What are the top Illinois graphic design schools for 2022?

Top 10 Graphic Design School Programs in Illinois - 2022 College Rankings
1School of the Art Institute of ChicagoChicago
2University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago
3University of Illinois at Urbana- ChampaignChampaign
4Columbia College ChicagoChicago
5Southern Illinois University, CarbondaleCarbondale
6DePaul UniversityChicago
7American Academy of Art CollegeChicago
8Illinois State UniversityNormal
9Northeastern Illinois UniversityChicago
10Eastern Illinois UniversityCharleston

Our 2022 ranking of the top 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
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Visual Communication Design (VCD) Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has undergraduate, graduate, and certificate options for students interested in Graphic Design. The VCD Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Studio is a one-year, 30-credit program consisting of art history courses, seminars, and studio seminars. Upon completion of the Certificate Program, students may enter the MFA in Studio Program.

The 60 credit hour MFA in Studio is an interdisciplinary pathway that allows students to explore other SAIC departments such as Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA), Designed Objects, Intermedia, Writing, Architecture, Photography, and Interior Architecture. Besides interdisciplinary studies, a major component of the MFA in Studio is the opportunity to complete a graduate project every semester.

Students will work one-on-one with a faculty member and they may sign up with artists, writers, and other academics from other SAIC departments. Graduate seminars, such as Form-Configuration-Content and Narrative Architectures, are also part of the program. Successful completion of a thesis is required to graduate.

The BFA in Studio with a Concentration in VCD focuses on physical media (environments, objects and print) and virtual media (interactive and time-based media). Course examples for the program include Image Studio, Identity Systems, Advanced Typography, 4D Design: Manipulating Media, Envisioning Information, Dynamic Information Visualization, Electronic Publications, UI/UX Responsive Web Design, Package Design, and Advanced Motion Graphics.

VCD BFA students are encouraged to complete a Career and Professional Experience (CAPX) internship and participate in the Fall or Spring Exhibition, and the year-end Visual Communication Design Show. Graduates will leave the SAIC VCD Program with a professional portfolio of their best work.

Students in all SAIC Design Programs have access to the VCD AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) chapter, which hosts local visiting designers, tours of Chicago studios, the annual Town Hall AIGA event, and a biannual portfolio preparation seminar. The VCD Department also offers the opportunity for students to participate in juror-led student workshops, entry jurying, and jurors’ lectures through the Chicago International Poster Biennial (CIPB).

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). SAIC has also been accredited as a charter member by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) since 1948. Founded in 1866, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest accredited independent schools of art and design in the country. Serving more than 3,500 students, SAIC offers more than 50 areas of study in 24 academic departments.

2. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Illinois at Chicago

The College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts (CADA) at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) houses the School of Design, which offers Bachelor of Design (BDes) and Master of Design (MDes) degrees in Graphic Design. A studio-based, interdisciplinary BA in Design is also available for students who are interested in studying multiple areas of design. With a focus on collaboration, the BA in Design explores Graphic and Industrial Design, the Sciences, and Humanities. 

The Graphic Design BDes consists of a Foundation Year, followed by Form + Systems (year two), Expressions + Interactions (year three), and Options (final year). The Foundations Year consists of courses such as Design Drawing, Form Studio, and Color Theory. Year two course examples include Digital Media Design II: Interactivity and III: Motion, Type I: Form and Type II: Systems, and Form + Image Studio. During the third year of the BDES Program, students will take a number of design history courses and advanced courses such as Type III: Dimension, Type IV: Experimentation, Digital Media Design IV: Advanced Interactivity, and Social Media Design.

In the final year of the Graphic Design BDes Program, students will complete two Senior Design Colloquium courses, Mobile App Design (MAD) I-II, and two Capstones including the Personal Capstone: Graphic Design Thesis I-II and Professional Capstone: Interdisciplinary Product Development.

The UIC MDes in Graphic Design is a two-year program that focuses on an independent master’s research project. Delivered in Chicago and Basel, Switzerland, the MDes is a project-oriented program that culminates in a public exhibition of student’s final projects. Course examples include Advanced Graphic Design I-II, Combined Studio, Research Studio, Graduate Seminar, and Documentation Studio.

A major component of the UIC Graphic MDes is the study abroad experience. All Chicago-based students will participate in the Basel School of Design summer workshops, which take place at the FHNW HGK Basel Visual Communication Institute in Münchenstein, Switzerland.

The University of Illinois at Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school serves more than 33,500 students, making it the largest university in the Chicago area. With roots dating back to 1859 when the Chicago College of Pharmacy was founded, UIC offers more than 250 degree programs and 85 minors across 16 colleges and schools.

3. University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, Champaign, Urbana
University of Illinois at Urbana

The University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign (UIUC) houses the College of Fine & Applied Arts, home to the School of Art & Design, which offers a BFA in Graphic Design. A major benefit of the program is the option to explore other areas through an interdisciplinary selection of electives. Examples include Sustainability, Video, Advanced Interaction Design, Photography, and Traditional Printmaking.

Other Graphic Design BFA Program benefits include dedicated studio spaces, 24-7 access to computer labs, the Senior Portfolio Review held in Chicago, the lecture series, and participation in the Annual BFA Exhibition held at the campus-based Krannert Art Museum. Students also have access to internship and study abroad opportunities, as well as the AIGA Student Chapter, which provides workshops, networking opportunities, and trips to local and Chicago-based design studios.

The University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign offers a graduate program for designers. The MFA in Art & Design has a Concentration in Design for Responsible Innovation (formerly Graphic Design) that requires a minimum of 64 credit hours to graduate. Students in this interdisciplinary program may also specialize in New Media.

The MFA also offers the following specialized tracks of study: Sustainable and Regenerative Design, Visual Cultural Studies, and Urban Sociology and Critical Race Design. Students may also focus on applied research in responsible innovation, engagement, and social impact. MFA students will complete a written thesis and participate in the graduation exhibition.

Graduates of the Design Programs at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign work in areas such as publication design, consulting, type design, advertising, interaction design, photography, art direction, environmental design, and consulting. They work for advertising agencies, design studios, start-ups, and with in-house design teams in a variety of settings. 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Established in 1867 as Illinois Industrial University, UIUC is the second oldest public school in the state. Serving more than 52,000 students, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers 150+ undergraduate programs and more than 100 graduate and professional programs. Programs are managed across 16 colleges and instructional units.

4. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago (Columbia or Columbia College) houses the School of Fine and Performing Arts, which offers BA, second BA, and BFA degrees in Graphic Design. A 21 credit our Graphic Design Minor is also available. This program explores graphic design, typography, visual culture, and website design.

The second BA degree program is designed for students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another area. Students in the traditional BA Program may choose a concentration and a minor or double major. Concentration options include Web Design and Publication Design. Minors that complement the program include Creative Advertising, Design Management, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Motion Graphics, Photography, and User Experience.

Majors that complement the BA Program include Advertising, Arts Management, Communication, Computer Animation, Illustration, Immersive Media, Interaction Design, Marketing, Public Relations, and Social Media and Digital Strategy.

The Columbia College Graphic Design BFA allows students to study in multiple areas of art and design. Course examples for the program include Design Lab, Design Thinking, Experimental Typography, Graphic Design I-V (various topics), Letterpress Studio, Motion Graphics, Photo Communication, Publication Design, and Website Design.

Both the BA and BFA programs begin with foundations courses and cover design programs such as Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. All Graphic Design students have opportunities to complete an internship. Past placements include Leo Burnett, 50000feet Creative Agency, Foot, Cone & Belding, and Pivot Design. The programs culminate with the production of a professional portfolio of the student’s best work.

Graduates of the Graphic Design Programs at Columbia College work as designers, creative directors, and brand designers at startups, design firms, ad agencies, nonprofits, and major corporations. Examples include Cards Against Humanity, Google, Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive), Leo Burnett, Modern Luxury, One Design Company, and Time Zone One.

Columbia College Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory, Columbia serves 7,000 students enrolled in more than 150 majors, minors, and graduate programs. In addition to offering programs in creative areas such as communication and writing, media and digital, and music and sound, Columbia offers business management programs.

5. Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU Carbondale) has a Communication Design Program that leads to a BFA. Housed in the College of Liberal Arts’ School of Art and Design, the program, the curriculum for the program focuses on design for print and the web. A major component of the Communication Design Program is interdisciplinary collaboration, which allows students to work with faculty, students, and real clients on branding, print and digital marketing, and product development projects. Students have collaborated with partners such as Symrise Inc., Emerson Tool Company, Yurbuds, Elan Polo International, and School Outfitters.

Consisting of 120 credit hours, the SIU Carbondale Communication Design Program requires 39 credits in the University Core, nine Foundation credits, 12 in Art and Design Electives, 14 in Free Electives, and 46 in the major. Course examples for the program include The History of Things: Design and Material Culture, Graphic Design I-III, Computer Graphics, Lithography, Typography I-II, and Design Process and Presentation. In the final year of the program, students will complete the Senior Thesis-Communication Design course.

Graduates of the Communication Design Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have the skills and experience needed to pursue titles such as Interactive Graphic Designer, Digital Imaging Specialist, Multimedia Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Art Director, Internet Communication Designer, Multimedia Designer, Creative Director, Graphic Communication Designer, Motion Graphics Specialist, and Web Communication Designer, among others.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school was founded in 1869 as Illinois’ second teachers’ college. SIU opened with just 143 students and a dozen academic departments. Today, Southern Illinois University Carbondale is the flagship campus of the SIU System, serving close to 11,300 students enrolled in more than 300 programs in 12 colleges and schools.

6. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) houses the Graphic Design Program. Leading to a BFA or Minor, the program consists of courses such as Production Design, Typography, Animation, Digital Illustration and Photography, Drawing, Semiotics and Visual Design, and Motion Graphics. Students will also complete several workshops such as Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop.

Other program features include research opportunities with studios and non-profits in Chicago, collaborative projects, internships and study abroad experiences, and access to state-of-the-art studios and labs.

The final year of the DePaul University’s School of Design has a Graphic Design Program, students will complete the Capstone Project across two courses—Capstone I and II. Graduates are prepared to seek positions in Advertising and Marketing, Design Studios, Web Design, Non-Profit Organizations, and in-house design departments across industries.

At the graduate level, DePaul University has an MA Program that allows students to study Graphic Design through electives and required coursework. Also housed in the College of Computing and Digital Media, the MA in Digital Communication and Media Arts (DCMA) includes courses such a Design Workshop, Web/Media Delivery Workshop, Design and Human Experience, Designing Interfaces for Emerging Technologies, Design Thinking and Storytelling, Digital Media Ethics, and Moving Image Workshop. Thesis I-II and Portfolio courses are also a requirement.

DCMA features include guest speakers (School of Design Talks), the visiting artists series, access to the state-of-the-art Idea Realization Lab (IRL), a 32,000 square foot professional production facility, and participation in student organizations, professional incubators, and more. MA students will also participate in Kaleidoscope—the DePaul School of Design’s Annual Year-End Showcase. Students will present their Final Thesis Projects alongside Graphic Design seniors showcasing their Capstone Projects. Kaleidoscope takes place in June.

Career opportunities and job titles for DePaul University DCMA graduates include Product Design and Development, Interactive Media Design, Web Designer, Digital Media Artist, Media Art Direction, Project Manager, Mobile Communications, Online Content Creation, Social Media, Digital Media Manager, and Online Marketing, among others.

DePaul University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Serving more than 21,670 students enrolled in more than 300 programs across two campuses and 10 academic colleges, DePaul University is the largest Catholic university in the United States. Founded in 1898, DePaul is also America’s 13th-largest private, not-for-profit university, and the largest private, not-for-profit college in the Midwest.

7. American Academy of Art College, Chicago, Illinois
American Academy of Art College

American Academy of Art College has a project-oriented Graphic Design Program that requires 122 semester credit hours of study, Students can complete the program in eight semesters, full-time.  Leading to a BFA, the program explores typography, magazine and newspaper advertising, packaging, branding, book design, and displays. Students will learn how to use industry-standard tools and technology as well as develop project management skills.

Course examples for the program include Typography I-II, Web Design I-II, Editorial/Book Design, Packaging Design, Advertising, Corporate Branding Design, Studio Lighting Techniques, and Interactive Design. An internship is part of the program as well as the Portfolio in Visual Communications course.

Graduates of the Graphic Design BFA Program at American Academy of Art College are prepared to pursue job titles such as Graphic Designer, Production Manager, Art Director, Illustrator, Corporate Identity Designer, Editorial Designer, Page Layout Artist, and Package Designer. Program alumni have gone on to establish careers in these and other areas at advertising agencies, in corporate art departments, newspapers and magazines, book publishing companies, printing companies, design studios, and government agencies, among others.

The American Academy of Art College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Founded in 1923 as a school for professional artists, American Academy of Art serves approximately 169 students enrolled in six programs leading to a BFA degree.

8. Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
Illinois State University

The Wonsook Kim College of Art at Illinois State University (ISU) houses the School of Art, which has a Graphic Design Program with three degree pathways: the BA, BFA, and BS. Across programs, students will explore topics such as topics such as design history, interaction, brand identity, typography, civic engagement, time-based media, brand identity, multicultural perspectives, and typography. All ISU Graphic Design students will also gain work experience through the campus-based, social innovation lab Design Streak Studio or the Graphic Design Internship (offered each semester) with a local company, organization, or design studio.

Course examples in the School of Art include Graphic Design I-III, Digital Photography, Visual Culture, Expanded Media, Intaglio, Digital Media Design I-II, Topics in Graphic Design, Typography, Visiting Artist Seminar, Digital 3D, and Color Theory. Students must complete 120 credit ours to graduate.

Depending on the program, Graphic Design students will complete a professional portfolio, final project and/or participate in the Senior Exhibition.

Illinois State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Founded in 1857 as Illinois State Normal University (ISNU), Illinois State is Illinois’ first public university. Serving close to 28,900 students, the school offers more than 200 degree programs in 11 colleges and dozens of schools and departments.  

9. Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois
Northeastern Illinois University

Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) houses the College of Arts and Sciences, home to the Department of Art + Design, which has a Graphic Design Program leading to a BFA. The Department also has an Art Program with a Studio Art Concentration. Students in this BA Program may focus in Graphic Design. Both programs provide hands-on experience, access to state-of-the-art facilities and studio spaces, and monthly group critiques. Students in both programs also have access to internships with companies, museums, and organizations around Chicago, membership in The Art Club, which hosts juried student shows, visiting artists, and annual trips to Peru, China, and Italy, organized by the Department of Art + Design.

Graduates of the Northeastern Illinois University Graphic Design Programs are prepared to pursue a graduate degree or for creative positions in advertising, marketing, publishing, branding, web development, newspaper and magazine publishing, entertainment, print production, packaging design, multimedia and motion graphics, information architecture, user experience design, in-house design, user interaction design, freelance design, and the non-profit sector, among others. 

Northeastern Illinois University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school was founded in 1867 as the Normal School—Cook County’s first teacher training institution. NEIU serves close to 5,800 students enrolled in more than 70 degree and certificate programs in four colleges.

10. Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois
Eastern Illinois University

Eastern Illinois University’s (EIU) Department of Art + Design is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Housed in the Doudna Fine Arts Center, the Department has a Graphic Design Program with BA and BFA options. The BA requires 54 credits in the major and the BFA requires 78 credit sin the major. For students who would like to enhance their creative degree, the Department of Art + Design also has an 18 credit hour Graphic Design Minor.

All EIU Graphic Design Programs explore typography, motion graphics, web design, photography, animation, print applications, and video. Course examples across programs include Typography and Advanced Typography, Interactive/Motion Graphics I-IV, Graphic Design I-III, and Design Fundamentals 2D. Students in the degree program will complete a final portfolio and participate in the EIU Graphic Design Show.

Graduates of the Eastern Illinois University Graphic Design Program are prepared for graduate study or immediate employment in Graphic Design and Visual Communications positions.

Eastern Illinois University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Founded in 1895, the school serves 7,415 students enrolled in more than 80 degree programs, and 10 post-baccalaureate certificate programs in seven colleges and schools.