MFA in Graphic Design

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Print magazine’s August 2014 issue is the Lessons Learned issue. In this issue, we take a look at how the past has played an important role in the present and future of design and the lessons we have learned along the way.

In the field of graphic design, although most practitioners hold at the very least a secondary degree, truth be told, no degree is required—simply a great portfolio. With that said, in recent years there has been a wellspring of new graphic design MFA programs in addition to those already in place. In part, this is the result of universities adopting the MFA as the terminal degree for teaching. There are two main models, residency and low-residency/independent study. Here is a survey of MFA programs across the country, selected for various distinctions, including the unique draw of what they have to offer to today’s designers, broken down by Print’s six regions of the U.S. as presented in the Regional Design Annual. Additional MFA programs, including international ones, will be spotlighted online.


Former Marywood University student Craig Welsh (2008), principal of Go Welsh, set up Music Friday activities in Lancaster, PA, where passersby were encouraged to play air guitar and then tweet or post photos to social media. The initiative benefited a nonprofit.


The Art Directors Club of New Jersey contacted Marywood to design the 2014 Call For Entries for their annual awards show. Design by student Jess Meoni.


Design by student Jess Meoni.


Marywood University

Nestled between mountains in the Wyoming Valley of Scranton, PA, Marywood’s MFA in Graphic Design and Illustration is the oldest low-residency program in the country. Children’s book illustrator Fred Brenner founded it in the mid-1980s, and the directorship was soon handed over to Sister Cor Heffernan and Ed Brodsky. The two-week residency takes place on campus in July, and the program meets twice in the fall and spring in various cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. These study tours include studio visits and talks by thought leaders in the field. The students, from across the country, are also assigned independent study projects. All are working professionals and many are adjunct teachers who hope to find a full-time faculty position.

Others are attracted to the Children’s Book track within the MFA, which is a three-year, four-summers program culminating in a thesis and exhibit. There have been close to 100 books subsequently published by its grads, such as Denise Bosler’s Mastering Type and Craig Welsh’s Design: Portfolio. Grads go on to run studios, such as Welsh’s Go Welsh and David and Anna Leonard’s Hybrid Studios. Many win top industry awards: Cannes Lions, One Show Design Best of Show, D&AD, Communication Arts and Print’s Regional Design Annual among them. Welsh notes that “the graduate work helped reveal just how critical personal relationships and experiences are to informing design solutions. Whether it’s an expanded list of contacts with whom discussions and critiques can take place or [it’s] exposure to new places [and] ideas, design considerations have become broader and deeper.” On campus, students have access to the silkscreen and letterpress print shops, and painting, sculpture and woodworking studios. The conceptual-based classes include animation, web design, expressive typography and environmental design.

Students can take workshops in sequential art, education or even how to license their art. The age range of students is vast, from 22 to 65 years old. The overarching goal of the program is for each individual to grow as a creative and to reach the very best of their ability. Current student Jess Meoni says that “one of the draws of the program is its low residency. It yields a lot of independent time to work professionally in the field as well as explore creative options on our projects and study tours. “Another draw is the chance to work with some of the finest and more experienced designers and illustrators in the world. The study tours themselves make an attractive asset, as well. It takes the student out of the box of a classroom and to a city where we have to occasionally be quick-witted and on our toes, and sometimes we just get to sit back and take it all in.”

Faculty: Ed Brodsky, Seymour Chwast, Ray Cruz, John Gall, Melanie Hall, Megan Halsey, Peter Hoffer and Christopher Zacharow. Visiting faculty has included Allan Beaver, Rodrigo Corral, Bob Gill, Keith Godard, Gregg Greenwood, Jeffrey Keyton, Luba Lukova, Tony Palladino, Hank Richardson, James Victore and Genevieve Williams.Tuition: $36,000 (2014–2015) for 60 credits over the course of three years. Scholarships and financial aid options are available.For more information:


MICA student Hong Wei is now completing her MFA thesis on the subject of “Vegetable Anatomy.”


Project by MICA student Shiva Nallaperumal.


MICA Alumnus Christina Beard turned her 2011 thesis project into a book. Critiqued: Inside the Minds of 25 Leaders in Design (Peachpit Press) was named by Fast Company as one
of the 10 best design books of 2013.


Katrina Keane was born in Zimbabwe and raised in Indonesia. For her thesis project in MICA’s environmental design program, she studied the Bagmati River in Nepal.

Maryland Institute College of Art

Located in Baltimore, a city with a thriving music and art scene, MICA, founded in 1826, is one of the oldest art colleges in the country. Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips launched the Graphic Design MFA program in 2004. Approximately 40% of its students are international. MICA has since developed additional design graduate programs, including a one-year Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Graphic Design and a one-year Master’s in Social Design.

MICA’s program offers a mix of structured and independent work. Core studio courses are led by program directors Lupton and Phillips, who offer intensive guidance and support throughout the MFA experience and beyond. First-year students participate in a series of projects that range from explorations of each designer’s personal identity and visual language to applied problems in the public realm. In the second year, designers focus on developing an independent thesis project. Alongside the core studio, designers select from an array of electives, including advanced publication design, interaction design, letterpress printing, typeface design and motion graphics, all taught by visiting faculty. Three credits of liberal arts each semester serve to build a dialogue about history, theory, pedagogy and the craft of writing. Workshops with guest artists infuse the program with new perspectives and work methods.

The program pushes students to document and analyze their own process in order to develop new work methods and strong portfolio pieces. In fall 2013, two teams of MICA designers won honors in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Records for Life competition, which invited designers to create new systems for managing vaccination records for global populations. MICA students have also won prizes in several international poster competitions, including Poster Heroes (Italy, 2013) and Design Prize Breda (Netherlands, 2014).

Several graduates of MICA’s Graphic Design MFA program have also gone on to publish books, including Helen Armstrong (Graphic Design Theory: Readings From the Field); Andrew Shea (Designing for Social Change); and Christina Beard (Critiqued: Inside the Minds of 23 Leaders in Design).

MFA students share a light-filled studio equipped with individual work stations and a common printing facility. They have access to a variety of labs and shops across campus, where they can work with technologies ranging from laser cutters, 3D printers and textile printers to letterpress and bookbinding equipment.

Most grads return to professional practice after completing their degrees; one or two every year seek full-time teaching positions. Many view teaching as an important aspect of their future career paths, but not a sole endeavor.

Faculty: Tal Leming, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, David Barringer, Kimberly Walker, Andres Zapata and Bob Cicero. Visiting artists have included Keetra Dean Dixon, Islam Elsedoudi, Michele Champagne, Paul Sahre, Stephen Farrell, Glen Cummings, Abbott Miller and Silas Munro.Tuition: $40,850 (2014–2015). The MFA requires two years of full-time study. MICA offers all graduate students some form of merit-based funding; this covers 20–60% of tuition.For more information:


Something Stolen, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue by RISD’s Sameer Farooq and Mirjam Linschooten.


Something Stolen, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue by RISD’s Sameer Farooq and Mirjam Linschooten.


I Am a Pixel, by RISD’s Jonathan Hanahan.


Collection Wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art, by RISD alumna Erika Tarte.

Rhode Island School of Design

Located in the heart of historic Providence, RISD’s 16 graduate studio disciplines are grouped in a mix of historic and new structures, merging an art school campus atmosphere with the downtown area. RISD graduate students may enroll in Brown University courses if scheduling permits, and the two schools actively pursue opportunities to share events and resources.

The two-year Graphic Design MFA graduate program was proposed and approved in 1975–1976 under the direction of professor Tom Ockerse. The total enrollment of graphic design graduate students is between 35 to 40 students. The two-year MFA programs are intended for students with a BFA or BA in graphic design (or an equivalent degree) who have at least two years of professional work under their belts. Experienced program candidates are typically seeking the opportunity for a more sustained and intensive investigation of critical graphic design thinking and making.

The three-year MFA track is for students who have visual/verbal aptitude and an interest in entering the field, but lack the academic background in graphic design. These students hold undergraduate degrees in such fields as computer science, architecture, literature, fine arts and photography, history, journalism, international relations or the social and physical sciences. Their application portfolios must demonstrate skill in producing meaningful visual work.

RISD’s graduate program prepares students for professional practice by emphasizing the role of social context, media and aesthetics in the production of visible language systems. The Graduate Studio sequence explores the range of skills and activities within the design process, from an initial visual/verbal response to content and the narrative shaping and communication of messages. Students in both tracks meet in the Graduate Seminar sequence, which initially builds a sense of context through discussion of design history and contemporary critical issues, and later helps in developing individual approaches to the exploration, investigation and construction of a well-designed thesis proposal. Individual thesis investigation is central to the final year of MFA study and culminates in the comprehensive presentation of original design work and research relevant to contemporary critical practice. The school’s goal is to prepa
re students for a reflexive, responsible and sustainable practice.

RISD’s alumni occupy key positions in graphic design studios and through out corporate design offices, and they often start their own studios and enterprises. Many teach part time or full time in art schools and universities worldwide. Among recent graduates, Cavan Huang is the associate creative director and a lead motion designer at Interbrand, and Erika Tarte is currently the art director at Local Projects.

Faculty: Bethany Johns, professor and graduate program director, has headed the MFA since 2004. Faculty includes department head John Caserta, Ernesto Aparicio, Nancy A. Skolos, Hans Van Dijk, Tom Wedell and others. The visiting designer series has included Peter Bi’lak, Paul Sahre, Richard Rhys, Jake Barton, Jonathan Barnbrook, Lars Müller, Vaughan Oliver, Neville Brody and others.Tuition: $44,284 (2014–2015). The program offers departmental assistantships, fellowships and scholarships.For more information:


The graphic design area of study at the Yale School of Art in New Haven, CT, was created by Alvin Eisenman at the behest of Joseph Albers, and graduated its first MFA class in 1951.

“Our Yale School of Art Graphic Design MFA program is constructed to foster the development of each student’s own visual method and coherent body of work,” says Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, who took over the directorship of the graphic design area of study program in 1990. “At Yale, all the work you do during the two-year program of study is considered your thesis because the focus is on making, and through making work, you begin to see what your individual visual method is becoming.”

Students are encouraged to take at least two classes anywhere at the university within another discipline, e.g., literature, film criticism, law, sociology, philosophy, cognitive science, and so on. Yale’s broad array of courses helps shape, deepen and extend students’ visual work. The graphic design schedule was created to dovetail with the academic class structure at Yale. MFA students work on research projects with faculty, applying their visual method to environmental graphics for music events, posters for the Yale Symphony or School of Public Health and School of Architecture publications. Each student leaves the program with a body of work done in response to open-ended prompts given by faculty who are sustained by having their individual professional practices.

Yale offers a one-year preliminary program for a small group of students who come from different disciplines, and accepts 12 new students each year for the two-year program. “What we look for in prospective students are those individuals who have worked professionally and know what it is they need next. We all have worked to make a program help our students be enabled to lead the lives they came here to create and be doing the work they love. They expect this transformation of their work—and to some extent themselves—to take place here at Yale,” Brettville says.

Faculty: Michael Rock, Matthew Carter, Michael Bierut, Susan Sellers and Allen Hori. Visiting designers include Paul Elliman, Karel Martens, Irma Boom, Daniel van der Velden, Linda van Duersen, Masamichi Udegawa and Sigi Moeslinger.Tuition: $33,500 per year (2014–2015). Yale accepts students without prior knowledge of financial need, and then once accepted, candidates are given financial aid including scholarships, loans and work-study awards.For more information:


Former Vermont College of Fine Art student Kerri Augustien’s First Kiss. Augustien is now at Stanford University as a web designer for the Graduate School of Business, Information Technology Department.


Troy Patterson, Vermont College of Fine Art 2013 grad, fulfilled his vision to compress the essential parts of a letterpress studio into a small mobile unit, bringing the empowering experience of creation through this venerable printing technology out of the studio and into his community


Design by Troy Patterson.


Through her VCFA educational progression and master’s thesis project, Rachel Hatley (2013) established The Litter Letter Project as a response to the litter issue in Louisiana. It’s a 3D messaging system of letters constructed from chicken wire and filled with litter found along the highway.


Design by Rachel Hatley.


Design by Rachel Hatley.


Design by Rachel Hatley.

Vermont College of Fine Art

Located in Montpelier, VT, the Vermont College of Fine Art campus is a hybrid of an established institution and a center of arts education. The two-year MFA in graphic design synthesizes five intense one-week residencies interspersed with six-month semesters of independent study with a broad range of talented faculty mentors.

Academic dean and founding faculty chair Matthew Monk and program director Jennifer Renko started the degree in 2010. Monk brought together the founding faculty, who were all instrumental in the creation of the program. Faculty member Silas Munro stepped in as the faculty chair when Monk became the VCFA academic dean in 2012.

Some of the disciplines of study that students work within include animation, book arts and design, branding, design criticism, education, history, design for social change, design research and writing, editorial design, environmental design, exhibition design, experience design, film title design, information design, interaction design and advertising, motion graphics, t
, user experience design and web design. Students take on the challenge of deepening their work, both formally and conceptually, and seek to refine and hone their craft as designers and educators. The expectations upon completion of the MFA are teaching opportunities and professional placement, yet students often find the value the MFA has far exceeded those expectations. The program goals include developing design skills in form, content and craft; expanding critical ability; building fluency in design discourse and visual culture; and expanding the ability of designers to become content producers.

Faculty and students in the program continuously rethink graphic design by considering the role of design within culture, the relationships between designers and their work, the nature of education in design and exploring the complex relationships between form and content. Most students are both professional practitioners and educators. The student population is diverse, both culturally and in age (24 to 66 years old).

Alumni have gone on to full-time, tenure-track teaching positions, among other design endeavours such as establishing agencies. These include Kerri Augenstein, Brain Bednarski, Margaret Gonzalez, Rachel Hatley, Troy Patterson and Christine Valerio.

Faculty: Munro, Monk, Tasheka Arceneaux-Sutton, Geoff Halber, Natalia Ilyin, Bethany Koby, Yoon Soo Lee, Ian Lynam, Ziddi Msangi, Nikki Juen and Dave Peacock. Visiting designers have included Keetra Dean Dixon, Stefan Bucher, Anne West, Denise Gonzales-Crisp, Glenn Cummings, Gavin Browning, Kyle Blue and Jeanette Abbink.Tuition: $21,096 (2014–2015). VCFA offers myriad scholarships and other merit-/need-based program aid, and helps students find external scholarship resources, as well.For more information:


Project by School of Visual Arts grad. Jenny Rozbruch’s Grey Matters is a tablet application that aims to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers.


Project by School of Visual Arts grad. Kathleen Fitzgerald’s thesis OHHHH: Watch Designers Work is an online community of graphic designers sharing the details of how their designs are made.


Kathleen Fitzgerald’s thesis OHHHH: Watch Designers Work


Kathleen Fitzgerald’s thesis OHHHH: Watch Designers Work


School of Visual Arts

Steven Heller, program co-chair and longtime Print contributing editor, says SVA’s MFA Design/Designer as Author + Entrepreneur “is the first (and only) design masters to focus exclusively on the conception, ideation, fabrication, marketing and promotion of commercial and social entrepreneurship. It’s a two-year, 60-credit MFA with all mandatory classes with a thesis ‘venture’ as the result of completion.”

The program was conceived in 1996 and started in 1998 as the first graphic design MFA at SVA. Co-founded by Heller and Lita Talarico, the concept was to build on the strengths of SVA as an esteemed school of applied and practical study, looking at the next logical evolution of design and designer skills and talents—creating and distributing their own content. The emphasis is on authorship and entrepreneurship, the marriage of conception, aesthetics and business, the importance of research, design and presentation. It’s a two-year residency with 24/7 access to the MFAD studio, which is set up to be a design firm.

“We have a wonderful multicultural student body,” Heller says. “They bond as a community and the support of student and faculty is both essential and heartening. We’re also on the curve with technology, but as a service to conception.”

SVA accepts working professionals mostly, but also recently graduated students. “They want to be networked with others. Allowed to conceive and make. Empowered to be voices. Transcend their level of comfort. Join a community of thinkers and doers. We feel the same,” Heller says. “They, and we, also expect the program will provide a historical and contemporary perspective. We teach experimental book-making with Warren Lehrer, and digital publishing with Wyatt Mitchell. We also have quite a few integrated business courses with IDEO.” Grads include Deborah Adler (Safe RX), Celia Chang (Cravings), Bobby Martin and Jennifer Kinon (OCD), and Rick Landers (Landers Miller), Peter Buchanan Smith (Best Made), Randy J. Hunt (Etsy).

Faculty: Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister, Scott Stowell, Gail Anderson, Kevin O’Callaghan, Ken Carbone, Warren Lehrer, Stephen Doyle and Louise Fili, to name a few.Tuition: $34,740 (2014–2015) for 60 credits over two years.For more information:


School of the Art Institute of Chicago grad Sofya Karash (2013) creates Travails, a series of artist’s books and installation.


School of the Art Institute of Chicago

SAIC is located in downtown Chicago, directly across from Millennium Park, and has views of Lake Michigan, not to mention the area’s architectural icons. The faculty of the Master’s of Fine Arts in Studio, Visual Communication Design program works closely with students to develop their personal voice through individual and collaborative projects that are largely self-initiated and result in a range of physical outcomes. Students move easily among departments—such as print media, writing, film, video, new media and animation, sculpture, fiber and material studies, sound, art history, curatorial practices, visual and critical studies and other design disciplines—blending interests and learning, and creating their own grouping of experiences.

SAIC attendees begin with seminars that offer specific yet unique methodologies that stem from the faculty’s various practices and research. This offers students a palette of ways of working in areas such as narrative construction, analogy, dialogic mapping, filmic montage, and design and writing. The seminars give way to an open curriculum where students can take advantage of courses throughout the school in order to tailor their trajectory. All of this is framed by advising sessions, where students meet one-on-one with faculty. Facilities and technologies throughout t
he school include a letterpress type shop and varied group studio spaces with individual work stations/desks.

The student body is diverse—about half are from abroad. There is also a range of ages, though most are just a few years out of their undergraduate studies. Most graduates move into the profession straight out of school, but eventually approximately half gravitate toward academia coupled with professional practice.

“First and foremost, we want students to cultivate a sense of joy in their work and to develop their personal voice as designers/artists,” says program chair Renate Gokl. “Additionally, we want them to be independent, conceptual and critical thinkers, have strong and adaptable working processes, and to be aware of how they position themselves and their practice in relation to theory, history and methodology.”

The length of the residency is two years for the MFA. SAIC also offers a three-year post-baccalaureate/MFA for students coming from areas other than design.

Faculty: Gokl, BJ Krivanek, Ann Tyler, John Bowers, Stephen Farrell, Jacob Ristau and Alan Rhodes. The department also has approximately 10 adjunct faculty and 15 instructors. Recent visiting designers include Martin Venezky, Lucille Tenazas, Warren Lehrer, Julie Green, Henk van Assen and Katherine McCoy.Tuition: $44,010 (2014–2015). Scholarships at various levels exist and teaching assistantships are also available.For more information:


Project by North Carolina State University College of Design alumnus Michael Shea, former Nike creative director.


NCSU’s Will Walkington creates an interactive program for recent college graduates relocating to another city.


North Carolina State University College of Design

North Carolina State is located in the Research Triangle area, home to major universities and technology research centers.

The Master of Graphic Design program is a full-time course of study and one of five professional master’s programs in the College of Design. The two-year curriculum includes a three-credit seminar paired with a nine-credit studio in each of the first three semesters. The last semester focuses on a final project, built from a proposal developed in the third semester. Elective study may be taken anywhere in the university or at nearby Duke University or University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill. The College of Design provides dedicated studio space for all students in all majors and supports student work with state-of-the-art labs.

The program began in the early 1970s as the natural evolution in a college of design founded in 1948 to promote modernist values in architecture. Graphic design became an independent degree offering in 1990.

“The program defines graduate study as being about questions, not answers. Student work is ‘propositional.’ We ask students to think about user experience and research from a variety of perspectives, and we encourage professional dialogue through the propositional artifacts and systems students create,” director Meredith Davis says. “Students must convince people that their design ideas can live in the world of professional practice and add value to people’s lives. Their work must be informed by deep understanding of people, settings and activities, and its effects must be nested within larger physical, cultural, social and technological systems.

“Our interest in research doesn’t relieve students of their responsibility for form; smart is not the opposite of beautiful. The program values the humanistic qualities designers bring to complex challenges and the work of interdisciplinary teams. It’s not the goal of the program to have a signature look to work, but to expand the visual repertoire of individual students through greater insight into the nature of contemporary design problems and the role of technology in people’s lives. “Professional practice has changed over the last decades. Knowing about the form-making aspects of design is not enough. Developing leadership potential in emerging areas of practice requires access to expertise and resources outside of the traditional design coursework.”

The program requires four semesters of full-time resident study. Students who don’t have an undergraduate degree in design and some professional experience complete three years of study. Most graduates go into professional practice, but a large number enter teaching careers. Many join consulting firms, such as IDEO and Razorfish; software development companies, like Microsoft and Red Hat; cultural institutions, such as the Walker Art Center and WGBH/Public Television; publishing, such as Slate; and work in branding and UX design for companies such as Nike and Amazon. The program is a primary source of designers for the IBM innovation center in Austin, TX. It also offers a course in design education, and alumni teach in more than 50 colleges and universities.

Faculty: Kermit Bailey, Denise Gonzales Crisp, Davis, Deborah Littlejohn, Scott Townsend and Russell Flinchum. An active visitors program includes designers such as Andrew Blauvelt and Hugh Dubberly.Tuition: $7,623 for state residents, $21,311 for nonresidents (2014–2015). Students assigned assistantships often receive tuition waivers and health insurance.For more information:


An image from Texas State University’s trip to Dessau, Germany, to visit the Bauhaus.


Texas State University

Texas State is in San Marcos, located between Austin and San Antonio, an area known for its vibrant art scene, as well as a hub for the latest innovations in technology. The MFA program is low residency and the school accepted its first students in 2007. Most pursue their MFA part-time and may take between three to six years to complete their studies. Graduate assistants and other students pursuing full-time study can complete it within two-and-a­-half years.

The curriculum is designed to promote advanced study in the areas of web design, UX, interactive, data visualization and information design, typography, editorial and experimental book design, art direction, environmental graphic design, sustainable packaging and design for social impact. The program requires a minimum of 60 semester credit hours, including 54 from traditional and online course work plus six hours of thesis credit. The 54 hours include 30 hours of design studio coursework, 12 hours of history coursework, six hours of professional practice study and six more of open elective coursework.

The nontraditional structure of the program allows for both active professionals and th
ose at a distance to participate. Attendees are attracted to it because of their ability to pursue academic dreams without giving up their professional careers. The student body ratio has remained steady with 90% being professional practitioners. A number of students then go on to pursue teaching on a part-time basis. The program goal is to provide students with advanced problem-solving methodologies, technological advancement relating to communication design, examination of historical events in the discipline and emerging theoretical constructs.

Attendees expect to expand their design skills, increase their marketability in the design world, and earn the terminal degree in the field of communication design. Many graduates choose to stay in the Austin/San Antonio/Houston area where there is a robust job market.

Faculty: William Meek, Thomas Berno, Jeffrey Davis, Natalie Davis, Jill Fantauzza, Shelley Ann Jackson, Grayson Lawrence, Roselynn Newton, Michael Niblett, Claudia Roeschmann, Christopher Visit and Maia Wright. Visiting professors: Joost Grootens, Mariko Takagi, Armin Vit, Daniel Bastian, Rachele Riley, Tom Ahn and Garth Walker. Alumni include Sameera Kapila, Anita Lam, Shawn Meek, Duncan Robertson, Genaro Solis-Rivera and Sam Ward.Tuition: $16,657.80 face-to-face; $17,257.80 online (2014–2015). The school offers scholarship opportunities on an annual basis and has added a number of new financial opportunities.For more information:


Eyes Wide Open poster by Deborah Craven, Colorado State University alumna;


Noise digital fabrication/typography by CSU’s Sylvia Minguzzi.


Colorado State University student Silvia Minguzzi’s Parental Leave, an infographic comparing leave allotments around the world.


Colorado State University

The MFA at the Colorado State Department of Art and Art History is a three-year residency, begun in 1995 by graphic design coordinator John Gravdahl and department chair Phil Risbeck. State-of-the-art facilities share an attractive open campus at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

The Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition is an integral part of the graduate experience, a biennial event showcasing the latest work from a large selection of preeminent poster artists. The exhibition judge is invited on campus for one week; other international exhibitors attend the opening events. Students have unique access to these guests and, as committee members, participate in the planning, preparation and installation of the exhibition. They’re also responsible for the exhibition catalog design and production.

Faculty: Colorado State boasts an internationally recognized faculty, studio space and a low student/teacher ratio. Visiting faculty has recently included Gitte Kath, Leonardo Sonnoli, Majid Abbasi, Fang Chen, Luba Lukova, Andrew Lewis, Chaz Maviyane-Davies and Rick Poyner. Upon graduation, 25% of graduates return to professional practice; 75% become college-level educators.Tuition: $11,000 for residents; $24,000 for nonresidents (2014–2015).For more information:


Mickey by Colorado State University MFA program grad Deborah Craven.


Weapons of Mass Destruction by Colorado State University MFA program grad Jeff Lush.

California College of the Arts

CalArts began in 1971, originally containing a School of Design that was later absorbed into the Art School. Notable designers such as Sheila deBrettville, April Grieman, Lorraine Wild and Jeffery Keedy have led the graphic design program over the years. “All of these leaders left a lasting genetic imprint on the program’s philosophy,” says current director Michael Worthington.

The MFA program has two-year and three-year tracks, and a two-year specialization in motion graphics. All three tracks have a similar structure: a core studio/critique class at the heart of the curriculum; a supporting set of required typography, history and theory classes; optional specialized classes within the graphic design program; and optional classes from other schools within the institution (music, film, art etc.) The program focuses on formal and conceptual experimentation, with the goal of finding an individual point of view and methodology within the field of design, especially in the area of typography.

“CalArts has a unique combination of advanced critical thinking and sophisticated form-making, grounded in the culture of graphic design,” Worthington says. “It’s a small program and the students are part of a creative community that’s encouraged to experiment and take risks with form and content. The program gives students an education in critical thinking, but always through the vehicle of form.

“A lot of students are drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the Institute. Having many creative arts under one roof (dance, theater, film, music, art, writing) provides amazing cross-fertilization of ideas and practices.”

Worthington says that the attraction to the degree includes “the small and personal nature of the program, the fundamental desire to create form and to understand what you’ve made and how it functions in terms of culture and communication, and most of all, the desire to find an idiosyncratic design voice in an increasingly globally generic creative marketplace. Being such a small program, expectations are specific to each student. Many want to find their own way of working and set up their own independent studio practices. The overall trend is for our grads to have a mixed practice made up of client work, entrepreneurial projects, writing, curating, and often teaching. It’s a reflection of what it means to be a contemporary designer.”

Faculty: Worthington, Wild, Keedy, Louise Sandhaus, Stuart Smith and Gail Swanlund. Graduates include Denise Gonzales Crisp, Anne Burdick, Jon Sueda, Yasmin Khan, Silas Munro, Sybille Hagman, Geoff McFetridge, Kali Nikitas, Jae Hyouk Sung, Ian Lynam and Jens Gehlhaar.Tuition: $41,700 (2014–2015).For more information:

About Steven Brower

Steven Brower is a graphic designer, writer, and educator and a former creative director/art director of Print. He is the author and designer of books on Louis Armstrong, Mort Meskin, Woody Guthrie and the history of mass-market paperbacks. He is director of the “Get Your Masters with the Masters” low-residency M.F.A. program for educators and working professionals at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. You can follow him on Twitter: @stevenianbrower.

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