials, methods and contexts and Masters project: 1 and 2. You'll be assessed through a mixture of written submissions, verbal presentations, practice-based work and critical analysis and evaluation.

At the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) School of Art, Design and Fashion you can study a Graphic Design MA either on a full-time (one year) or part-time (two year) basis. The course is taught by academics and industry professionals and combines both theoretical and practical modules. The practice units allow you to pursue your own design research project, which is a major investigation into a particular area of study. A unique feature of the course is the Friday morning lecture series which sees academics, guest speakers and graphic designers at the top of their profession giving lectures and talks. To gain a place on the course you'll need a minimum 2:2 undergraduate degree from a British university or equivalent and a digital portfolio to support your application.

The one year Graphic Design MA at the University of Huddersfield is taught via a series of lectures, seminars and workshops. During your first term you'll cover research methods and project proposal, which encourages you to explore how different methods underpin all kinds of creative practices, and the practice-led graphic design concepts module. Term two will see you studying creative innovation and entrepreneurship and learning about graphic design processes. Term three focuses on a major project. You'll need a 2:2 in a related discipline to gain a place on the programme. Post-study job opportunities are vast; the course has helped to facilitate careers in graphic arts, visual design, animation, web editing, production design and education.

Search for postgraduate courses in graphic design.

Short design courses

Intensive graphic design courses are available at all levels, from beginner to advanced, and are perfect for those trying to fit their learning around a full or part-time job.

Shillington College, with campuses in both London and Manchester, offers a three-month (full time) or nine-month (part time) portfolio-based graphic design programme for students with little to no design experience. You'll learn relevant industry skills from practising graphic designers and graduate with a polished, professional portfolio of work, ready to seek out your first design job. The course will take you through the design process from beginning to end and covers design theory (design principles, typography, colour, design thinking) and industry-standard software programmes such as Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat and Sketch. There are no specific entry requirements and no previous experience is required.

Central Saint Martins, a college of the University of the Arts London, runs a graphic design online short course for beginners over an eight week period. The programme includes eight modules beginning with ideas and observation, before moving on to an introduction to type and layout, image making with illustration and photography and bookmaking. Finally you'll complete a graphic design brief that draws on all previous modules. You'll need to complete projects in your own time and upload your work for constructive feedback. Central Saint Martins also run a two-week graphic design summer school.

Aspiring graphic designers at beginner and intermediate level can study short, ten-week evening courses at Nottingham Trent University. The institution also offers a five-week graphic design portfolio development programme. At beginner level the course combines theoretical and practical content and focuses on the development of ideas, the creative process and gaining an understanding of visual language, layout and typography. The intermediate programme is suitable for those wishing to expand their creative skills with a focus on ideas, creative thinking and visual problem solving.

How to get essential technical skills

Competence in Adobe software programmes such as InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat and Dreamweaver is essential for graphic designers. If you need to brush up on these technical skills an assortment of short, stand-alone evening and weekend courses are available.

London training provider City Lit offers intensive one-day courses in InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop for design professionals, while the London College of Communication (LCC) offers a range of training programmes for Adobe packages.

Many universities and art colleges also provide additional short courses in useful graphic design software.

Certitec, an Adobe authorised training centre operating in Bristol, Cardiff and London provide an array of one to five-day courses in a variety of Adobe programmes including Acrobat, Dreamweaver, InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.

No matter which graphic design course is right for you, all aim to equip you with the qualifications, skills and confidence to succeed.

Find out more