The Best Degrees for Starting a Graphic Design Business

The Best Degrees for Starting a Graphic Design Business

Graphic design exists at the intersection of many disciplines. It’s almost always art and it’s often commerce. It’s complex problem-solving and yet the best graphic design always feels simple and straightforward. It’s visual communication; it’s photography, it’s typography and it’s illustration, all working together to tell a story. If these kinds of things get your boat floating, opening a graphic design business might just be your calling. How do you get started? What kind of talent do you need? What’s the best degree to help you get your foot in the door? Let’s take a look at some of the most common degree paths to a graphic design business.

Common Undergraduate Degrees in Graphic Design

At the undergraduate level, the most common degree for aspiring graphic artists is a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design. These degree programs are typically around 120 credits and take about four years to complete. Coursework touches on a wide range of subjects. You’ll take several classes in design basics, of course, but you’ll also take courses in things like web page design, print design, typography and branding. BA programs will also round out your education with significant study in the liberal arts.

You might also consider a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. A BFA is a little more intensive, focusing less on liberal arts and more on art and design. You might see classes that emphasize art in a historical context, 2D and 3D design, object design, and visual communication. Both options may have a studio or internship element, wherein you’ll have the chance to get practical, hands-on experience. And, since it’s incredibly important in the graphic design world, these programs will help you put together a professional portfolio.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is the most recognized accrediting body for schools of this type.

Graduate Degrees in Graphic Design

If you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree in the field and you want to advance your career, or you want to change professions mid-career, a master’s or a doctorate may be an option. A Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design usually takes around two years to complete and offers a much deeper dive into the field. In an MFA, you’ll take rigorous courses in advanced graphic design theory, letterform design, interactive design and typography. Master’s-level programs often give you plenty of studio time and ask you to complete real-world experiences like internships and fellowships.

Doctoral programs are also out there, but they’re rare. You might look for a Ph.D. in Design and find one that has a concentration in graphic design or look for a related degree, like a Ph.D. in Media, Art and Text.

The Business Side of Graphic Design

Whether you’re thinking about opening a traditional print shop, a web design business or just becoming a one-person freelance design company, having a degree in graphic design is just the starting point. Yes, you’ll have the artistic ability, the creativity and the training in art you’ll need to create eye-poppingly gorgeous works of art. But, running a business requires a whole other set of skills, too.

You’ll need to be able to communicate with clients effectively, you’ll need to manage your time wisely and, perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to understand how to run a business. In fact, that’s why some graphic designers decide to get a degree in business or at least take some courses in business. There, you can learn how to keep books, how to market yourself effectively, how to manage projects and how to value your time. In the end, these skills might mean the difference between sinking and swimming.