Did you know? Located at the intersection of art and commerce, Academy of Art University's Graphic Design program integrates practice, theory, and inquiry, while refining and encouraging innovation, critical thinking, visual literacy and conceptual problem solving. Learn more.
|1||ArtCenter College of Design||Pasadena|
|2||California Institute of the Arts||Valencia|
|3||California College of the Arts||Multiple|
|4||University of California, Los Angeles||Los Angeles|
|5||Otis College of Art and Design||Los Angeles|
|6||California State University-Long Beach||Long Beach|
|7||San Diego State University||San Diego|
|8||Academy of Art University||San Francisco|
|9||California State Polytechnic University Pomona||Pomona|
|10||Laguna College of Art and Design||Laguna Beach|
Our 2019 rankings of the top 10 graphic design school programs in California. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.
1. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California
Established in 1930, ArtCenter College of Design spans two campuses and four structures in the U.S. and Berlin. Home to approximately 2,100 students from the U.S. and more than 40 other countries, ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in the areas of Industrial Design and Visual and Applied Arts. ArtCenter also offers a joint MS/MBA program with Drucker School of Management—the business school of Claremont Graduate University.
Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BFA in Graphic Design and an MFA Graduate Graphic Design (MGx) degree. Students might also consider interdisciplinary programs such as the Desginmatters Concentration, which leads to a Certificate in Art and Design for Social Impact or the Integrated Studies Program, which covers essential skills and competencies, critical thinking and the creative process, cultural literacy and contextual reference, interdisciplinary experience, and quality of execution and professional practices.
Offered through the Graphic Design Department (GX), all programs offer internships and study abroad opportunities.
2. California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is the nation's first postsecondary institution to offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in both the Visual and Performing Arts. Established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney, the school is home to around 1,500 students enrolled in more than 70 programs across six schools including the Schools of Art, Critical Studies, Theater, and Film/Video, the Herb Alpert School of Music, and the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance. The School of Art is home to the Graphic Design program, which leads to a BFA or MFA.
The BFA program is a full-time, four-year program that prepares students for a career in print and publication design, web and interface design, motion graphics for broadcast and film, branding, identity and type design, and design history and education. The MFA program offers two- and three-year options, including a Specialization in Motion Graphics. The Specialization prepares students to enter the commercial field of motion graphics.
3. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) is home to more than 1,900 students from 52 countries and 45 states. The school offers 22 undergraduate and 12 graduate degree programs, plus two minors. Undergraduate programs for aspiring graphic designers include BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Interaction Design and a BA in Visual Studies. Graduate options include an MFA in Design that focuses on Graphic Design, Industrial Design, and Interaction Design.
Highlights for all programs include the opportunity to immerse in the areas of Brand Identity, Print, Motion Graphics, and Screen-Based and Interactive Design, elective offerings that will “strengthen” students “design toolkit,” and the opportunity to gain real-world experience through CCA’s extensive internship program. Graduates have landed positions at innovative design firms, museums, publishing houses, technology companies, nonprofits, and more.
4. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California
The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) was founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California. It is home to nearly 45,500 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The UCLA College and 12 professional schools offer more than 5,000 courses in 125 undergraduate degree programs, 98 master’s programs, 109 doctoral and professional programs, and 91 minors.
The School of Arts and Architecture is home to the Department of Design Media Arts (DMA), which offers both BA and MA degrees in Design Media Arts. Per the school, the DMA program “emphasizes innovative creation with digital and mass media within the context of a public research university.” The curriculum highlights “a solid foundation in form, color, space, motion, typography, and interactivity, followed by a broad selection of area studies courses in video, visual communication, network media, game design, and narrative.” The senior project allows students to focus on individual interests within the areas of Visual Communication and Image, interactivity and games, or video and animation.
“This uniquely challenging and diverse program invites students to balance aesthetic sensibility with logical reasoning, formal theories with practical application, and contemporary thought with historical perspective.” With courses that are taught as studios of no more than 22 students, individual growth and a sense of community within the department is encouraged.
5. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by General Harrison Gray Otis-- founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Home to 1,100 BFA and MFA students, OTIS offers more than a dozen interdisciplinary art and design programs from Animation and Motion Design to Illustration and Graphic Design. Specific programs for aspiring graphic designers are offered through the Communication Arts Department. Options include BFA degrees in Graphic Design and Communication Arts with an Emphasis in Graphic Design or Illustration or a Minor in Advertising Design, an MFA in Graphic Design and a Graphic Design Certificate.
Graduates of the Graphic Design programs at OTIS have landed positions at major companies such as Apple, Anthropologie, LACMA, Guess, Metro, Capitol Records, and others.
6. California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, California
California State University Long Beach (CSULB) was founded as a state college in 1949. The school serves more than 36,800 students enrolled in over 100 academic programs through eight colleges. The College of the Arts houses the School of Art which offers a BFA and an MFA in Art with a Graphic Design Track. The BFA, which consists of 132 units, “prepares students for professional careers in design studios, advertising agencies, corporate design departments, motion graphics firms, web design companies and freelance consulting,” says the school. Graduates will also be prepared to seek graphic design positions with industrial and interior design firms.
Sample courses for the program include Graphic Design: Exploration and Experimentation, Media Design: Motion Graphics, Advanced Typography, Global Art Scenes, Advertising: Advanced Topics, Media Design: User Centered Design, and Media Design: 5D; Designing the Future.
The MFA with a Graphic Design Track, which consists of 60 units, “provides an environment for students to make deep explorations into the field, pushing boundaries and questioning the status quo.” Students in this program will take 25 units in ART 500+ to 600+ level courses, and 15 units of additional coursework in the track. Both programs offer the opportunity to complete several workshops, studio courses, and a professional portfolio, as well as internship and study abroad experiences.
7. San Diego State University, San Diego, California
Founded in 1897 and home to nearly 35,000 students, San Diego State University (SDSU) is the oldest and largest university in San Diego and the third largest in California. The school offers nearly 160 undergraduate majors and minors, 16 pre-professional programs and nearly 100 graduate degrees and credentials across seven colleges.
The College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts (PSFA) has 10 core departments and schools, including the School of Art + Design. Here, students can earn a BA in Applied Arts and Sciences with an Emphasis in Graphic Design or Multimedia and an MA or MFA with an Emphasis in Graphic Design or Multimedia. Students may also focus on Book Arts or Illustration by choosing from an extensive collection of electives.
The Graphic Design program features participation in a large internship program that “places students in professional settings in graphic design firms, interior design offices, galleries, museums and schools in the Southern California region and, specifically, the San Diego community.” The active study abroad program offers experiences in places such as Turkey, Scotland, Mexico, and Japan. Graphic design students are also involved in professional organizations such as the American Institute of Graphic Art (AIGA), the American Craft Council, and the Society of Photographic Education.
Graduates of the art and design programs at SDSU hold titles such as Graphic Designer, Corporate Image Designer, Layout/Production Artist, Advertising Artist, Print Production Specialist, Graphic Illustrator, Technical Illustrator, and many others.
8. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
Established in 1929, Academy of Art University is home to more than 7,000 students from more than 112 countries. The Academy offers dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs through several schools. The School of Graphic Design offers a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. Options include AA, BFA and MFA degrees in Graphic Design, MA and MFA degrees in Graphic Design & Digital Media, and a Graphic Design Certificate.
According to the school, the Graphic Design Programs “guide students through the nuanced skill-development process required to achieve excellence in typography, print, packaging, branding, user experience, and motion graphics.” Sample courses include Design Technology: Digital Publishing Tools, Design Technology: Visual Design Tools, Visual Communication, Color Fundamentals, Interaction Design, Typography: Hierarchy and Form, Web Design, Package Design, Branding Principles, and Written Communication.
Courses are taught by “nationally recognized professionals who challenge their students to reach their personal creative potential.” Graduates of the Academy of Art programs will have the skills needed to “influence marketing strategies, raise awareness of critical issues, and facilitate cultural change.”
9. California State Polytechnic University Pomona, Pomona, California
Established in 1938 with an all-male enrollment of just 110 students, California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona) is one of just two polytechnic universities of the 23 California State University campuses and 11 in the U.S. Today, Cal Poly Pomona is home to a co-ed population of nearly 26,000 students enrolled in more than 100 degree programs across eight colleges. The school’s College of Environmental Design, Department of Art, offers one program for aspiring graphic designers—a BFA in Graphic Design.
Per the Department, the 180-unit program “focuses on intensive work in art and design supported by a program of general studies.” Students learn to work creatively in Typography, Print, Identity, Illustration, Packaging, Web Design, Motion Graphics, and Environmental Graphic Design. Just a few required courses include Digital Image Design, Lettering and Typography, Life Drawing, Graphic Media and Production, Technical Illustration, Design and Color Theory and Professional Practices in Graphic Design.
All students will take 16 units of required support courses including Photography, Principles of Marketing Management, and Promotional Strategies. Students can refine the degree by selecting 20 units of elective courses. Experiential learning and internship opportunities are also part of the program.
10. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California
Established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) serves 670 students enrolled in seven graduate and undergraduate degree programs. Among them is a Graphic Design + Digital Media Program (GD+DM). With 110 students, Graphic Design is the third largest program at LCAD.
The Graphic Design + Digital Media Program is a multidisciplinary program that covers print, advertising, web, 3D, motion, video, iPad development, package and action sport design. As a result, graduates of the program will have the skills needed to move seamlessly between print, web, motion and video. The major offers programs in Graphic Design, Graphic Design w/Illustration Emphasis and Graphic Design w/Action Sport Design Emphasis. Programs lead to a BFA.
LCAD graphic design graduates have gone on to work in a range of fields from advertising, branding, web design, and broadcast to action sport design, visual merchandising, publishing, packaging and print. Per the school, “their work has built the brands of ESPN, NIKE, Target, Google, Hurley, Fox Television, PacSun, MSNBC, Kawasaki, Surfer Magazine, the Syfy Channel and the Smithsonian among many others.”
More than 98% of LCAD’s recent Graphic Design graduates work in their chosen field, with most finding employment through LCAD prior to graduation.