Visual Communication Design Master of Fine Arts Degree

In our visual communication design degree, you'll shape interactive experiences by integrating graphic design, user experience design, design studies, motion graphics, and 3D digital design into your work.


Outcomes Rate of RIT Graduates from this degree


Average First-Year Salary of RIT Graduates from this degree


Graduate Studies in Multimedia/Visual Communications (MFA)

U.S. News & World Report, 2021

Overview for Visual Communication Design MFA

This visual communication degree offers a comprehensive opportunity to investigate the intersection of graphic, interaction, and motion design. You will focus on conceptualizing and creating user-centered design wherever there is a screen or digital experience. This can include mobile phones, automotive instrument panels, medical devices, wearables, and more. This major reinforces the importance of user experience design by combining insight from all areas of design. Choose to focus your studies or combine course sequences from communication design, interaction design, motion design, and design studies. By combining historical, communication and aesthetic theory, principles, and creativity, your work will anticipate design evolution and lead innovation.

The MFA in visual communication design focuses on all areas of design, including graphic design, user experience/interaction design, design studies, motion graphics, and 3D digital design. The changing landscape of people’s everyday interactions has blurred the lines between respected design fields, giving designers new responsibilities to shape experiences. The MFA program embraces this new technology through its curriculum, which addresses these merging skill sets.

An Integrated Visual Communication Design Degree

The MFA in visual communication design provides a learning environment for the advancement in innovative research, user-centered design, and professional practice by focusing on the creative potentials of visual communication through a full spectrum of media. You will advance your design knowledge and technical skills by choosing an option in communication design, interaction design, or motion and 3D digital design.

The cross-disciplinary nature of the program offers a greater potential to foster innovation and creativity in visual communication design. The program reflects the current views and changes occurring in the professional design field. The skill sets required of graphic, interactive, and digital design have now crossed over and are interrelated.

Students are also interested in: Film and Animation MFA


Careers and Experiential Learning

Typical Job Titles

Cinematographer and Editor Game Producer
Graphic and UX/UI Designer Motion Graphic Designer
Product Designer Senior Visual Designer
UI/UX Designer User Experience Researcher
User Interface Designer UX Designer

Cooperative Education and Internships

What makes an RIT education exceptional? It’s the ability to complete relevant, hands-on career experience. At the graduate level, and paired with an advanced degree, cooperative education and internships give you the unparalleled credentials that truly set you apart. Learn more about graduate co-op and how it provides you with the career experience employers look for in their next top hires.

Co-ops and internships take your knowledge and turn it into know-how. Co-op in the College of Art and Design provides hands-on experience that enables you to apply your artistic capabilities in dynamic professional settings while you make valuable connections between classwork and real-world applications.

Cooperative education, internships, and other experiential learning opportunities are encouraged for graduate students in the MFA in visual communication design.

Creative Industry Days

Connect with Design Industry Leaders

RIT’s Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education hosts Creative Industry Days, which connects students majoring in art, design, film and animation, photography, and select computing majors with companies, organizations, creative agencies, design firms, and more. Creative Industry Days are a series of events that allow you to network with company representatives and interview directly for open co-op and full-time employment positions.

Featured Work

Featured Profiles

Curriculum Update in Process for 2024-2025 for Visual Communication Design MFA

Current Students: See Curriculum Requirements

Visual Communication Design, MFA degree, typical course sequence

Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
First Year
Design History Seminar
This seminar focuses on a basis in the history of design, which complements the overall graduate studies in the School of Design. Interdisciplinary in nature, the course is thematic and emphasizes performance on the part of the student in dynamic dialogue on course topics. The course content focuses on subjects relative to the history and theory of design (people, processes, products, environment, culture and places), critical thinking and contextual historical issues. Students are expected to read seminal design articles, write critical essays and questions and to participate in weekly discussion groups. On-line technology is utilized in addition to slide lectures. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA, CMGD-MFA and IDDE-MFA majors and other CIAS and RIT graduate students with permission of instructor.) Lecture 2, Seminar 2 (Fall).
3D Modeling and Motion
This course is an introduction to digital three-dimensional visualization. Students learn all aspects of 3D design, from modeling all the way through rendering the final images to setting keyframes for animation. Once familiar with the basics of production, students are encouraged to focus on specific topics such as lighting and texturing and the creation of visual effects for gaming, broadcast, visualization and education. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Web and UI Design
This course provides an in-depth look at human-centered interface design. Students develop interactive web pages with functional design and usability for e-commerce, education, and the communication of visual communication. Emphasis is placed on the integration and application of design skills applied to information architecture, user navigation and orientation. Projects are focused on designing alternative navigational solutions for online Web applications and touch-screen devices such as mobile phones and touch-pads. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
This course examines the historical, theoretical, and perceptual aspects of typography for print and screen use. Grid structure, composition, hierarchy, message conveyance, and formal aspects of typographic design are explored with an emphasis on developing harmonious type and image integration into cohesive, sequential design applications. How temporal structural elements such as rhythm and pacing affect visual communication in a dynamic medium is also investigated and applied. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Digital Design in Motion
This course focuses on motion design from story reels to the final project. Course content focuses on visual components, and assignments translate production techniques used in traditional filmmaking into the online environment. This includes the use of line, space (two and three-deminsional), composition and framing, simulated camera movements, color, and sound. Using a time-based application as the authoring tool and the techniques outlined in this course, a student will be able to produce interactive stories, such as online graphic novels and webisodes. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Design Studies Seminar
As an introduction to the field, this course will present the many complex roles of design–as process, product, function, symbol and use. This seminar will approach critical views of design studies from an interdisciplinary perspective. Faculty colleagues representing diverse campus expertise and beyond will contribute from their respective knowledge bases. The course will require readings, discussion, critical thinking, and writings as we examine the impact of history, theory and critical analysis as related to the interpretation and understanding of design. (This course is restricted to VISCOM-MFA students.) Lecture 2, Seminar 2 (Spring).
Choose one of the following:
 Project Design and Implementation
This course provides students with the necessary skills to further develop a research plan into a specific design inquiry with an application component. Emphasis is placed on identifying connections and integrating content between this course and the culminating first-year experience in the MFA Visual Communication Design program. Students will chose a topic, write a design proposal, and design and implement a project from inception to conclusion. This involves research, development, evaluation, refinement, completion of a finished creative project, and documentation of the process. The project can be produced independently or collaborative with advice from the instructor. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lab 3, Lecture 2 (Spring).
 Design Praxis I
Professional Electives
Open Elective
Second Year
Thesis Research and Planning
Research is the backbone for any project. This course will focus on the design research and planning stages of a thesis project. Students will define a design problem that provides a significant addition to the design field while addressing needs in the local, regional and/or global community. Course content addresses establishing content, planning, scheduling, and research seeking innovative solutions through the process of concept development, ideation, and in-process evaluation. (Prerequisites: VCDE-718 or VCDE-722 or equivalent course.) Thesis 3 (Fall).
Thesis: Implementation and Evaluation
This course will focus on the physical thesis project. Students will continue with concept development concluding with the implementation and retrospective evaluation of their chosen design problem. Solution is presented in a public exhibition, complemented by a written articulation of how the theories and methods employed in the project impact the current and future state of design in society. (Prerequisites: VCDE-790 or equivalent course.) Thesis 9 (Spring).
Professional Electives
Open Electives
Total Semester Credit Hours

Professional Electives

Programming for Designer
This course is an introduction to programming for students with a background in design. Students will write programs to construct and control interactive, media-rich experiences. Students will employ fundamental concepts of object-oriented computer programming such as classes, variables, control structures, functions, and parameters in their code. Students will develop their problem solving skills and begin building a logical toolkit of algorithms and program design strategies. Students will extend existing software objects provided by the instructor, as well as create new objects of their own design. Programming projects will be required. (Prerequisites: VCDE-709 or equivalent course and graduate standing in VISCOM-MFA.) Lec/Lab 3 (Spring).
Experimental Workshop
The course focuses on implementing advanced, newly developing ideas in visual communication design. The specific subtopic for this course varies each time it is taught. As a result it may be repeated with a different subtopic. The subtopic is determined by the instructor. Potential topics include the creation of interactive installations, adaptive/responsive interface design, tangible media design, digital performances, cyber fashion, network art, locative media, scientific visualization, information visualization, event design, projection design, or any new area in digital design. Students can take more than one Experimental Workshop in a term, as long as the subtopic is not repeated. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall, Spring).
Character Design and Rigging
This course covers first the design of characters and then the creation of them using three-dimensional software, inverse kinematics, parent and rigid binding, bones, and deformers. Students design characters using techniques like interpretant matrices, model sheets, sketches, and maquettes followed by development of the actual character in software. Characters are designed for incorporation into motion graphics, games, real time applications, performance, or visualization. (Prerequisites: VCDE-706 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 2 (Fall).
3D Environment Design
This course covers advanced modeling techniques useful in developing environments, both interior and exterior. The content of the course covers proportions appropriate to a variety of environments, lighting for spaces, surface design to replicate real world materials, and building to an appropriate level of detail for the circumstance. (Prerequisites: VCDE-706 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 2 (Fall).
Physical Interface Design
This course covers the use of basic electronics so that students can develop embedded systems or controllers for games, design environments with ambient intelligence, design interactive museum exhibits and point of purchase installations, or embed electronics in clothing. Students use micro controllers, sensors, switches, lights, and motors to implement their designs. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 2 (Spring).
Real Time Design
In this course, students design levels for games or virtual worlds for a variety of applications. Once the design is complete, the design is implemented using high-end three-dimensional software. In many cases the projects will be large and will be executed by teams of students. Versioning systems will be used to keep track of the most recently developed assets. Models are imported into real time software engines for manipulation. (Prerequisites: VCDE-706 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 2 (Fall, Spring).
3D Particles and Dynamics
This course focuses on three-dimensional special effects using 3D software in combination with other techniques. Course content addresses particle systems and dynamic simulations in a 3D environment. Physical reality concepts such as water flow, air movement, smoke, clouds, fire, and gravitational effects are explored in relation to their effects on cloth, hair, and fluids. Students will incorporate these dynamic simulations in practical design contexts for film, broadcast, and online. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Spring).
Hard Surface Modeling
The course focuses on designing and constructing hard surface models including machinery, furniture, vehicles, electronics, and robots. Students explore the use of different modeling techniques in the process and are particularly interested in the flow of the topology within the geometry. Some attention is given to creating controls for moving the hard surface models. (Prerequisites: VCDE-706 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 2 (Fall).
3D Motion Design
Students will learn the general production workflow of creating and integrating three-dimensional rendered elements into a two-dimensional motion graphics setting. The production process will include an overview of modeling, lighting, shading and rendering techniques in a 3D application. Then the course will also explore how to integrate these assets into a 2D animation setting and techniques of creating a professional, polished result quickly and efficiently. (Prerequisites: VCDE-706 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Material and Methods for Advanced Graphics
This course will examine methods of synthesizing analog and digital tools to create visual works that communicate complex information through compelling visual interactions. Projects will prompt students to remix materials, techniques, and design elements in unexpected ways to create new hybrid forms. Course content will cover analog and digital image-making techniques, 2D and 3D design, photography, coding, experimental visual manipulation, and unconventional design tools. Students will research, design, and implement their own unique processes that capitalize on a variety of form-making tools, and move fluidly in and out of the computer. At the completion of this course, students will have developed a vast library of interdisciplinary ideas and techniques for visualizing design that integrate a wide range of materials, forms, and methods. (Prerequisites: VCDE-708 or equivalent course.) Lec/Lab 5 (Fall or Spring).
Design Systems
This course investigates a systems thinking approach for the purpose of clear, unified communication. The complexity of multiple components are integrated into a common framework to solve graphic design problems. Conceptual mapping, design process strategies, user-centric goals, visual symbolism, the balance of design with cultural, environmental and technological factors, design writing, and design evaluation are integrated into the course. Both theoretical and applied problems will be developed. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Studio 5 (Spring).
Interaction Design
This course applies design methodologies to multimedia applications. Students communicate ideas and information to specific audiences through interactive, instructional applications. Course work will integrate content research, developing measurable objectives, and information architecture with interactivity. At the completion of this course students will be able to design site maps and flowcharts, implement an effective graphical user interface, communicate layered information through a hierarchical structure, control user navigation and feedback using interactivity, and design cross-platform projects for entertainment, games, information systems, and education. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Spring).
Design Praxis II
The development of digital deliverables and experiences is the central focus of this course. Interpretive projects will be composed of a sequence of text and images applying formal visual principles. The course is intended to center on the interrelationship of themes such as design history, theory and criticism using RIT’s unique communications resources (Vignelli Center, Cary Graphic Design Archive, Cary Collection and Wallace Library) and others. (Prerequisites: VCDE-722 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Motion Graphics
This course focuses on motion graphics as an extension of traditional design that incorporates a temporal or time-based element into the message. Students are exposed to video compositing software and learn the craft, practice, and theory of what it takes to make it in the fast-paced, competitive world of motion graphics design. Computer software is used to composite visual effects in both animation and live video. Sequencing, storyboarding, digital audio, titling, and animation are integrated to produce time-based projects for film, broadcast, and the web. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Spring).
3D Visual Design
This course focuses on the visual look of a three-dimensional model. Students apply lighting methods to illuminate 3D models and spaces. The interaction of light and pigment, use of light in painting, photography, and film are used as examples. Techniques in using shading networks are incorporated into the projects. Displacement textures are used to create detail in models. This course also covers a contrast and comparison of various methods and resolutions of rendering and outputting information from 3D software. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Branding and Identity Design
This course provides an examination of the role of design in brand strategy and cohesive identity systems. Historical and current systems will be researched and analyzed. Development of formal proposals, research, and design strategies for developing integrated solutions are explored. Projects will include client contact, writing of design briefs, collaborative projects, use of social networks for brand expansion, information structures, screen and print formats, and presentation methods. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Digital Media Integration
This course uses digital video cameras for motion recording and microphones for digital audio recordings. Emphasis is placed on digital video and audio design, production, and integration in multimedia applications. Course projects focus on shooting, digitizing and editing video plus recording, editing and mixing of audio for digital movies. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Design Systems Intensive
This intensive studio course investigates principles and theories related to systems thinking and application from diverse inter- and cross-disciplinary perspectives. Systems thinking is explored through many lenses that include concept, language, information, aesthetics, format, context, materiality and temporal considerations. Message-making, organization and implementation strategies are key components of this course. Students discover and practice design systems across a diverse range of studio, lecture and presentation experiences. The VCDE-717 Design Systems course is not a prerequisite for this course, but may be taken prior to this Design Systems Intensive course. Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
UX Design Strategies
This course explores design strategies related to researching, identifying and implementing a digital user experience for online web and app development. Students will apply design research methodologies to gather and evaluate source material to design and implement user interactive solutions. Projects will include defining client and user goals, user identification, user empathy, content organization, information architecture, wire-framing methods and validation through user testing across various platforms. At the conclusion of the course students will design and document several different interactive projects. (Prerequisites: VCDE-707 or equivalent course.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Experiential Graphic Design
This course focuses on the functions of environmental graphic design in a three-dimensional environment. Through studies of theory of environmental design, exploration and conceptual development, design solutions are directed to assist users in negotiating, or wayfinding, through a space or environment, to identify, direct and inform. Topics include learning methods, communication theory, ergonomics, visual hierarchy, design principles and process. Areas of application include architectural graphics, signage systems, dynamic environments, mapping, exhibit design, museum experiences, and themed environments. Students also explore how to integrate both two- and three-dimensional components to develop physical and digital-based environments. (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Lecture 2, Studio 3 (Fall).
Information Design
This course explores the importance of reader and user responses to written and visually presented information. Problem-solving, functional requirements, information transmission, accessibility and design structure are integrated while investigating a variety of formats (i.e. charts, diagrams, business forms, tables, maps, instructional materials, wayfinding systems, and technical data.) Applied problems are solved through principles of language, structure, diagrammatic interpretation and the visual display of information. Solutions will be developed for both print media and digital use (i.e. mobile devices, computer screens, kiosks, etc.). (This course is restricted to students in the VISCOM-MFA, GRDE-MFA and CMGD-MFA programs.) Studio 5 (Fall).
Visual Communication Design Independent Study
Visual Communication Design Independent Study will allow students to obtain instruction in specialized areas of interest to enhance their individual course of study. Working with a faculty adviser, students will propose a focused curriculum related to their academic and/or future career interests. Visual Communication Design Independent Study students must obtain permission of an instructor to enroll.**NOTE: Student must have a minimum 3.0 GPA ** (Prerequisites: This class is restricted to students in VISCOM-MFA, CMGD-MFA, GRDE-MFA or IDDE-MFA with instructor permission.) Ind Study (Fall, Spring).

Admissions and Financial Aid

This program is available on-campus only.

Offered Admit Term(s) Application Deadline STEM Designated
Full‑time Fall Rolling Yes
Part‑time Fall Rolling No

Full-time study is 9+ semester credit hours. Part-time study is 1‑8 semester credit hours. International students requiring a visa to study at the RIT Rochester campus must study full‑time.

Application Details

To be considered for admission to the Visual Communication Design MFA program, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

English Language Test Scores

International applicants whose native language is not English must submit one of the following official English language test scores. Some international applicants may be considered for an English test requirement waiver.

88 6.5 60

International students below the minimum requirement may be considered for conditional admission. Each program requires balanced sub-scores when determining an applicant’s need for additional English language courses.

How to Apply Start or Manage Your Application

Cost and Financial Aid

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