In this creative, innovative graphic design degree, you'll integrate design principles, methods, concepts, images, words, and ideas to convey distinct, visually compelling messages to a range of audiences.
A graphic design degree is perfect for students who eat, breathe, and sleep design, and would like to apply their talents in a hands-on way. In the graphic design major, you’ll learn how to use design principles, methods, concepts, images, words, and ideas to convey distinct messages to specific audiences. You’ll walk away knowing that designing is not just about how something looks, but rather the experience you create.
Graphic designers are visual problem-solvers who use a wide variety of concepts and media to inform, direct, promote, entertain, engage, and educate specific audiences. The graphic design major prepares students to integrate design principles, methods, concepts, images, words, and ideas to creatively convey visual messages meant to produce specific responses from diverse audiences.
Graphic design students are exposed to a full range of topics throughout their curriculum, including information design, web and interaction design, branding and identity design, design systems, exhibit and wayfinding design, user experience design, and professional practices. With a balance of history, theory, problem solving approaches, conceptual exploration, applied problem solving, human interaction, and the integration of technology, students gain the knowledge and skills needed to create innovative and effective design solutions for a wide range of media and audiences. Access to RIT's world-renowned Vignelli Center for Design Studies, the Cary Graphic Design Archive, and the Cary Library enables students to further enhance their learning and inquiry.
Alumni and guest speakers, along with opportunities for internships, co-ops, and freelance experiences further enhance the program. Additionally, interdisciplinary and collaborative projects within RIT and with outside organizations result in innovative and meaningful hands-on projects that encourage students to explore the social, ethical, and environmental impact of design. Graduates are well prepared to pursue positions within design firms, advertising agencies, corporations, and technology companies around the world.
Plan of Study
The graphic design major integrates major courses, studio and free electives, liberal arts, and graphic design history electives. Aspects of business, professional practices, computer-based skills, collaborative projects, and workflow are also integrated into the curriculum.
Students may select elective courses that enhance their studies or allow them to pursue an area of personal or professional interest. Elective credit can be earned through studio-based courses offered in the College of Art and Design.
Graphic design history electives
Students are required to select three graphic design history electives to broaden their understanding of the historical development of the visual arts.
The School of Design maintains memberships in a variety of professional organizations, including Industrial Designers Society of America, ACM Siggraph, Society for Experiential Graphic Design, American Society of Interior Designers, American Institute of Architects, ICOGRADA, American Institute of Graphic Arts, International Interior Design Association, and Rochester Advertising Federation.
National Portfolio Days
Set your art apart in the college application process! Our faculty are ready to review your work at online National Portfolio Days.
A comprehensive app is being developed by Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Keli DiRisio, RIT students and partner medical professionals to reduce a leading cause of workplace absenteeism. “Health...
Since starting as a user experience design intern at Stink Studios, a global creative studio, Liz Wells ’15 (Graphic Design) has made a name for herself in the design world. She has worked her way up...
General Education – Artistic Perspective: History of Western Art: Ancient to Medieval
In this course students will examine the forms, styles, functions, and meanings of important objects and monuments dating from prehistory through the Middle Ages, and consider these works of art in their social, historical and cultural contexts. The primary goals of this course are to learn how to look, how to describe and analyze what we see, and how to use these skills to understand and explain how art visually expresses meaning. At the end of the term, students will have gained a foundational knowledge of the object, scope and methods of the discipline of art history. The knowledge obtained in this introductory course will also guide students in their own creative endeavors. Lecture 3 (Fall).
General Education – Global Perspective: History of Western Art: Renaissance to Modern
In this course students will examine the forms, styles, functions, and meanings of important objects and monuments dating from the European Renaissance through the beginning of the twentieth century, and consider these works of art in their social, historical and cultural contexts. The primary goals of this course are to learn how to look and how to describe and analyze what we see, and to use these skills to understand and explain how art visually expresses meaning. At the end of the term, students will have gained a foundational knowledge of the object, scope and methods of the discipline of art history. The knowledge obtained in this introductory course will also guide students in their own creative endeavors. Lecture 3 (Fall, Spring).
This course is an introduction to the visualization of form, thought and expression through the drawing process. Concepts are introduced by lectures, discussions, demonstrations, research, and assigned projects. Designed to provide a broad introductory experience, students will experiment with a wide variety of media, tools, techniques and subjects to develop drawing expertise and problem solving skills related to design and composition. Course work will be assessed through critique, facilitating self-assessment, and the growth of both a visual and verbal vocabulary. The focus of the course is to provide awareness of the full range of ways in which drawing is used as a tool for both self-expression and communication. (Undergraduate Imaging Arts and Sciences) Studio 6 (Fall, Spring).
2D Design I
This course is a structured, cumulative introduction to the basic elements and principles of two-dimensional design. Organized to create a broad introductory experience, the course focuses on the development of both a visual and a verbal vocabulary as a means of exploring, developing and understanding two-dimensional compositions. Concepts are introduced through lectures, discussions, demonstrations, research, assigned projects and critiques. The course addresses a wide variety of media, tools, techniques both traditional and technological, and theoretical concepts to facilitate skill development and experimentation with process. Visual comprehension, the ability to organize perceptions and horizontal thinking that crosses other disciplines and theories, are key foundational components to the development of problem solving skills. Accumulative aspects of the curriculum included the exploration of historical and cultural themes and concepts intertwined with aspects of personal interpretation and experience. (Undergraduate Imaging Arts and Sciences) Studio 6 (Fall, Spring).
3D Design I
This course presents a progressive study over two-semesters in terminology, visual principles, exploration, concept generation, process, and techniques of three-dimensional design. Using hands-on problem solving, student will develop an informed understanding of the 3D form and space with an emphasis on the elements and principles of visual design and their function as the building blocks and guidelines for ordering a 3D composition. A heightened awareness of form and space will be developed through lecture, assigned projects, and critiques. Students will also develop a personal awareness of problem seeking and solving, experimentation, and critical analysis. **Note: May be taken as a one-semester offering** (Undergraduate Imaging Arts and Sciences) Studio 6 (Fall, Spring).
Choose one of the following:
This course is an introduction to the visualization of form, thought and expression through the drawing process. Concepts are introduced by lectures, discussions, demonstrations, research, and assigned projects. Designed to provide a broad introductory experience, students will experiment with a wide variety of media, tools, techniques and subjects to develop drawing expertise and problem solving skills related to design and composition. Course work will be assessed through critique, facilitating self-assessment, and the growth of both a visual and verbal vocabulary. The focus of the course is to provide awareness of the full range of ways in which drawing is used as a tool for both self-expression and communication. (Prerequisites: FDTN-111 or ITDI-211 or equivalent course.) Studio 6 (Fall, Spring, Summer).
Drawing II Workshop: Topics
This course is an investigation of the visualization of form, thought and expression through the drawing process. This workshop provides students with the opportunity to learn more about a particular experience in drawing while still covering required foundation elements. Different topics may be taken in the same semester. Topics may only be taken once. Concepts are introduced by lectures, discussions, demonstrations, research and assigned projects.. The focus of the course is to provide awareness of the full range of ways in which drawing is used as a tool for both self-expression and communication. (Prerequisites: FDTN-111 or ITDI-211 or equivalent course.) Studio 6 (Spring).
Graphic Design Studio I
Introduction to basic visual communications in the field of graphic design. Lectures will cover graphic design topics and information ranging from typographic terminology and design principles to methods of visual organization. Assignments will be undertaken in the studio where hands-on introduction to graphic design studio skills and practices will occur. Through formal studies and perceptual understanding, including aesthetics, graphic form and structure, concept development problems and visual organization, students will design solutions to visual communication problems. Assignments will explore aspects of graphic imagery, typography, hierarchy, and layout. Students will refine their computer skills through applications requiring digital formats. (Prerequisites: FDTN-111 and FDTN-121 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Spring, Summer).
This course will introduce the concepts, principles and techniques of motion design and animation. Topics covered are planning and organization methods in the form of storyboards, kinetics, animation principles, sequencing, composition, visual variables, and forms of narrative storytelling. Focus is on the integration of time and media, such as illustration, photography, video, audio, animation and type, to communicate a moving message. This course will emphasize design from a problem-solving point of view and explores the production-timeline. (Prerequisites: FDTN-111 and FDTN-121 or equivalent courses.) Lab 6 (Spring, Summer).
RIT 365: RIT Connections
RIT 365 students participate in experiential learning opportunities designed to launch them into their career at RIT, support them in making multiple and varied connections across the university, and immerse them in processes of competency development. Students will plan for and reflect on their first-year experiences, receive feedback, and develop a personal plan for future action in order to develop foundational self-awareness and recognize broad-based professional competencies. Lecture 1 (Fall, Spring).
General Education – First-Year Writing (WI)
Choose one of the following:
General Education – Natural Science Inquiry Perspective
General Education – Scientific Principles Perspective
General Education – Mathematical Perspective A
This course is an introduction to the fundamental principles of typography (the visual representation of language) to effectively convey information and ideas to specific audiences. Focus is on the communicative function and aesthetic nature of typographic problem-solving. Course content and lectures will cover typographic terminology, type anatomy, history of typography as well as type classification, type measurement, and issues of legibility and readability. Once students are introduced to the fundamentals of typography, they will include imagery as appropriate. Students will also refine their skills using relevant software. (Prerequisites: GRDE-106 and GRDE-107 or equivalent course.
Co-requisites: GRDE-202 or equivalent course.) Lab 3, Lecture 2 (Fall Or Spring).
Graphic Design Studio II
This course will focus on the analysis, creation and use of imagery for communication purposes. Processes and techniques for creating images are explored. Projects incorporate symbolism, concept development and integration of image and text. This course will build upon the principles and theories learned in Graphic Design Studio I with project solutions developed for print media, motion and digital use. (Prerequisites: GRDE-106 and GRDE-107 or equivalent courses.
Co-requisites: GRDE-201 or equivalent course.) Studio 5 (Spring, Summer).
History of Graphic Design (WI-PR)
This course will focus on the development of graphic communication from prehistory through the present. This course will provide students with knowledge and understanding of the places, people, events; historical and cultural factors; and technological innovations that have influenced the practice of graphic design. Lectures are complemented by guest speakers, archive visits, videos, research projects, critical essay writing, and discussion. (Prerequisites: ARTH-136 or equivalent course and completion of First Year Writing (FYW) requirement.) Lecture 3 (Fall, Spring).
Students will expand upon the principles of grid theory, text and display typography, sequence, page layout, and type and image integration as they relate to a range of design applications: posters, instructional materials, brochures, magazines, books, etc. Visual organization and message communication are stressed. This course builds upon the content taught in Typography and Design Imagery courses. Appropriate layout and imaging software skills are integrated. (Prerequisites: GRDE-201 and GRDE-202 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Spring).
Interactive Design I
This course is an introduction to the basic theories, general principles, and design methodologies of interactivity. Students will explore concepts and principles in digital application design with the focus on user experience and user interface, and how to apply these models to interactive projects. The foundations of graphic design will be drawn upon in the development of interactive experiences. The course will also include instruction in building pages and creating interactive tasks with current technologies. Software will be introduced to allow students to create interactive solutions through creative prototyping. Students will create navigable interfaces and systems that allow audiences to achieve meaningful goals through compelling content, connecting people to people and people to information and environments. (Prerequisites: GRDE-201 and GRDE-202 or equivalent courses.) Lab 6 (Spring).
This course provides students with the fundamental understanding of the key variables, systems and phases of production workflow. Emphasis will be placed on job planning, implementation strategies and decision-making processes for print and digital production workflow. Projects will allow students to optimize their work for specific production requirements as well as for workflow strategies for cross-media applications. (Prerequisites: GRDE-201 and GRDE-202 or equivalent courses.) Lab 5 (Spring).
CAD Studio Elective†
General Education – Ethical Perspective
General Education – Social Perspective
Graphic Design Studio III
This course will explore information design. Problem-solving focuses on functional requirements, information transmission, accessibility, and design structure across a range of formats. Applied problems are solved through principles of systems thinking, structure, diagrammatic interpretation, and the visual display of information. This course will build upon the principles and theories learned in Graphic Design Studio II with project solutions developed for print media, motion and digital use. (Prerequisites: GRDE-206 and GRDE-207 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Fall).
Interactive Design II
This course encompasses and expands on previous interactive design, development, and graphic design experience. The course will emphasize the application of design methodologies in the planning and implementing of interactive, instructional projects across multiple platforms. The theories of UX and UI are explored and implemented in design solutions. Students will study the methods of investigative research, develop measurable objectives, use systematic thinking and information architecture through visual design by the use of conceptual creation for interactions. Students will be encouraged to explore engaging approaches to merging content with interactive design, and incorporating social-cultural issues. (Prerequisites: GRDE-206 and GRDE-207 or equivalent courses.) Lab 6 (Fall).
In this course students will learn strategies to obtain internships and permanent employment in the graphic design profession. Emphasis will be placed on the various positions available to designers, the designer/client relationship, business aspects of design, and professional ethics and expectations. At the conclusion of this course students will be able to create promotional materials, including resume and portfolio design so that students can effectively and professionally present themselves in the field. (Prerequisites: GRDE-207 or equivalent course.) Lecture 3 (Fall).
Design Systems I
This course will provide students with conceptual, organizational, and aesthetic problem-solving methods to create unified and effective design systems, such as corporate identity systems, icon sets, poster and/or packaging series. Students will have an opportunity to synthesize graphic design principles from their previous courses into more advanced and in-depth projects. Research, concept generation, and relevant aesthetic principles will be emphasized. Presentation, writing, and professional skills will be a focus to prepare students for senior year coursework . Teamwork strategies and skills are implemented throughout the semester. (Prerequisites: GRDE-301 and GRDE-302 or equivalent courses.) Lab 3, Lecture 2 (Spring).
Experiential Graphic Design
This course will focus on design problem solving for three-dimensional spaces and environments. Design process, initial concepts, and final design solutions are developed to assist users in negotiating various interior and exterior environments. Areas of application may include: architectural graphics, signage systems, exhibit design, themed museum experiences, and dynamic environments. Two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and digital design attributes are incorporated using appropriate materials and software. (Prerequisites: GRDE-301 and GRDE-302 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Spring).
Art History Elective‡
CAD Studio Elective†
General Education – Immersion 1 (WI), 2
Graphic Design Capstone
This course will demonstrate the culmination of students’ working knowledge of graphic design through a comprehensive capstone project. The content of each capstone project will vary depending upon each students' focus/direction and approval from their instructor. Process and in-progress development is shared via class presentations. A final formal presentation is required. (Prerequisites: GRDE-411 and GRDE-421 or equivalent courses.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Spring).
Graphic Design Studio IV
This course will provide the skills necessary to design and present a professional portfolio of design work in the pursuit of a creative career. Students will identify and target viable and appropriate employment prospects, and design a format for the continual inclusion of subsequent work. Students will engage in a large-scale, comprehensive project intended to showcase their strengths and support their professional goals. A digital portfolio component is required. This course will draw upon the knowledge and skills students have gained through their major program courses in the graphic design curriculum to produce a professional portfolio. (Prerequisites: GRDE-306 and GRDE-307 and GRDE-308 or equivalent courses.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall, Spring).
Design Systems II
This course will provide an overview of branding and identity design. Processes, theories, design methods, brand strategies, positioning, touch-points, research, and management are introduced in creating comprehensive branding and identity systems. Case studies will provide students with historical context. Students will explore current and future trends related to branding. (Prerequisites: GRDE-306 and GRDE-307 and GRDE-308 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Fall).
CAD Studio Elective†
General Education – Immersion
General Education – Elective
Total Semester Credit Hours
Please see General Education Curriculum (GE) for more information.
(WI) Refers to a writing intensive course within the major.
Please see Wellness Education Requirement for more information. Students completing bachelor's degrees are required to complete two different Wellness courses.
† CAD Studio Elective courses are any College of Art and Design course with a studio or lab component, per catalog restrictions.
‡ Art History electives are non-studio courses searchable in SIS with the Art History attribute of ARTH.
Senior Graphic Design History Electives
This course offers students the opportunity and challenge of working on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teams to create professional level projects, which are collaborative, competitive and cooperative in structure and implementation. The content of the course will vary depending upon faculty expertise and coordination between departments, schools and colleges, as well as possible outside non-profit clients. (Prerequisites: GRDE-306 and GRDE-307 and GRDE-308 or equivalent courses.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall, Spring).
This course will explore the role of a graphic designer in developing effective and innovative communication for editorial design. Students will work on interdisciplinary teams (with photographers and/or illustrators) to create visual solutions for in-class projects and/or a magazine produced by the class. Design development processes and aspects of production methods will be implemented, and innovative techniques in digital publication design will be explored. (Prerequisites: GRDE-307 and GRDE-308 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Fall Or Spring).
Interactive Design III
This course focuses on the application of advanced interactive methods using graphic design concepts, principles, and processes, along with the theories and methodologies of interactive design. Students will develop and refine skills in project planning, research, interface design and methods, UX/UI and usability through applied projects. Students will be encouraged to explore highly structured as well as highly experimental approaches to merging content with interactivity design while also incorporating social-cultural issues. (Prerequisites: GRDE-302 and GRDE-307 or equivalent courses.) Lab 5 (Fall Or Spring).
This course will provide students an advanced study of typography as it relates to graphic design, including historical and contemporary contexts. Terminology and advanced applications of typography, complex grid systems, experimental typographic methods, and material studies will be explored. The development of a personal creative approach to form and communication will be emphasized. (Prerequisites: GRDE-302 and GRDE-307 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Fall Or Spring).
This course will explore the role of the graphic designer in developing communicative design for advertising. Emphasis will be placed on effective communication of the concept development and client’s message. Advertising will be addressed in a broad context, and the course will include the relationship and use of typography, photographic imagery and layout for advertising impact. At times, this course will collaborate with an upper-level advertising photography class to better understand and experience the working relationship between the photographer and the designer. Some projects will be with outside clients, such as non-profit organizations or the Ad Council. (Prerequisites: GRDE-307 and GRDE-308 or equivalent courses.) Studio 5 (Fall Or Spring).
Packaging Systems Collaborative
This course focuses on the design of physical packaging for the protection and marketing of goods. Aspects of visual, structural, ergonomic and environmental issues are considered in the design of rigid and flexible containers. Often taught as a team/collaborative course, students from several disciplines will work together to develop effective packaging solutions. (Prerequisites: GRDE-307 and GRDE-308 or equivalent courses.) Studio 6 (Fall Or Spring).
This course introduces students to packaging concerns such as visual strategies for display, material exploration, product safety, and the lifecycle of packaging. Students work on teams to create innovative solutions for clients and competitions. (Prerequisites: GRDE-307 and GRDE-308 or IDDE-301 or equivalent courses.) Studio 6 (Fall Or Spring).
Graphic Design History Electives
Women Pioneers in Design
This course will center on the contributions made by Modernist women designers. Emphasis will be placed on their unheralded pioneering efforts. Exemplars from the field will be presented, set in a historical context. Lectures are complemented by guest speakers, videos, participatory exercises, discussion, and critical essay writing. (This course is restricted to undergraduate students in CAD with at least 2nd year standing.) Lecture 3 (Fall, Spring).
20th Century Editorial Design History
This course is a thematic approach to the history of magazine design and provides a necessary historical basis for students in the visual arts and design. The course involves lectures on editorial designers, other pioneering Modernist designers, and design from other countries. Exemplars from the field are presented, set in a wide historical context. Lectures are complemented by guest speakers, videos, participatory exercises, discussion, and critical essay writing. (This course is restricted to undergraduate students in CAD with at least 2nd year standing.) Lecture 3 (Fall, Spring).
For all bachelor’s degree programs, a strong performance in a college preparatory program is expected. Generally, this includes 4 years of English, 3-4 years of mathematics, 2-3 years of science, and 3 years of social studies and/or history.
Specific math and science requirements and other recommendations
• Studio art experience and a portfolio of original artwork are required for all programs in the schools of Art and Design. A portfolio must be submitted. View Portfolio Requirements for more information.
Transfer course recommendations without associate degree
Courses in studio art, art history, and liberal arts. A portfolio of original artwork is required to determine admissions, studio art credit, and year level in the program. View Portfolio Requirements for more information.
Appropriate associate degree programs for transfer
Related programs or studio art experience in desired disciplines. A portfolio of original artwork is required to determine admissions, studio art credit, and year level in the program. View Portfolio Requirements for more information. Summer courses can lead to third-year status in most programs.
Through a partnership with the popular online magazine, Vignelli Center lectures are being rebroadcast by Design Milk. The semester's first event featured an inspiring talk by creativity strategist Natalie Nixon.