|1||School of the Art Institute of Chicago||Chicago|
|2||University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago|
|3||Columbia College Chicago||Chicago|
|4||University of Illinois at Urbana||Urbana|
|6||Southern Illinois University, Carbondale||Carbondale|
|7||Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville||Edwardsville|
|8||Illinois State University||Normal|
|9||Northern Illinois University||DeKalb|
Our 2019 rankings of the top 10 graphic design school programs in Illinois. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.
1. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
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 3,650 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, Exploratory Languages (a lecture series featuring leading designers and design educators from across the country), and CIPB (Chicago International Poster Biennial), which is an international competition representing leading designers from throughout the world. Internship opportunities and the option to study abroad are other highlights.
2. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was formed in 1982 by the consolidation of two U. of I. campuses: the Medical Center campus, which dates back to the 19th century and the comprehensive Chicago Circle campus, which replaced, in 1965, the two-year undergraduate Navy Pier campus that opened in 1946 to educate returning veterans. Serving nearly 31,700 students, UIC is the largest university in Chicago.
The school, which has regional campuses in Peoria, Rockford, Springfield, Urbana, IL, and The Quad Cities, offers 248 degree programs and 32 certificates across 15 colleges. The College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts houses the School of Design, which offers a Bachelor of Design (BDes) and a Master of Design (MDes) in Graphic Design.
The four-year BDes program highlights studio-based instruction, while the two-year MDes focuses on an independent master’s research project. A third option is the MDes Prelim Program. Offered to applicants who do not hold a bachelor’s degree in design, the Prelim Program is a customized yearlong program that prepares students for the two-year MDes.
3. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago was founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. The school offers a distinctive curriculum that blends creative and media arts, liberal arts, and business to nearly 7,000 students in more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Programs for aspiring graphic designers include a BA and a BFA in Graphic Design. Per the school, BA students take fewer credit hours in the major and are encouraged to choose a minor or double major in another program such as Fine Arts, Photography, Advertising, or Motion Graphics.
BA students choose a concentration in one discipline such as Web Design, Publication Design, or a general concentration. The BFA requires more advanced courses in graphic design than the BA. Students in this degree track do not choose a concentration and take courses across disciplines including Web Design, Publication Design, and Visual Identity. A second BA in Graphic Design is available if a student has already earned a bachelor’s degree.
Students in both programs will have the opportunity to intern at firms such as Leo Burnett, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, with clients like Procter & Gamble, Foote, Cone & Belding, a global advertising agency with clients around the world, Pivot Design, an award-winning branding, marketing, and advertising agency, Pressley Johnson Design, one of the premiere design communications firms in the Midwest, and 50000feet Creative Agency, a firm that has worked with some of the top brands in the U.S.
4. University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, Champaign, Urbana
Established in 1867 as Illinois Industrial University, University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign is one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions created after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act. The school serves nearly 48,000 students through 15 colleges and instructional units. The College of Fine and Applied Arts, School of Art and Design offers a 122 credit hour Graphic Design program that leads to a BFA. A 64 credit hour MFA in Art and Design with a Concentration in Graphic Design is also available.
Students in the program “engage with complex problems and are asked to identify opportunities where design can intervene,” says the school. Studio work for the program “addresses graphic design fundamentals (typography and image making), design history and contemporary practices, research methods, user experience, and social responsibility.” Students also have the opportunity to refine their degree by choosing from an interdisciplinary selection of elective courses including advanced interaction design, photography, traditional printmaking, sustainability, and video, and the design of Ninth Letter, a nationally-distributed and award-winning literary arts journal.
MFA students have access to individual studio space and specialized resources “essential to the acquisition of a high-quality professional education.” The program requires a graduation exhibition of creative work and a written thesis and admission to the program is determined by a faculty review of a portfolio of the applicant's creative work, records of previous education and experience, letters of recommendation, and other significant achievements that may be viewed as predictors for success in the program.
5. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University (est. 1898) offers 300 programs of study across 10 colleges and schools and two campuses in Chicago. The school, which serves 22,437 students from across the U.S. and about 70 countries, offers more than 130 undergraduate majors and 175+ graduate programs through 10 colleges and schools. The College of Computing and Digital Media houses the School of Design, which offers a BFA and a Minor in Graphic Design.
Per the school, “the curriculum prepares students to communicate to diverse audiences through a wide range of interdisciplinary design practices. The program integrates contemporary media and technologies, including web and interaction design, branding, illustration, motion graphics, typography, package design, and programming. Students learn both history and theory, acquiring skills to research, develop concepts and prototypes, and develop professional portfolios.”
Students can expect to take courses such as Advertising Design, Animation for Non-Majors, Creative Studio Methods, Digital Illustration, Digital Still Photography, Editing, Illustration, Intro to Human-Computer Interaction, Motion Graphics, Playgramming, Publication Design, Semiotics and Visual Design, and Trends in Contemporary Graphic Design. A capstone project is also part of the program.
Other program highlights include speakers from around the world, studio tours (at local agencies like VSA Partners, Ogilvy, Digital Kitchen, Gravitytank, and more), social mixers, and workshops through the DePaul chapter of AIGA (American Institute for Graphic Arts), dedicated presentation and exhibition spaces, a student gallery, and internship and research opportunities with a range of studios and non-profits in Chicago.
Common careers for graduates of BFA in Graphic Design include visual, production, and interactive design; art direction; book, publication, and web design; advertising; motion graphics; photography; and title design (for film/TV, and games).
6. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois
Founded in 1869, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (SIUC) serves 14,554 students enrolled in more than 200 majors, minors, and specifications through 11 colleges and schools. The College of Liberal Arts houses the School of Art and Design, which offers 12 undergraduate specializations and 9 master's degree concentrations. Among them is a BFA with a Communication Design Specialization.
Per the school, the program “includes broad theoretical guidance along with precise instruction in typography, design concepts, information design, digital graphic technology, and industry standards required by the graphic design field.” The curriculum focuses on message content and theory in print, web, and interactive/multimedia design. Course highlights include Computer Graphics, Design Process & Presentation, Graphic Design, Print Technology, and Typography.
Communication Design students have access to the schools “newly formed real-world, client-based, Design Research Studio.” The space is utilized as a teaching space, a design research space, and a client meeting space and the studio is equipped with large format scanning and printing capabilities, Wacom Cintiq interactive pen displays, web-conference capabilities, and an interactive SmartBoard.
Students will graduate with a polished portfolio and hands-on experience obtained through internship and other experiential learning opportunities. Graduates of the SIUC Communication Design program are prepared to seek positions such as Art Director, Communication Designer, Creative Director, Digital Imaging Specialist, Graphic Communication Designer, Interactive Graphic Designer, Internet Communication Designer, Motion Graphics Specialist, Multimedia Designer, Multimedia Graphic Designer, Web Communication Designer, and Web Designer.
7. Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville
Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville (SIUE) opened in 1957. The school serves close to 13,300 students enrolled in more than 273 areas of study through eight colleges and schools. The Department of Art and Design in the College of Arts and Sciences offers a BFA in Art and Design with a Concentration in Graphic Design.
The program students provides experience in computer technology and applications including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign through the creation of ad campaigns, books, brochures, logos, and posters. Courses in the program will also introduce students to Web design. Per the school, “courses in Macromedia Flash allow students to explore creativity through animation, as well as develop a visual language fitted for Web publication.”
Other course highlights include Graphic Design History through Studio Projects, Intro to Studio: Graphic Design, Publication & Info Design, Research in Graphic Design, and Visual Identity: Logo & Branding Design.
The BFA is considered the professional degree for Graphic Design as recognized by American Institute Graphic Arts. AIGA.
8. Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
Illinois State Normal University (ISNU) was founded in 1857 as a “normal” school for the purpose of training teachers to work in Illinois schools. The school serves 20,635 students enrolled in more than 160 degree options through six colleges. The College of Fine Arts houses the School of Art, which offers BA and BS degrees in Graphic Design.
The 120 credit hour program includes 36-43 General Education courses, 54 credit hours in the major, and additional requirements. Course highlights include Contemporary Art, Digital 3-D, Graphic Design I-V, Intaglio, Life Drawing, Lithography, Modern Art, and Visual Culture. Other program highlights include a capstone experience through the school’s Design Streak Studio, located in the Center For Visual Arts (CVA), internship opportunities, and access to dozens of student organizations.
The capstone experience allows students to work on branding and identity, books, invitations, posters, and websites in preparation for professional practice. Per the school, “the studio is operated by senior graphic design students who are selected after a rigorous portfolio review, and art directed by Archana Shekara, Associate Professor of Graphic Design. The studio strives to facilitate an active learning environment promoting student discovery and experimentation, and student engagement through experiential and service learning.”
Graduates of the Graphic Design program at ISNU are prepared to seek positions in Advertising, Computer Graphics, Design, Graphic Art, Illustration, Media, Publishing, and many others.
9. Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois
Chartered in 1895, Northern Illinois University (NIU) serves nearly 17,200 students from the U.S. and 77 other countries. The school offers nearly 400 majors, minors, emphases, graduate programs, and specializations through seven degree-granting colleges. The College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) consists of three schools—the School of Art and Design, the School of Music, and the School of Theater and Dance. The School of Art and Design offers a BFA in Studio Art with a Major in Visual Communication.
Per the school, the program “provides an intellectually-based, professional education that focuses on graphic form and communication, cultural factors and design processes.” The core requires 78 semester hours of study. Coursework highlights include Advanced Typography, Advanced Visual Communication, Image in Visual Communication, Interaction Design, Professional Practices in Design, and User Experience Design. A senior project worth three credits is also part of the program.
Students graduate from the BFA program “with creative, theoretical and interpersonal skills necessary to enter the graphic design profession.”
10. Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois
Founded in 1897, Bradley University is home to 5,400 students enrolled in more than 185 undergraduate programs and 30-plus graduate programs across eight colleges and schools. Slane College of Communications & Fine Arts is home to the Department of Art and Design, which offers a BFA in Graphic Design that prepares students for a career in print, advertising, electronic design, publishing, or continued study at the graduate level.
The program consists of a core of six studio classes plus electives such as Design History and Web Design. Sample core courses include Designing for a Brand Experience, Editorial Design, Graphic Information Systems, Typographic Design, and User Interface Design & Development.
Other program highlights include a variety of individual and team projects, often working with real clients and agencies, Bradley's active student chapter of the AIGA, which offers opportunities for leadership, professional growth and networking, and a senior project and intensive portfolio preparation, ensuring that graduates are ready to pursue their “professional goals.”