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Top 10 Graphic Design Schools and Colleges in the Midwest – 2016

Written by ACR StaffNovember 28, 2016
Did You Know.....Full Sail University offers online degree programs in computer animation, game art, and game design? Learn more about Full Sail University's online programs.
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Our 2016 rankings of the top graphic design schools in the Midwest.

We define the Midwest as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Idaho, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.


1. Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (Top 1% of schools considered)

Cranbrook Academy began “informal art education” in the late 1920s. The Academy consists of 10 programs/departments including 2D Design, 3D Design, Architecture, Ceramics, Fiber, Metalsmithing, Painting, Print Media, Photography and Sculpture. Per the Academy, “each department is led by a full-time Artist or Designer-in-Residence who is the sole faculty member and head of the department. Each department has an enrollment of approximately 15 students, who are selected by the Artist-in-Residence.” Programs are “free of the formal course structure typical of most art schools and universities. Instead the studio environment is the core of the curriculum with emphasis on developing an individual body of work.” 

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The 2D Department is the Graduate Graphic Design Department, which places emphasis on “the experimental.” Work being produced in the department “falls on a continuum from book, poster and letterform design, through installation, social practices and contemporary art,” says the Academy. The program leads to an MFA in 2D Design (Graphic Design). 

2. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 1% of schools considered)

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was founded in 1866 as the Chicago Academy of Design It is one of the oldest accredited independent schools of art and design in the country. Home to 3,590 students enrolled in more than 25 programs, SAIC offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers through its Visual Communication Design Department. Options include a BFA, MFA or Certificate in Graphic Design. 

The BFA program has two major areas of focus including Physical Media (print, objects, and environments) and Virtual Media (interactive and time-based media). The MFA program offers the opportunity to explore other related departments at SAIC such as Printmedia, Writing, Photography, Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects, and Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA). The purpose of this opportunity is to “extend students’ design work into new territories.” The Graphic Design Certificate is designed for “students with an interest in exploring graphic design with an emphasis on print media,” says the Department. 

Other Graphic Design Program highlights include an active AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) student chapter, CIPB (Chicago International Poster Biennial)—an international competition representing leading designers from throughout the world, internship opportunities and the option to study abroad. 

3. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio (Top 2% of schools considered)

The University of Cincinnati was founded in 1819 and it is home to 44,251 students enrolled in 370 degree programs across 13 colleges and a graduate school. The College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) houses the School of Design, which offers a BS in Communication Design. This program takes five years to complete and students may choose from three Concentration areas including Graphic Design, Motion Design, and Interaction Design. Another degree option is available through University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash College. The Art and Visual Communication Department here offers a two-year Associate Degree in Applied Graphic Communication. However, students in the program have the option to complete it in three years. 

4. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio (Top 2% of schools considered)

Founded in 1910, Kent State University (KSU or Kent State) is home to nearly 29,000 students enrolled in more than 300 degree programs across 11 colleges and the School of Digital Sciences. The College of Communication and Information, School of Visual Communication Design, offers a BFA in Visual Communication Design and a Design Minor. Per the School, the BFA program consists of approximately two-thirds of the coursework in the "creation and study of the visual arts," with the remainder in general studies. Because of the greater emphasis on upper-level studio courses, the BFA allows majors the opportunity to build greater expertise in a given area of the field. 

The Design Minor provides students with “grounding in the fundamental elements of graphic design, including design research and history, graphic software, industry standards and professional ethics.” All School of Visual Communication Design students must complete 300 hours of internship before graduation. Most internships are paid and students have the opportunity to work at major companies across Cleveland and in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. 

5. Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 2% of schools considered)

Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) was established in 1886 and it is home to more than 700 students from 29 states and 12 countries. Of these, 50 percent are enrolled in Design and 25 are enrolled in Media Arts. The school offers 20-plus programs across several departments. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design and Post-Baccalaureate Certificates in Graphic Design and Interactive Design and Marketing. An MFA in Visual Studies is also on the menu. 

Students in the 60-credit MFA program pursue creative work in Graphic Design, Illustration, Interactive Media, Paper and Book Arts, Printmaking, and many others. Students in all graphic design programs have the opportunity to gain practical, real-world experience through a required internship. The option to study abroad or elsewhere in the U.S. is also highlighted. 

6. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (Top 3% of schools considered)

The University of Kansas (KU) was founded in 1865 and it is home to 28,401 students enrolled in more than 370 programs across 14 schools and one college—including the only schools of pharmacy and medicine in the state. The School of Architecture, Design and Planning is home to The Department of Design which offers a BFA in Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design) and a Certificate in Book Arts. 

Graduates of the Graphic Design Program are prepared to pursue careers in a wide range of areas such as traditional print media, magazine and book design, corporate marketing communications, branding, packaging design, exhibition and environmental design, motion graphic design, website design, interface design and more. Certificate students “learn art and craft production across the “whole book”— papermaking, typography, printing, and binding, informed by the history of the book.” 

7. Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri (Top 3% of schools considered)

Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) has a 130-year history that includes notable name such as Walt Disney, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Morris, and Nick Cave. Besides a long list of notable alumni and students, KCAI offers 13 academic disciplines in Art, Design and Media to a population of more than 600 students. Offerings for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design. BFA degrees in Interactive Arts and Printmaking are also on the menu. 

8. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana (Top 4% of schools considered)

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is home to nearly 30,500 students enrolled in more than 250 degree programs across 19 schools. Established in 1969, the school offers several programs for aspiring graphic designers through Herron School of Art + Design. Offerings include BFA and MFA degrees in Visual Communication Design, an MFA in Visual Art, and degree-enhancing Minors in Design Production, Studio Art and Technology, and Book Arts. 

Technologies and tools utilized in the Visual Communication programs include drawing, offset printing, photography, and time-based and interactive media (film, video, computer multimedia), to name a few. Students in the program also learn how to perform basic business practices, including organizing design projects and working productively as a member of teams. All students, Art, Design or otherwise, have access to internship and study abroad opportunities. 

9. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Top 4% of schools considered)

Columbia College was established in 1890 and it is home to more than 10,000 students enrolled in 100-plus academic majors or programs. The School of Fine and Performing Arts, Department of Design offers a BFA degree in Graphic Design and a BA in Graphic Design with Concentrations in Publication Design and Web Design. A BA in Advertising Art Direction is also on the menu for those interested in a second degree program. The School of Interactive Arts and Media also offers several options that complement Graphic Design. They include a BA in Social Media and Digital Strategy, and Interaction Design, and a Web Development Minor. 

10. College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan (Top 4% of schools considered)

Established in 1906 as The Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) is home to more than 1,400 students enrolled in over a dozen degree programs across 14 academic departments. With an enrollment of 127 students, the Graphic Design Department is one of the top five largest departments at CCS. Degree options for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Communication Design (Graphic Design), Interaction Design or Motion Graphics and MFA degrees in Interaction Design and Integrated Design. Degrees that complement Graphic Design include BFAs in Advertising: Copywriting, Advertising: Design and Fine Arts. 

All students have the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or a year in places such as Italy, Austria, Germany, Mexico, Paris, Australia, and more. Graduates of the Design programs at CCS are prepared to work in Graphic Design, Editorial Design, Environmental Design, Information Design, Interactive Design, Package Design, Publication Design, Web Design, and many others.